“Robust” business borrowing,
rising consumer spending, and tight labor markets indicate the U.S. economy
remains on track for continued growth, the Federal Reserve reported on
Wednesday, with the risks of a global trade war the one big outlier.
In its periodic “Beige Book”
summary of contacts with businesses in its 12 regional districts, the Fed said
the overall outlook among businesses “remained positive,” but that many were
worried about the Trump administration’s use of tariffs.
“Contacts in various sectors
including manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation expressed concern
about the newly imposed and/or proposed tariffs,” the central bank said in its
report, which covered the period from March to early April.
In fact, the word “tariffs”
appeared 36 times in Wednesday’s report after not appearing at all in the
previous Beige Book published March 7. It was referenced as a factor affecting
prices or as a potential concern for the outlook in 10 of the 12 regional
banks’ activity summaries.
But otherwise the economy
appeared to be motoring along, with some evidence that the tax cuts approved in
December may have begun filtering through to business spending and investment.
Several Fed districts
reported a jump in commercial and industrial lending, from a “robust” 17
percent year-over-year increase in St. Louis to “solid” growth in Atlanta and
“healthy” demand in Cleveland.
“Markedly stronger growth in
loan volumes was seen in commercial and industrial, and commercial real
estate,” the Dallas Fed reported.
That dovetails with other
Fed data showing commercial and industrial (C&I) loan growth, a closely
watched gauge of business credit demand, has picked up pace in the last two
months after slowing sharply through 2017 and into the start of 2018.
Year-over-year C&I growth for all U.S. banks accelerated to 3.4 percent in
early April, its fastest in more than a year, after falling to near zero at the
end of last year.
Demand has been strongest
among lenders outside of the top 25 largest banks, Fed data shows. Small banks
registered year-over-year C&I loan growth of 6.2 percent in early April,
the largest in more than two years.
The jump in business
borrowing could be a precursor to the sort of investment boom that Fed
officials hope would follow from the recent steep cut in corporate taxes.
That would likely support
the core view among Fed policymakers for at least two and perhaps three more
interest rate increases this year. The Fed raised rates at its March policy
meeting but is not expected to do so when it meets again in about two weeks.
Price increases nationally
were described as “moderate,” with steel costs rising “dramatically” in some
areas due to the Trump administration’s announcement of tariffs on imports of
Businesses repeated recent
frustrations with labor shortages across a variety of sectors including
high-skilled jobs in engineering, information technology and health care. There
were also shortages seen in construction and transportation.
In some cases that is
leading to long-anticipated wage increases, though overall wage growth remained
“Businesses were responding
to labor shortages in a variety of ways, from raising pay to enhancing training
to increasing their use of overtime and/or automation,” the Fed reported.
“Upward wage pressures persisted but generally did not escalate.”
The Beige Book was prepared
by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas based on information collected on or
before April 9, 2018.
here for the original article from Reuters.