Regional Update (January-March 1997)

Index The state of the states Views from the region Southeastern manufacturing survey Southeastern economic indicators

Cover Story - Environmental, Social Issues Change Florida Cane Growing

Five Members Appointed to Atlanta Fed Board of Directors

Views from the Region

T he Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta periodically polls business representatives throughout the Southeast regarding their opinions on economic trends. Their observations are published in the Fed's Beigebook. In the Beigebook issued Jan. 22, business representatives' comments suggested that the regional economic picture was moderate.

Consumer Spending

  • The majority of retailers reported that recent sales exceeded year-ago levels, with a significant number reporting strong increases and almost two-thirds saying that holiday sales met or exceeded their expectations. Apparel sales had by far the strongest showing across the region.
  • Most district retailers anticipate that first-quarter sales will be up slightly compared with last year.
  • More factory contacts note declines in production, new orders, and the factory workweek since the last Beigebook.
  • Lumber manufacturers are pleased with shrinking inventories, and paper manufacturers note improving sales, although a glut of wood pulp is hurting some companies.
  • Less positively, inventories are reported to be excessive for some furniture producers, orders are falling at a large packaging firm, and employment rolls continue to contract at some apparel factories.
Tourism and Business Travel
  • A strong tourism and convention sector is expected to continue to support the region's economy in coming months.
  • Local markets in central Florida, where theme parks are breaking attendance records, report increases in hotel occupancy. South Florida appears to be experiencing one of the best tourist seasons on record, with good weather and little negative news about crime, according to tourism officials.
  • Trends in the New Orleans hotel and hospitality industry reportedly remain positive with more emphasis being focused on foreign travelers.
  • According to real estate contacts, single-family home sales and construction varied widely in markets throughout the district on a year-over-year basis in December. The majority of contacts report that home inventories are adequate, although several builders expressed concerns that new home inventories may be too high. Realtors generally believe home sales in the first quarter will exceed the previous year's level, while most builders anticipate construction activity will be flat to slightly down. Most builders and realtors contacted expect home prices to rise over the next six months.
  • Contacts generally report that commercial construction continues to increase. Declining vacancy rates and higher rental rates continue to drive forward new industrial, office, and retail development. Most commercial projects continue to be build-to-suits; however, several speculative projects are now underway, and more are anticipated this year. Overall, the multifamily sector remains healthy; however, some markets have weakened.
  • Most contacts in the banking industry reported flat lending. Consumer loan demand was mixed, with softness reported in automobile financing. Commercial loans were level and mortgage lending slowed slightly. Overall loan quality held steady.
Wages and Prices
  • Locating and hiring qualified workers remains difficult, according to contacts in some industries, but wages appear to be holding steady in most cases.
  • Contacts in Tennessee report that shortages of skilled workers are a common concern. More company contacts than before expect prices for materials and finished goods to increase moderately over the next few months.
Copies of the Beigebook can be ordered by calling (404) 498-8784.