September 2017 Federal Reserve Board's Beige Book
DISCLAIMER: Below are excerpts from the Federal Reserve Board's Beige Book published on September 6, 2017. It "... was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago based on information collected on or before August 28, 2017. The information included in the District reports was primarily collected before Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Gulf Coast. This document summarizes comments received from contacts outside the Federal Reserve System and is not a commentary on the views of Federal Reserve officials."
"A Special Note on the Impact
of Hurricane Harvey
The excepts were chosen for their relevancy to the recruitment, staffing, employment services, and IT services sectors. The inclusion or exclusion of any sections or wording, the inclusion of each District's service areas (note that sections of some states are divided and end up in more than Fed District), as well as emphasizing certain sections with special typefaces (e.g. bold-faced) was done solely at the discretion of steinbergemploymentresearch.com. The full report can be found at the Federal Reserve Board.
The next Beige Book is scheduled to be released on October 18, 2017, at which time we will offer our next summation. If you want to receive notification when it is posted, please fill-in the form above.
Business contacts indicated that economic activity in the First District expanded modestly to moderately through mid-summer, with both retailers and manufacturers mostly reporting increases in revenues compared with a year earlier. Most staffing firms, by contrast, cited revenue declines attributed to tight labor supply. ... Most responding firms cited a positive outlook.
Employment and Wages
Despite labor supply falling short of demand in many cases, wage pressures continued to be modest. Retailers' hiring plans were said to be in line with planned store expansions and they cited "not much" wage pressure. All nine manufacturing contacts this round indicated that employment was flat or increasing. All but one of the manufacturers who commented on the ability to recruit said that they were not having any trouble hiring and replacing workers. Two manufacturing respondents said they were forgoing cost-of-living increases this year. Among staffing firms, all contacts reported high demand for labor and tight labor supply. Demand for skilled labor has been strong, but contacts said many job applicants fall short on requested training; some suggested that clients needed to moderate their expectations. Likewise, low-skill labor supply has not met demand, with two firms citing public assistance as a challenge to recruitment, given the low wages in these positions. All responding staffing firms reported rising pay rates.
Manufacturing and Related Services
Of the nine manufacturing firms contacted, all reported sales in line with their expectations. Sales were up for seven respondents, while two reported changes near zero. Strong areas included commercial aviation and semiconductors. One semiconductor contact reported a year-on-year increase in sales in the second quarter in excess of 30 percent but cautioned that semiconductors are notoriously cyclical. A manufacturer of electrical equipment described the last two years as an "industrial recession" and said that we are now in a recovery. ...
Staffing services contacts in New England gave mixed reports on current revenue growth, with the majority of firms seeing an overall decline year-on-year, which they attribute in large part to difficulty recruiting candidates. Skilled labor markets, particularly in health care and IT, have been strong sources of revenue among contacts, buoying businesses more concentrated in these sectors. All respondents remained optimistic but said they were less optimistic than three months ago. Most anticipate only slight improvement in revenue growth from this quarter to next.
Multiple firms cited the current political situation as a negative influence on hiring; health care reform was singled out as a source of instability, as job applicants now seek employer-based coverage as their top job benefit. All contacts said they are adapting to the tight-supply landscape through targeted recruitment including an expanded online presence, a better referral process, active community engagement, and building stronger relationships with job market candidates.
Economic activity in the Second District has picked up somewhat since the last report, expanding at a moderate pace, and labor markets have remained tight. Input prices continued to rise moderately, while selling prices were flat to up modestly. Manufacturers noted a brisk pickup in business activity, while service-sector businesses reported more moderate gains. ...
Employment and Wages
The labor market has remained tight. One New York City employment agency reports further strengthening in the labor market, with brisk hiring in the usually slow summer months. However, a major agency in upstate New York and another downstate both characterize the market as steady. Businesses across a broad array of industries have been reporting widespread difficulty finding qualified workers--particularly in rural areas.
Manufacturers reported that hiring activity has been subdued and some have scaled back hiring plans for the months ahead. Businesses in the transportation and information sectors reported some pickup in hiring, while those in retail trade and leisure & hospitality noted steady to slightly lower employment. Businesses in other service industries report little change in staffing levels.
Overall, wages have risen modestly, though contacts in retail, education & health, information, and real estate report more widespread wage hikes. One employment agency maintains that employers have become more negotiable on both compensation and required skill sets.
Manufacturing and Distribution
Manufacturers reported that business activity has expanded at an increasingly brisk pace since the last report. Contacts in the transportation industry, however, continued to report modest growth, while those in wholesale trade noted that activity was generally flat. Looking ahead, manufacturers remained broadly optimistic about the near-term outlook, while those in transportation and wholesale trade expressed a more moderate degree of optimism.
Businesses in most service industries reported some pickup in business activity. Contacts in both professional & business services and education & health services noted modest increases in activity. Service sector businesses were generally optimistic about the near-term outlook, except in the leisure & hospitality industry. Broadway theaters reported stronger than usual attendance and revenues for the summer months. In New York City, while tourism has picked up somewhat, advance bookings for the months ahead have been softer.
Aggregate business activity in the Third District resumed a modest pace of growth during the current Beige Book period--a bit stronger than during the prior period--but reports were mixed by sector. Manufacturing, nonfinancial services, new home sales, and tourism grew modestly; nonresidential construction and leasing appeared to grow slightly; nonauto retail sales and new home construction activity exhibited essentially no growth ... Overall, firms appear to anticipate continued modest growth over the next six months with a somewhat larger percentage of firms expecting growth.
Employment and Wages
Employment has continued at a modest pace of growth, although reports of net additions to staff were somewhat less than the prior period for both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing firms. Average hours worked also dipped over the period for manufacturing firms but held steady among nonmanufacturers.
On balance, wage growth held steady at a modest pace. Staffing firms and other contacts generally reported steady wage growth and an occasional lack of labor availability for specific jobs. In particular, Pennsylvania staffing firms continued to note difficulties finding qualified, committed workers, while demand for labor continued to grow. One staffing firm added to its own staff in order to keep pace.
On balance, manufacturing firms edged back to a modest pace of growth in general activity after nearly six months at a moderate pace. Firms reported somewhat slower overall growth of new orders and shipments than during the prior period; however, growth rates appeared to begin picking up late in the period.
The makers of paper products, chemicals, fabricated metal products, industrial machinery, and electronic products continued to note gains in new orders and shipments; firms in the lumber and primary metal sectors reported declines in activity.
Generally, manufacturing contacts continued to expect growth over the next six months. The percentage of firms expecting future increases rose for general activity and capital expenditures, and held steady for employment.
Service-sector firms continued to report modest growth in general activity for the period as a whole, but as with
manufacturers, reports of sales and shipments began to strengthen late in the period. Expectations about future growth have increased somewhat since the prior Beige Book period and remained positive with nearly 60 percent of the firms anticipating increased activity.
Aggregate business activity grew at a moderate pace in the Fourth District since our last report, an improvement from the modest growth seen in the prior period. Labor markets expanded, with wage pressures reported primarily in the construction, manufacturing, and energy sectors. ...
Employment and Wages
District payrolls continued to expand, although at a slower pace than in the previous reporting period. Staffing increases were notable in the manufacturing and construction sectors. In contrast, energy firms and brick-and-mortar retailers described payrolls as flat. Several industrial products manufacturers filled openings that had previously been left vacant, or they created new positions because of rising demand and an improving outlook for sustained business growth. Construction contractors reported a shortage of experienced labor, making it difficult to fill newly created positions. To be in compliance with newly enacted electronic logging regulations, freight carriers anticipate adding drivers in order to maintain capacity. Wage pressures were felt primarily in the construction, manufacturing, and energy sectors in response to employee turnover. Mid-year wage increases were widespread in most other industry sectors.
... Professional and business services firms reported moderate gains in activity during the period. Strongest demand was seen by management consulting and software and IT services firms. Factors contributing to strong demand for the latter group include clients' concerns about cyber-security and data protection.
The Fifth District economy continued to expand at a modest pace, although reports from some sectors were a little more mixed since the last report. ... Services firms indicated that revenues grew moderately. Labor demand strengthened moderately and prices increased at a modest pace.
Employment and Wages
Labor demand continued to strengthen moderately in recent weeks. Compared to the previous report, employment agencies noted slightly lower levels in new job openings; however, they anticipated a significant increase during the upcoming fall recruitment months. Wage increases remained modest across all sectors, and a few firms reported increased wage pressures to retain top talent in tight labor markets. Executives reported difficulty finding qualified cybersecurity specialists, mechanics, accounting professionals, construction workers, agriculture workers, truck drivers, and customer service agents.
On balance, manufacturing firms reported moderate growth in new orders and shipments in recent weeks. Metal manufacturers continued to report improved business conditions, and computer and electronic equipment firms noted a recent pickup in new orders. Additionally, a steel producer commented that business remained very strong with order backlogs above normal levels. Expectations were generally optimistic for the next six months, as most producers anticipated modest increases in new orders.
According to our most recent survey, services firms indicated moderate revenue growth and expected demand to grow further over the next six months. Reports from firms in the administrative, education, hospitality, telecom, and warehousing services were the most consistently positive. A civil engineering firm in Maryland noted an uptick in demand in recent weeks and expected it to persist for the remainder of the year. There were fewer bidding opportunities reported for government contracts, as federal agencies relied more on large, single award agreements.
According to reports from businesses across the Sixth District, economic activity expanded at a modest pace from July through mid-August. The outlook among contacts remains optimistic as most expect slow and steady growth over the remainder of the year. Businesses reported continued tightness in the labor market, though wage growth remained flat for most types of jobs. Firms cited that non-labor input costs remained steady. Reports from most retailers indicated that sales increased slightly while auto dealers noted soft sales activity. The hospitality sector continued to experience weakening activity. ... Manufacturers noted that activity pulled back slightly since the previous report. Bankers indicated that credit continued to be available.
Employment and Wages
Broadly, business contacts expressed that labor demand continued to outweigh supply in fields such as information technology, construction, and healthcare. Construction industry contacts reported that the lack of available labor was still so severe that companies were turning down business opportunities. The leisure and hospitality industry experienced notable net gains in payrolls across the region; however, contacts continued to describe challenges filling positions during the summer. Some employers who rely on immigrant labor--either directly or indirectly--continued to express concerns that efforts to tighten immigration were having a tangible drag on the supply of labor. Turnover was mixed across the region; however, any time turnover occurred, firms pursued opportunities to increase operational efficiencies by evaluating whether to fold one job into another, replace position(s) with technology, and/or shift the salary towards training and development of other employees.
Firms continued to implement various methods to attract and retain top talent, often in lieu of wage increases. Contacts shared that in addition to offering flexible work hours and locations, more vacation time, and training and education opportunities, they were increasingly focused on social responsibility initiatives and support systems to encourage work-life harmony. Some contacts indicated that these non-wage compensation mechanisms were losing their effectiveness, thus broad wage increases were expected in the near term. Some firms noted increased offerings of early retirement packages in an attempt to lower overall compensation costs (replace higher-paid, tenured workers with technology or lower-paid, entry to mid-level workers). Businesses continued to report increases in starting wages to attract new hires for high-skill positions, but most contacts indicated that these increases remained in the two to three percent range.
District manufacturers indicated that overall activity expanded, but at a slower pace since the last reporting period. While overall manufacturing activity expanded, contacts reported slower growth in new orders amid modest gains in production and more tepid job gains. Supply delivery times were reported to be getting shorter, while finished inventory levels decreased. Contacts' outlook for production was relatively unchanged from the previous report, with about half expecting higher production levels over the next six months.
Growth in economic activity in the Seventh District slowed to a modest pace in July and early August, and contacts expected growth to continue at that pace over the next 6 to 12 months. Employment, consumer spending, business spending, and manufacturing production all grew at modest rates, while construction and real estate activity increased slightly. Wages and prices rose modestly. ...
Employment and Wages
Employment growth slowed to a modest rate over the reporting period, and contacts expected it to continue at that pace over the next 6 to 12 months. Contacts indicated that the labor market was tight and reported difficulty filling positions at all skill levels. Hiring was primarily focused on professional and technical, sales, and production workers, though there was an increase in the number of contacts hiring management and administrative workers. A staffing firm that supplies firms with IT workers said growth was strong, while a staffing firm that primarily supplies manufacturers with production workers reported a slight decline in billable hours. Wage growth was modest overall, with wage increases more likely for high-skilled occupations. Many contacts said that the cost of health insurance had increased.
Growth in business spending slowed to a modest pace in July and early August. Retail inventories were slightly higher than desired. Manufacturing inventories were at comfortable levels overall, though a surge in steel imports led to elevated inventories at service centers. Growth in capital spending slowed to a modest pace, and contacts expected growth to continue at that pace for the next 6 to 12 months. Outlays were primarily for replacing industrial equipment, IT equipment, and renovating structures, though there was an increase in the number of contacts reporting spending for expansion.
Manufacturing production growth slowed to a modest pace in July and early August. Steel production grew modestly (with increases in both domestic and international demand), and heavy machinery picked up some as well, with contacts from both sectors reporting increased demand from the energy sector. Sales for specialty metals manufacturers increased a bit, with contacts highlighting growth in the energy, aerospace, and defense sectors....
Economic conditions have improved at a modest pace since our previous report. District labor market conditions continue to improve, although employment growth has leveled in recent months as contacts report difficulties filling open positions. ... On net, 53 percent of contacts expect District economic conditions in 2017 to be better or somewhat better than last year. This outlook was generally unchanged since contacts were surveyed in mid-May.
Employment and Wages
Employment has increased modestly since the previous report. Of the business contacts surveyed in mid-August, on net, 29 percent reported that third-quarter employment was higher or slightly higher than a year ago. Contacts in a variety of industries continued to report difficulties finding skilled or qualified employees. Construction contacts across the District reported shortages of both skilled and unskilled workers. In addition, manufacturing contacts in Louisville noted that difficulties in finding qualified labor have led to longer lead times and an inability to fill additional orders.
Contacts reported moderate wage growth since the previous report, as tightness in the labor market has resulted in upward pressure on wages. On net, 61 percent of contacts reported wages were higher or slightly higher than a year ago, and a similar share reported increases in labor costs.
Manufacturing activity has increased modestly since our previous report, although the pace of growth slowed across the District. On net, about one-third of contacts reported that production, new orders, and capacity utilization increased in the third quarter relative to one year ago. The results are down from our previous survey, when more than half of contacts reported improvements in these areas. ... Contacts are less optimistic about the next quarter than in our previous report, with fewer than half expecting improvements, down from two-thirds last quarter. Some contacts expressed concerns about political uncertainty and a slowdown in the auto industry.
Reports of plans in the service sector have been positive since the previous report. More than two-thirds of transportation and service contacts reported that sales met or exceeded expectations in the current quarter. More than half of contacts reported higher dollar sales in the current quarter than this time last year, and slightly less than half expect sales to be higher in the next quarter than they were last year. Firms that provide transportation and information technology services reported plans to expand facilities and hire employees, particularly in the St. Louis region. Reports from healthcare firms remain mixed, but are more positive than earlier this year.
The Ninth District economy grew modestly overall since the last report. Employment grew modestly, despite tight labor conditions. Wage pressure was moderate, while price pressure was modest overall. The District economy showed growth in services, real estate, manufacturing, residential construction, tourism, and energy. But consumer spending and commercial construction were mixed, and agriculture remained weak.
Employment and Wages
Employment grew modestly since the last report, despite continued tight labor conditions. Seasonally adjusted employment in July grew in a majority of District states; Minnesota added 7,700 jobs, and June job growth was also revised significantly higher. But South Dakota and Montana saw total employment dip slightly in July, due at least in part to constrained labor supply. Montana workforce development offices saw one-third fewer active job seekers in July compared with a year earlier. District-wide, initial unemployment claims dropped by 14 percent over the most recent six-week period compared with a year earlier, and continuing claims dropped 12 percent; every District state saw significant declines in both categories. In Mankato, Minn., labor is "the number one concern," according to a business source. A Minneapolis-St. Paul staffing firm said that "lots of needs go unfulfilled" and business was being turned away because of tight labor. Labor retention continued to be a problem. A South Dakota human resources consultant said most businesses were hiring, but more often "to replace turnover and retirements than to increase headcount." An ad hoc poll of ag bankers in southwestern Minnesota found that 60 percent were hiring, but the large majority were doing so because of labor turnover; 90 percent said they were having difficulty finding qualified labor.
Wages grew moderately since the last report. A South Dakota contact said there was pressure to boost wages and companies "seem to be willing to pay a bit more" for talent. A staffing contact said that the recently passed $15-per-hour minimum wage in Minneapolis--being implemented over five years--was rippling across wage expectations of workers earning below or near that level. Some wage sentiment was softer, however. The aforementioned poll of ag bankers found that two-thirds believed 2017 wage increases would be between 1 and 3 percent. A Minnesota construction company said that office personnel wages "had very modest increases this year for some, and none for others."
Activity in the professional services industry increased moderately since the last report. Providers of data analytics for agriculture reported a jump in demand this year as farmers sought to control input costs through more precise application of fertilizer and chemicals. A Minnesota accounting and professional services firm said it was seeing "pretty significant growth" among clients looking for one-stop services. A provider of telehealth services reported that demand was increasing from rural areas.
District manufacturing activity increased moderately since the last report. An index of manufacturing conditions indicated increased activity in July compared with a month earlier in Minnesota and the Dakotas. An annual survey of Montana manufacturers indicated a positive outlook among respondents for production, sales, profits, and employment over the next year. A producer of precast concrete products announced a large new plant in South Dakota, and a pipe manufacturer announced a new plant in Minnesota. Several suppliers to the wind power industry described demand as strong. Contacts in agricultural equipment said that activity remained slow overall, but conditions have improved from a year ago, as demand for some types of equipment picked up and inventories dropped.
Economic activity in the Tenth District increased modestly in late July and August, and most sectors expected moderate growth in future months. Professional, high-tech, and wholesale trade firms reported a strong increase in sales, and manufacturing activity expanded at a moderate pace. District energy activity expanded modestly compared to the previous survey period, and bankers reported steady to improving overall loan demand, stable deposit levels, and unchanged loan quality. ... Employment and employee hours rose slightly in late July and August, and contacts in most sectors reported moderate wage growth....
Employment and Wages
Employment and employee hours across the District rose slightly in late July and August over the previous survey period, and modest increases were expected in coming months. Contacts in the wholesale trade, professional and high-tech services, real estate, education, health services, and manufacturing sectors reported an increase in employment, while contacts in the retail trade, auto sales, transportation, restaurants, and tourism and hotels sectors noted a decline. All sectors except the auto sales and tourism sectors expected an increase in employment in the months ahead. Since the previous survey period, average employee hours rose for all sectors except the retail trade, auto sales, and health services sectors, which experienced declines. Respondents noted a shortage of commercial drivers, salespeople, and service workers.
Contacts in most sectors reported moderate wage growth, and expectations in the coming months were for strong wage growth.
Manufacturing and Other Business Activity
Manufacturing activity expanded at a moderate pace in late July and August, and the majority of other business contacts reported moderate sales increases. Manufacturers reported sustained moderate growth in production, particularly for metals, aircraft, and electronics products. ...
The Eleventh District economy continued to expand at a moderate pace over the past six weeks. Manufacturing output strengthened, and activity in nonfinancial services increased. Growth in retail sales accelerated, in part due to a rebound in auto sales. ... Employment, wages and prices increased. Outlooks remained positive, although several contacts expressed concern that policy-related uncertainty would impact the broader economy.
Employment and Wages
Overall employment rose, and wage pressures were similar to or up slightly from the previous reporting period. Reports of labor shortages were widespread across sectors, particularly for skilled workers. Manufacturers added to payrolls, with some contacts noting that labor shortages were pushing up wages. The construction labor market generally remained tight. Hiring in the services sector continued, but employment in retail was flat. Hiring in the upstream energy sector slowed, and some firms were considering reducing staff in the second half of the year. ... Two staffing firms cited wage pressure for lower-level manufacturing positions, and one contact noted wage pressure for higher-level IT and engineering workers.
The pace of expansion in the manufacturing sector picked up over the reporting period. Output growth strengthened for durable goods, led by increases in transportation equipment, machinery, and computer and electronic product manufacturing. Demand for fabricated metal manufacturing edged up, however, a few producers cited seasonal or energy-related weakness. Among nondurables, food manufacturers saw continued strength in demand. Exports remained a source of weakness for some manufacturers who sell internationally. Overall, outlooks were positive, although some expressed concern about political uncertainty.
Refinery utilization rates increased along the Gulf Coast. Chemical producers noted healthy global and domestic demand and higher year-over-year production. Outlooks for chemical manufacturers remained optimistic due to expectations of persistent feedstock cost advantages over their international counterparts.
Demand for nonfinancial services expanded moderately over the past six weeks. Demand for staffing services increased at a moderate pace. Activity in Dallas-Fort Worth increased, while one contact noted an unexpected decline in demand from oil and gas firms in Houston. Professional and technical services firms saw revenue gains during the reporting period, although firms tied to the energy sector cited continued sluggish demand. Accommodation and food services contacts noted slight increases in revenues, while revenue at healthcare firms fell during the reporting period. ...
Transportation and warehousing firms noted higher revenues and an increase in cargo volumes since the last report. ... Outlooks among nonfinancial services firms were cautiously optimistic, with some contacts expressing concern about the impact of the current political environment on the broader economy.
Economic activity in the Twelfth District continued to expand at a moderate pace during the reporting period of July through mid-August. Overall price inflation was flat, while upward wage pressures intensified and labor market conditions tightened further. Sales of retail goods were unchanged, and growth in the consumer and business services sectors remained strong. Manufacturing activity picked up at a moderate pace, and activity in the agriculture sector expanded modestly. ...
Employment and Wages
Labor market conditions tightened further, and upward wage pressure intensified in most parts of the District. Shortages of software engineers, particularly those with experience in cloud computing, boosted wages in the technology industry. Robust labor demand in the online retail sector boosted hiring in the Seattle area. Shortages of skilled labor somewhat restricted production in the manufacturing sector. While employee levels were unchanged in the pharmaceutical industry, contacts noted that some large companies began to move some production facilities to lower cost locales outside of the District. Wages in the construction sector continued to climb due to shortages of qualified contractors. Investments in automation in the agriculture sector picked up further, as labor shortages persisted and businesses sought to increase production efficiency. Legalization of cannabis increased demand for low-skilled workers in parts of the District.
Manufacturing activity expanded at a moderate pace over the reporting period. Conditions in the steel sector improved, as global growth continued to strengthen and competitive pressures from abroad eased. Production of semiconductors rose modestly, while new orders rose strongly; contacts expect overall sales for 2017 to grow by nearly a double-digit pace. Production of pharmaceuticals picked up over the first half of the year. Deliveries of commercial aircraft over the first seven months of the year grew at around the same pace as the prior year, while new orders increased substantially.
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last updated September 06, 2017