Highlights from the Fed’s latest economic survey

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Highlights from the Federal Reserve’s survey of economic conditions nationwide. The survey, released Wednesday and known as the Beige Book, is based on information collected from the Fed’s 12 regional bank districts.


(This region covers Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and part of Connecticut.)

Economic activity picked up in recent months. Retailers reported mostly positive sales and were cautiously optimistic about prospects in 2010. But none expects “robust” sales this year. For manufacturers, the strongest sales gains were due to rising demand from Asia and for defense-related goods. Tax credit boosted home sales. Commercial real-estate conditions mixed.


(This region covers New York and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey.)

Economy flashed signs of improvement. Retailers mostly reported holiday sales on par with 2008 levels. Auto sales were mixed. Tourism activity in New York City tapered off toward the end of the year. Broadway theaters report “notably sluggish” attendance during the holiday season. Housing markets showed signs of stabilizing. Commercial real estate conditions were mostly softer. Manhattan’s office vacancy rate leveled off but rents on top properties tumbled. Banks said demand fell for all loans —except home mortgages. Rising delinquency rates reported for all kinds of loans.


(This region covers Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.)

Economic conditions were mixed. Manufacturers reported an increase in shipments and new orders, with makers of food products, furniture and chemicals noting stronger demand. Retailers said sales increased “marginally” during the holidays compared with last year. Car sales improved slightly. Home sales were slow, although activity was expected to pick up in the spring, helped by the extension of a federal tax credit for home buyers. Commercial real estate deteriorated.


(This region covers Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky.)

Economy showed signs of improvement. Manufacturers said production was stable or slightly up. Retailers reported mostly flat sales, with some merchants “uncertain” about future sales. Sales of cheaper, starter homes did well. Commercial real-estate market mixed. Difficulties in obtaining financing or refinancing existing commercial loans were reported. Freight executives reported slight improvement in shipping volume.


(This region covers Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and parts of West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.)

Economic reports varied. Manufacturing activity dipped. Retailers and service companies reported declining revenues. However, ports said import and export activity improved. Housing market was mixed, with some worrying about what will happen when the federal tax credit expires and interest rates start to rise. Commercial real-estate markets remained “anemic,” although agents noted an uptick in office and retail leasing activity.


(This region covers Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.)

Economic conditions improved. Most merchants reported slightly better than expected holiday sales, although the outlook for 2010 was mixed. Production levels at factories slipped in December. Freight demand stayed weak. Layoffs slowed, but companies are reluctant to hire permanent workers. Existing home sales were up from a year ago, but new home sales and construction activity was “soft.”


(This region covers Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Illinois and Indiana.)

Economic activity increased. Holiday shopping was better than a year ago. Merchants reported more optimism that demand for big-ticket items like home appliances was building. Factory activity improved, and exporters — especially those to Asia — did well. Home sales were supported by the federal tax credit. Commercial real estate conditions eroded. In agriculture, wheat, milk and hog prices increased, but corn and cattle prices decreased.


(This region covers Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky, and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Mississippi.)

Economic conditions improved. Retailers reported a slight increase in holiday sales from a year ago. Home sales were up, but home building and commercial real estate was weak. Factory activity slipped. Although several manufacturers reported plans to open plants and expand operations, more were scaling back operations and laying off workers. The service sector expanded. Business-support services, leisure and hospitality and medical services all planned to boost hiring.


(This region covers Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin and Michigan.)

Economic activity grew “tepidly.” Consumer spending increased modestly. Tourism was up. Energy, mining and home building and residential real estate all saw modest increases. Manufacturing and services were mixed, while commercial construction was stable. Agriculture activity declined. Winter storms halted the already late harvest of corn crops. Wet weather raised costs to farmers.


(This region covers Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Missouri and New Mexico.)

Economy expanded “more modestly.” Consumer spending growth softened somewhat. Overall holiday sales were little changed from a year ago. Bad weather was a factor. Growth in manufacturing activity moderated. Plant managers reported smaller gains in shipments and new orders. Housing activity eased somewhat. Financing problems damped home building. Commercial real estate activity deteriorated. Agriculture conditions improved, with farmers enjoying above average corn and soybean yields.


(This region covers Texas and parts of New Mexico and Louisiana.)

Economic conditions continued to “firm up.” Retailers reported improved sales. Discount stores reported better than expected sales of electronics and household goods. High-tech manufacturers saw orders and sales grow, helped by overseas demand. But factories tied to the housing industry said demand was weak. Home sales rose, helped by the federal tax credit. Office and industrial leasing activity, however, was “feeble.” In energy, oil drilling activity rose. Rainfall boosted agriculture conditions, and the crop outlook for 2010 improved.


(This region covers California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska.)

Economic activity appeared to pick up slightly. Retail sales improved modestly. Manufacturing activity was mixed. Makers of semiconductors and airplanes saw demand strengthen, while makers of housing products said demand was weak. Low mortgage rates helped to sustain home sales. Commercial real estate conditions eroded. In agriculture, demand was “solid.” The lower value of the U.S. dollar helped boost demand — and prices— for certain commodities, such as cotton, on world markets.