Economists largely agree that the Beige Book document to be released Wednesday by the Federal Reserve won't receive extended attention from markets, which are more concerned with forward-looking data. The report will likely say that economic conditions are soft across the country, with a few pockets of exceptional weakness and moderate growth.
The Beige Book is a summary of economic news over roughly the past six weeks in the 12 Federal Reserve Bank districts. The Federal Open Market Committee and analysts look to the compilation of comments by regional Fed banks to get a non-numerical picture of economic conditions across the country.
The last Beige Book, released on June 11, reported that economic conditions across the United States were "generally weak
" in April and May, yet many economists called the report better-than-anticipated, as only seven of the 12 districts described conditions as "sluggish" or "soft," compared to nine in the previous report. The remaining five described conditions as "stable" or "little changed."
On the downside, higher input costs were said to be "widespread," manufacturing activity was "generally soft," residential real estate markets "remained weak," and hiring activity "remained spotty in most districts."
Charmaine Buskas, senior economics strategist at TD Securities, said "generally speaking, there should be more indications of broad-based weakness, especially given what's been going on in financial markets in recent weeks." She said her focus will be on how credit markets are described, whereas housing will be a non-issue because the sector's weakness is well-known.
Buskas said she'll be looking for signs indicating how the consumer has held up in June and July, as recent data has suggested that benefits to consumption from the fiscal stimulus package "faded relatively quickly."
Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist at Global Insight, said he was skeptical about the credibility of the last report, which painted a rosier picture than what his own contacts suggested about their respective districts. He added that he'll be looking at Cleveland in particular, an area he believes to be worse off than the Beige Book's last depiction.
Overall, Bethune said the report is not a market mover and likely won't get much attention. He said major changes in the tone of the Beige Book have the possibility of creating effect, but the anecdotal report isn't scrutinized like the FOMC minutes are.
By Patrick McGee and edited by Cristina Markham