The Beige Book's Grim News

Agriculture and natural resources were the bright spots.

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The latest Beige Book is out, and it's quite a gloomy read. (The book, published by the Federal Reserve eight times a year, is a roundup of "anecdotal information on current economic conditions" by each Federal Reserve regional bank, as well as "interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources," according to the Fed.) Highlights from the information gleaned in September:

Consumer spending: weak, with declines in retailing, auto sales, and tourism. Some districts noted lower sales on big-ticket items and increased activity at discount stores.

Residential real estate: weak. In addition, commercial real estate activity slowed in many districts.

Credit conditions: tight, with several districts reporting reduced credit availability.

Inflationary pressures: moderated.

Labor market conditions: weakened in most areas.

Manufacturing activity: moved lower in most districts.

But the report wasn't all bad.

Agriculture and natural resources: Agricultural conditions were "favorable" in most districts, with exports continuing to boost demand. The energy and mining sectors also showed positive signs. Coal prices were stable, while oil and natural gas prices declined. Energy operations looked to expand in several cities. However, most agricultural prices were declining, and livestock producers were grappling with tighter margins.