Regional Update (July-September 1996)

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

Cover Story - Full Speed Ahead for the Southeast's Maritime Industry

Have Taxes Contributed to the South's Economic Rise?

The Southeast's Economy Claims Its Olympic Prize

The Growing Symbiosis in Southeastern Business

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 September 11, business representatives' comments suggested that the economic picture was mixed but generally positive in the late summer period. Here is a Beigebook summary.

Consumer spending

  • District retailers' sales reports were mixed in July, with noticeable pick up in August. More than 50 percent of the retailers contacted said recent sales met expectations, and most reported on-target inventories.
  • Apparel continued to show strong sales, with mens' and childrens' clothing leading womens' apparel.
  • Most retailers expected back-to-school sales to exceed year-ago levels. The outlook among retailers is generally optimistic for the remainder of the year.
Manufacturing
  • Industry contacts reported that the pace of factory activity picked up in August, following a sluggish July. Industry spokesmen, however, expect production, employment, and new orders to slow over the next few months. Most contacts forecast both material and finished goods inventories to remain at current levels through year-end.
  • Production capacity contractions and employment declines continued to be recorded in the region's large apparel and textile industry, with new reports of plant closings and layoffs. However, some producers in the carpet and denim industries reported increasing orders and added capacity. Orders for pulp and paper products, as well as chemical products, were up.
  • The outlook for capital expenditure improved, with new reports of auto parts suppliers and chemical producers adding to capacity. Large contracts were awarded to some district shipbuilders. Improvement in Louisiana's petroleum industry resulted in more business for suppliers of oil field equipment in the district.
Tourism and business travel
  • Tourism reports were generally strong, but a few non-Atlanta Olympic venues had disappointing attendance. Ticket revenues for the Olympics, overall, exceeded projections.
  • Central Florida tourism remained strong, with increased domestic and international airport arrivals and strong theme park attendance. However, in Tennessee heavy discounting was needed to boost traffic at some attractions. Motel bookings were weak.
Construction
  • Most real estate contacts reported single-family home sales ahead of year-ago levels in July. Early August sales reports were decidedly mixed within the District. Both realtors and builders in the Atlanta market noted a rebound in sales and construction activity in August after an Olympic-related pause in July.
  • Contacts from across the District reported that commercial and multifamily real estate markets continued to improve. Low vacancy rates and higher rents continued to propel new industrial, office, and multifamily development.
Financial services
  • Contacts in the banking industry reported moderate overall loan demand in August compared with July and last year. Mortgage lending was described as mixed over last month and flat compared with last year. Deposits were described as flat to slightly down, while consumer lending was mostly flat compared with last month and last year.
  • Commercial loan demand was reported to be flat over both periods. Bankers also observed some weakening in both consumer and commercial loan quality.
Wages and prices
  • Most contacts reported adequate supplies of labor and expect to maintain current employment levels over the next few months, although a few service-sector employers and retailers noted that the supply of labor for entry-level jobs was tight.
  • Although material and finished goods prices increased slightly since the last report, most contacts expected these price pressures to be temporary.