Getty Images

People with shopping bags walk down the sidewalk during the Christmas holiday season last month.

The outlook: Economic activity continued to expand “modestly” over the last six weeks of 2019, according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, released Wednesday. Two districts: Richmond and Dallas, reported growth at above-average rate, while three others; Philadelphia, St. Louis and Kansas City, reported sub-par performance. Expectations of the near-term outlook “remained modestly favorable.”

What happened: The economy looked pretty much the same as during much of last year. Manufacturing activity was flat, while consumer spending was powering the economic growth.

Auto sales were uneven, with a handful of districts reporting flat sales.

One thing that is new are reports of job cuts in manufacturing, transportation and energy sectors. Still, the labor markets remained tight throughout the nation.

A number of districts reported retail selling prices rising at a slightly faster, but still subdued, pace. Some businesses were passing along tariff costs to consumers. This was occurring mainly in retail sector but also in construction.

Big picture: The economy has been slowing gradually from the 3% annual growth rate seen in late 2018. Out of concern with this trend, the Fed cut its benchmark interest rate by 75 basis points last year. As a result, many economists and Fed officials believe there will be a “soft-landing,” where growth slows only a bit, to the so-called “trend” growth rate, estimated around 1.75%-2%.

While some economists remain worried about the outlook. Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan said earlier Wednesday he’s more confident the economy will be able to avoid a sharp downturn.

Interesting anecdotes:

• River barge prices were falling due to declining exports of soybean, the St. Louis Fed said.

• Montana was suffering from poor snow conditions but resorts were making significant capital improvements, the Minneapolis Fed said.

• A slight improvement in agricultural prices and revenues was not expected to significantly improve the financial condition of producers in the Kansas City district.

• Energy contacts in the Dallas region said they expected more job cut in the sector this year.

• Broadway ticket prices moved up, the New York Fed said.

• Possible tariffs on European wine caused on merchant in the Philadelphia region to stock up with over 35,000 cases.

Market reaction: Stocks

SPX, +0.25%

 moved higher Wednesday on hopes on less trade tension with China.

Source link

2020-01-15