The Federal Reserve’s latest beige book, which takes a region-by-region pulse of economic activity in the United States, is a depressing read. “Consumer spending slowed further since the last report,” it begins, and then it gets worse. Energy and food prices rising, the job market sagging, inventory levels climbing through June 2. “Residential real estate markets were generally weak across most of the nation,” according to the beige pages.
Most analysts seized on the report’s discussion of inflationary pressures as another sign that the Fed will move rates higher later this year. But the language seemed calm and balanced. Sure, the Fed’s business sources “in most districts” reported higher prices, especially “for energy, petroleum derivatives, metals, plastics, chemicals, and food.” There has been some success in passing those along in manufacturer price hikes in some districts. On the other hand, prices related to construction were stable or lower in the Cleveland, Atlanta, and Chicago districts. Retail prices were mixed.