REIN report shows progress in southeastern economy

The most recent data and analysis from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) point to an improving economic picture in the southeastern economy.

Manufacturing activity, one area that has seen steady gains, picked up pace across the region, according to the Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI). Produced by the Kennesaw State University Econometric Center in conjunction with the Atlanta Fed, the southeastern PMI gained 2.5 index points in January, says the report.

Other sectors, such as retail sales, saw less progress. Retail sales in January were "disappointing," according to the Atlanta Fed's monthly survey of southeastern retailers. Coming down from the holiday shopping season, retail sales were less robust than expected in January, increasing just 0.3 percent. Additionally, November and December's retail sales figures were revised downward, to 0.8 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Sales were mixed across retail categories; however, similar to recent months, the auto, gas stations, and health and personal care sectors saw the most gains.

Despite the less-than-stellar gains in retail sales, nearly 70 percent of respondents in the Atlanta Fed's poll had an optimistic outlook. Meanwhile, other segments of the consumer spending category have improved in recent months. Tourism, for example, gained speed over last year's levels among leisure and business travelers, and restaurants, too, saw an increase in activity, said the report. Sales tax collections "increased strongly" from year-ago levels, gaining 4.9 percent in December, says the report.

The real estate industry saw mixed progress in January. After falling sharply during the third quarter, existing home sales gained 13 percent in the fourth quarter, reports the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, First American CoreLogic found that home prices in the region weakened in December. Florida, one of the nation's hardest-hit housing markets, saw improvement in January, as home sales grew 14 percent from year-ago levels. At the same time, median home price weakened on a year-over-year basis. The state's condominium market also gained speed in January, with condo sales rising 36 percent.

Visit the REIN web page to see the accompanying charts, as well as more in-depth data and analysis on the Southeast's key industries.