Lower interest rates ignited demand for home mortgages and refinancings in November, the Federal Reserve Board said Wednesday.
Banks in the New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Va., Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Mo., regions reported strong demand for such loans, the Fed reported in the Beige Book, its periodic review of the country's economic health.
"Stronger consumer confidence and lower interest rates spurred home building, refinancing, and a rebound in commercial construction in some areas," the Fed reported.
In the New York area, for example, 79% of the banks contacted by the Fed said they had cut mortgage interest rates in the preceding two months. (From late September to mid-November, the Federal Open Market Committee cut short-term rates three times.)
Meanwhile, lenders in several regions-including New York, Chicago, and St. Louis-told the Fed they had raised interest rates and tightened credit standards on commercial and industrial loans.
By contrast, several regions reported a weakening in the credit quality of agricultural loans.
Overall, the Fed reported, loan growth was strong or increasing in the Chicago, New York, Richmond, St. Louis, and San Francisco regions but had slowed in the Minneapolis area and stalled around Cleveland.
The broad economic outlook was bright. All 12 Federal Reserve banks said their regional economies expanded in November, according to the survey, despite the impact of foreign economic problems on U.S. companies that export.
James E. Annable, chief economist at Bank One Corp., said the Beige Book's good news virtually guarantees that the Federal Open Market Committee will not reduce interest rates at its Dec. 22 meeting.
"They're not going to do anything in December," he said. "You can take that to the bank."
In addition, Mr. Annable said, the large number of refinancings helps explain why consumers are "spending so strongly with such a low savings rate."
"People have lowered their monthly payments, and they have more money to spend," he said. "They now are, in effect, just like a business."
Findings from the 12 reserve bank districts included:
New York: Deposit rates fell at many banks. Delinquency rates were stable.
Philadelphia: A few banks said borrowers were refinancing in order to consolidate old debt. Loan volume remained flat.
Atlanta: Commercial real estate and speculative financing have become "more selective," leading to a slowdown in commercial lending.
Chicago: Rate cuts by the Fed and prime rate cuts by banks reassured some borrowers who had feared a credit squeeze.
St. Louis: Several banks tightened terms for commercial and industrial loans due to economic uncertainty.