Beige Book in the Classroom

Beige Book discussion questions and suggested answers

What is the Beige Book?

The Beige Book is a report on the nation’s current economic conditions that is published eight times a year by the Federal Reserve. Each of the 12 Federal Reserve Bank districts gathers anecdotal information on its region’s economy through reports from Bank and branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. The Beige Book summarizes this information by district and industrial sector. A summary of the 12 districts’ reports is prepared by a designated Federal Reserve Bank on a rotating basis. Read more 

Everything you want to know about Beige Book

Is the Beige Book really Beige? What regional economic information is included in Beige Book? In the Spring 2013 issue of the Cleveland Fed’s Forefront Magazine, Bob Sadowski, senior economic analyst, explains that when Beige Book was first published in 1970, it was called Red Book because its cover was red. Its name became Beige Book in 1983 when its format was changed and its cover became beige. Sadowski has primary responsibility for producing the Cleveland Fed’s portion. Beige Book gathers representative samples from six industry sectors to give the Federal Reserve Board of Governors substantive information from each of these sectors. To learn more about Beige Book, go to http://www.clevelandfed.org/forefront/2013/spring/ff_2013_spring_09.cfm.

Study Questions: Beige Book, published April 2013

  1. Characterize the overall national economic activity reported by the 12 Federal Reserve districts in the April 2013, Beige Book.
    • Reports from the 12 Federal Reserve Districts suggest overall economic activity expanded at a moderate pace from late February to early April. Activity in the Cleveland, Richmond, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Kansas City districts was characterized as growing at a moderate pace. The Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco districts reported modest growth. The New York and Dallas districts noted that the pace of expansion accelerated slightly during that period. Most districts noted increases in manufacturing activity, particularly in industries linked to residential construction and automobiles, but several districts reported uncertainty or weakness in defense-related sectors. Consumer spending grew modestly and firms in some districts attributed this to higher gasoline prices, expiration of the payroll tax cut, and winter weather as factors that restrained sales growth. Overall vehicle sales remained strong or increased and travel and tourism expanded across most reporting districts. Several districts reported growth in freight and transportation services.
  2. Manufacturing activity increased in the Cleveland, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Dallas and San Francisco districts. Explain what spurred the increases in manufacturing in several districts.
    • Strength in residential construction spurred manufacturing increases in several districts. There were widespread reports of growth in demand for wood products; a contact in the Philadelphia District noted the best growth prospects in five years. A sawmill in Montana restarted production after idling for more than four years and a Dallas district lumber firm noted a seasonal demand increase for the first time in several years. The automobile industry remained strong for several districts including Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis and Minneapolis.  Electronic equipment and instrument manufacturers in the Philadelphia district noted gains over the reporting period.
  3. Explain how varying weather conditions across the country yielded mixed agricultural conditions across districts.
    • Persistent drought conditions in the Kansas City and Dallas districts strained the winter wheat crops and caused continued losses in the livestock sector. But drought conditions in the Atlanta District improved and the wheat crop in the St. Louis District was largely in good condition. In the Richmond and Chicago districts, cold weather delayed field preparation for spring planting.
  4. What was the loan demand outlook across the districts?
    • Most districts reported that loan demand was steady to slightly up. The New York District reported widespread increases in loan demand, particularly for commercial loans and residential mortgages and the Cleveland District said business and consumer loan demand picked up since the last report. The Dallas District saw broad-based improvement in loan demand as energy-related lending remained strong and commercial real estate and home equity lending bounced up from low levels.
  5. Describe the conditions in the energy/natural resources sector in three districts.
    • The energy sector was a bright spot in the Atlanta District, as projects to increase the Gulf Coast’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capacity drove capital and labor demand. Drilling activity was stable over the reporting period, but contacts in the Kansas City and Dallas districts expect a rise in coming months.
  6. How did the cooler, delayed spring weather have an unexpected affect on tourism in the Richmond District?
    • A contact on the outer banks of North Carolina commented that despite cold weather, Easter and spring break brought plenty of tourists. In addition, an upscale resort in western North Carolina had higher bookings.
  7. Describe the lending atmosphere for many community banks in the Atlanta District.
    • Many community banking contacts indicated that their institutions had exited the mortgage lending business altogether because of increased regulations. Some stated that commercial real estate loan demand had increased, particularly for branded hotel construction, healthcare and multi-family projects.
  8. What is the overall economic outlook for the Cleveland District?
    • Business activity in the Cleveland District expanded at a moderate pace during the past six weeks. Manufacturing orders and production were mostly higher. The momentum seen in residential construction since the beginning of the year, including multi-family, has been maintained. But nonresidential construction activity increased slightly although remains below levels seen in the second half of last year. Retail sales volume was higher relative to the lackluster post-holiday period and motor vehicle sales posted moderate gains on a year-over-year basis. Hiring was sluggish across industry sectors, with the pace picking up with home builders since the start of the year.
  9. Coal production continued to trend down across the Cleveland District, but what bright spot was there in the future for the district's energy sector?
    • In the wet gas regions in Ohio and West Virginia, output should begin to increase later in the year as newly constructed gas processing units come on line.
  10. What does the Beige Book say about capacity utilization in the Cleveland District's manufacturing sector?
    • Capacity utilization rates stood within their normal ranges. Steel producers reported reducing inventories during the past six weeks, while inventories at other factories held steady.