Hot off the press!

April 16, 2009
By: Eric Lundin

April 15th has come and gone, and no doubt many of us used the occasion to visit the post office, drop a check into the mailbox, and curse the federal government. On a closely related note, you might have noticed that on the same day the Federal Reserve System released one of its economic reports, formally titled Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions. Commonly called the Beige Book and published eight times a year, it provides an overview of prevailing economic conditions in the U.S. The content is based on discussions with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources, and gives the Federal Reserve Board the insight it uses guide the economy.

It wasn"t all that long ago that many of the Federal Reserve activities were kept secret. The Federal Open Market Committee was notorious for doing little, if anything, in the way of making public statements, discussing current economic conditions, or revealing policy. These days it releases the minutes from its meetings and openly discusses interest rate targets, so anyone who"s interested can get a better handle on the economy and the FOMC"s efforts to manage it through monetary policy.

However, before you dig into the report, I have to warn you: It"s not a crystal ball. It covers all 50 states, no two of which are alike, so for every statement it makes, it makes a counterstatement. In other words, it"s written by government economists, and they hedge every comment. That said, your tax dollars paid for it, so you might as well read it.
At first glance, it"s organized strangely. The first 10 pages are a summary; no explanation needed there. The rest of it discusses economic activities in 12 districts: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco. No, that"s not some opaque, bureaucratic madness. It reflects the structure of the U.S. Federal Reserve system, which consists of 12 Federal Reserve banks, one of which is located in each of these cities.

OK, now for the content. The upshot of the report is that throughout the U.S., the economy has continued to slow, but it seems to be slowing at a slower rate than before. Does that make sense? In other words, things probably aren"t going to get too much worse.

A few tidbits:

  • Overall economic activity contracted further or remained weak. However, five of the 12 districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline, and several saw signs that activity in some sectors was stabilizing at a low level.

  • Manufacturing activity weakened across a broad range of industries . . . with only a few exceptions.

  • Retail spending remained sluggish, although some Districts noted a slight improvement in sales compared with the previous reporting period.

  • Defense firms in the Boston and Cleveland Districts reported solid activity.

  • Manufacturers" assessments of future factory activity improved marginally over the survey period &

  • The report doesn"t stop with manufacturing, of course. It reports on consumer spending, tourism, real estate, construction, banking, finance, agriculture, natural resources, prices, labor markets, and wages. If you"re really ambitious, you can download and read the whole thing . . . all 52 pages of it.

    If you want to learn more about the Federal Reserve Board and the FOMC, you can find quite a bit of information online. Oh, and if you"re ticked off about your taxes, you"ve got a year to plan an
    April 15th tea party.
Eric Lundin

Eric Lundin

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8262