The Federal Reserve's report on Current Economic Conditions, the so-called Beige Book, reports positive results from the first-time home buyer tax credit but cites concerns that the market could stall if the tax credit expires as scheduled on Nov. 30.
The Beige Book, released Wednesday afternoon, said reports from the 12 Fed Districts "indicated either stabilization or modest improvements in many sectors since the last report, albeit often from depressed levels. Leading the more positive sector reports among districts were residential real estate and manufacturing, both of which continued a pattern of improvement that emerged over the summer."
On the flip side, the Fed said commercial real estate was the "weakest sector," with all 12 districts reporting weak or deteriorating conditions.And it reported, "Reports of gains in economic activity generally outnumber declines, but virtually every reference to improvement was qualified as either small or scattered."
The report found no evidence in any of the Fed districts of inflation in either prices or wages, though it did see some downward pressure on both.Consumer spending remained weak, the Fed said, but it noted some spotty improvement in some markets in cold-weather apparel, back-to-school and lower-priced goods.
Manufacturing picked up in New York, Richmond, Minneapolis and Kansas City and to a lesser extent in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago and San Francisco. Boston, Richmond and Chicago reported that year-over-year drops in new orders of housing-related products had abated.
In housing, the Fed report saw improved conditions, primarily from a pickup in sales of low- to middle-priced houses. "Contacts reported that sales were boosted by the government's tax credit for first-time homebuyers," the report said. But it added, "Sales of higher-priced homes were very slow, according to Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Kansas City. Moreover, real estate agents in the Boston and Cleveland Districts were uncertain about the future of home sales once the tax credit expires. Availability of financing continued to be a concern for potential buyers in the Cleveland and Chicago Districts."