WASHINGTON Loan demand continues to increase across the country, even though some economic sectors are still struggling, according to a report released Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Board.
The Fed's Beige Book, a survey of conditions in the 12 regional banks over the past six weeks, said that most areas have seen brisk economic activity, though some like Boston have been hampered by severe weather.
Banking activity was a bright spot in most districts, with nearly all regional banks reporting growing demand for loans. The intensity of that demand varied, however, with the Richmond and Dallas Fed banks reporting tepid demand while loans were more hotly sought in Atlanta and New York.
Commercial loan demand was "particularly strong" in Cleveland and Atlanta, the report said, while residential real estate lending was "positive at all reporting banks, with bankers in Cleveland, Richmond, Chicago and San Francisco noting an increase in refinancing activity." Some banks reported lower credit card balances since the December Beige Book, saying that many consumers have paid down their credit lines for several weeks after holiday spending.
Many banks reported concerns that increased competition for credit has lowered lending standards somewhat, particularly in the Philadelphia and Richmond Fed Bank districts. Despite those lowering standards, many banks reported that the overall creditworthiness of borrowers has improved since the last Beige Book. Deposits were also up in many Fed districts.
The Chicago Fed reported that improved equity markets have improved credit conditions, even as the interest rate market has become increasingly volatile. The San Francisco Fed, meanwhile, reported a strong commercial real estate lending market but lukewarm consumer lending markets, saying that even in the low interest rate environment "consumers are more cautious about taking on additional debt" than they were at the same time last year.
Employment appeared to be increasing "in a broad range of sectors," the report said, with particular gains among skilled positions. The Philadelphia and New York Feds reported strong job growth due to new hiring, and the Atlanta, Cleveland, Richmond and Dallas Fed Bank districts saw particular gains in manufacturing. Wages also appeared to be growing for skilled workers, particularly service sector jobs in the New York region and for truck drivers in the Midwest. The Chicago and Atlanta Fed Banks reported that wages for unskilled and entry-level workers were also going up in order to attract and retain reliable workers.
Business was not booming across the board, however. The banks reported worsening conditions for the agriculture industry over the previous report, due in part to "weak farm income, persistent drought, and declining exports." The Kansas City Fed noted that it anticipates weak demand for agricultural lending in 2015.
Falling oil and gas prices have also had a negative impact on drilling and related industries, according to the regional banks. The Cleveland, Minneapolis and Kansas City Fed Banks reported that the number of oil and gas drilling rigs in their districts had "declined sharply" and producers expect lending to those industries to drop throughout the year.