A Federal Reserve survey of business conditions around the United States reports that economic activity in several regions slowed in November, as coronavirus cases surged. Public health experts predict that COVID-19 cases will further rise as testing reflects increased gatherings over the recent Thanksgiving holiday.
Access the so-called Beige Book here at the Federal Reserve website.
Here's an excerpt from the December 2 edition out today:
Overall Economic Activity
Most Federal Reserve Districts have characterized economic expansion as modest or moderate since the prior Beige Book period. However, four Districts described little or no growth, and five narratives noted that activity remained below pre-pandemic levels for at least some sectors. Moreover, Philadelphia and three of the four Midwestern Districts observed that activity began to slow in early November as COVID-19 cases surged. Reports tended to indicate higher-than-average growth of manufacturing, distribution and logistics, homebuilding, and existing home sales, although not without disruptions. Banking contacts in numerous Districts reported some deterioration of loan portfolios, particularly for commercial lending into the retail and leisure and hospitality sectors. An increase in delinquencies in 2021 is more widely anticipated. Most Districts reported that firms' outlooks remained positive; however, optimism has waned–many contacts cited concerns over the recent pandemic wave, mandated restrictions (recent and prospective), and the looming expiration dates for unemployment benefits and for moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
Employment and Wages
Nearly all Districts reported that employment rose, but for most, the pace was slow, at best, and the recovery remained incomplete. Firms that were hiring continued to report difficulties in attracting and retaining workers. Many contacts noted that the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases had precipitated more school and plant closings and renewed fears of infection, which have further aggravated labor supply problems, including absenteeism and attrition. Providing for childcare and virtual schooling needs was widely cited as a significant and growing issue for the workforce, especially for women—prompting some firms to extend greater accommodations for flexible work schedules. In several Districts, firms feared that employment levels would fall over the winter before recovering further. Despite hiring difficulties, firms in most Districts reported that wages grew at a slight or modest pace overall. However, many noted greater pressure to raise rates for low-skilled workers, especially in outlying areas. Staffing firms described greater placement success with competitive rates, and one firm instituted a minimum wage rate for its industrial clients.
In most Districts, firms reported modest to moderate increases of input prices, while the selling prices of final goods rose at a slight to modest pace. Contacts noted that COVID-19 cases have caused ongoing disruptions and delays among short-staffed producers and shippers—raising transportation costs, which are then passed through to buyers.
From the Associated Press:
The Fed report released Wednesday said that overall, the Fed's 12 regional banks characterized the economic expansion as "modest or moderate." But it noted that three Midwest regions and the Philadelphia region reported activity had begun to slow in early November as COVID-19 cases surged.
The report said that most districts found that local businesses' optimism has "waned," with many citing concerns about the wave of virus cases and renewed lockdown restrictions. The report also said there was concern about the looming expiration dates for government support programs, including extended unemployment benefits and the moratoriums that have been in place on evictions and foreclosures.
More at AP.