Fed Beige Book: Housing Dragging Economy

January 25, 2011 (Shirley Allen)
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The Beige Book released by the twelve banks of the Federal Reserve every six weeks reports that economic activity continued to expand moderately from November through December, however, activity in residential real estate and new home construction remained slow across all Districts.

A majority of the Districts, including Boston, New York, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, and San Francisco characterized local housing markets as weak and sluggish with little change from the previous reporting period.

Kansas City noted further weakening, while Richmond received reports of both flat activity and further declines. The St. Louis District saw additional declines in existing home sales, but also cited increased new home construction permits.

All Districts attributed slumping activity to concerns about the pace of economic recovery, especially in employment, while the Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts mentioned difficulty obtaining credit as another constraint on demand.

High levels of existing home inventories continued to damp the pace of new home construction in most Districts reporting on construction, although Boston, Richmond, Dallas, and San Francisco mentioned pick-ups in multifamily construction within their Districts.

Home prices generally declined or held steady in the New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and San Francisco Districts; the New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Districts mentioned distressed properties placing downward pressure on prices. Boston reported rising median home prices across most states in the District, but contacts attributed those increases to relatively higher sales of more expensive properties rather than a general upward movement in home prices.

Outlooks for residential real estate in the coming year were mixed, with contacts in most Districts described as expecting continued weak conditions.

Demand for residential real estate loans eased in New York and Kansas City, remained weak in Cleveland and Dallas, but increased in the Richmond District. Real estate lending declined in the St. Louis District.

Most Districts reporting on credit quality described it as improving, while bankers in the Cleveland District said that quality remained stable or edged up slightly.

Reports on credit standards were mixed in New York, while standards were said to have eased somewhat in Atlanta, remained restrictive in San Francisco, and held steady in Kansas City.

Tags: beige book, federal reserve, real estate loans, credit quality, housing market, existing home inventories, new home construction, distressed properties, residential real estate