WASHINGTON The Federal Reserve's regular economic snapshot showed a moderate but consistent increase in credit quality and demand for banking services nationwide, though the report noted that sources of demand were highly variable and major financial stresses remained in some regions.
In the Fed's "Beige Book" released Wednesday, the agency said overall economic activity has continued the upward trajectory observed when the last economic report was published in October, and demand for business and consumer loans remains consistently healthy nationwide. This was true even in regions where overall economic activity was stagnant or even depressed, according to the report.
The Kansas City Fed reported that economic activity was flat between November and the end of the year due to declines in tourism, auto and retail sales. But banks experienced "a slight increase in overall demand, stable loan quality and steady deposit levels" at the same time, and the bank says its contacts expect economic drivers to improve in the coming months.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported a decline in economic activity and a negative outlook because of declining oil prices and the resulting economic contraction in refining and other related industries. But as with the Kansas City Fed, "overall loan demand increased slightly," particularly among consumers and manufacturing companies unrelated to the energy sector.
Various obstacles are still preventing more robust growth. The San Francisco Fed reported mixed loan demand, with some banks reporting strong demand from the construction industry while companies with "sufficient cash turned towards internal financing." The New York, Cleveland and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks also noted that high rates of severely distressed mortgages remain in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Regional Fed banks also reported that credit quality has generally improved and loan delinquencies have decreased, but banks' own lending standards appear to be largely unchanged and "stiff competition for high-quality borrowers was leading to lower underwriting standards" nationally.
Bob Sadowski, the senior economic analyst at the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank, said that the primary difference between the economy reflected in the 2014 year-end Beige Book and the report published a year earlier is that there is less timidity around building and financing large projects, indicating a newfound confidence.
"The reason they were reluctant in 2013 is they still had a lot of concerns about the economy, about fiscal issues, and so on," Sadowski said. "If you come forward 12 months, you'll see that most of our contacts say that projects are moving more freely through their pipelines."