The outlook for financial institutions remains stable to slightly stronger while the general economy is showing signs of slowing, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday.
In its Beige Book, a periodic report on economic conditions around the country, the Fed said consumer lending slackened while borrowings by businesses increased over the last six weeks.
Delinquency rates rose generally, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported an increase in delinquencies in all loan categories. In fact, 44% of the banks in the region said more borrowers are late with payments than they were six weeks ago.
The New York Fed said banks were more willing to lend, but also noted tougher credit standards.
Bankers told the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia that they are making fewer consumer loans, in part because they are tightening up on credit card customers.
Competition for borrowers remains strong in several Fed districts, including San Francisco, Cleveland, Richmond, and St. Louis.
"The spread between lending and deposit rates is getting narrower for most banks," the Cleveland Fed noted. The St. Louis Fed said its bankers described loan and deposit competition as "fierce."
In interviews Wednesday, bank economists said they do not expect the Federal Open Market Committee to raise interest rates when it meets next on Nov. 13. (The Beige Book is compiled to help the committee set monetary policy.)
But industry economists are worried about tightening labor markets. Employers in Philadelphia, for example, can't find enough computer-literate people for clerical help and once they do, they have to pay wages 10% to 20% more than they did last year, the Fed said.
"For the first time in the Beige Book this year, we're seeing anecdotal evidence of more widespread pressures on wages," said Christine Chmura, senior vice president and chief economist for Crestar Bank in Richmond, Va. "A Fed tightening is not out of the question."
Joel L. Naroff, chief economist for First Union National Bank, also cited labor markets as a concern. But he predicted the Beige Book "won't create pressure on the Fed to raise rates at its November meeting."
Mr. Shea writes for the Medill News Service.