The Beige Book continues to look blue when it comes to depicting economic conditions, particularly in the Southeast.
The book, the Federal Reserve's anecdote-based snapshot of the economy in its 12 districts across the country, was a largely somber report Wednesday, with some sprinkles of optimism.
Consumer spending was reported as sluggish or slowing in nearly all districts despite a boost from tax rebate checks. Strength in the health care and IT industries helped offset weaker demand for many other services. Residential real estate and consumer lending were "restrained,'' showing more weakness than commercial lending. And manufacturing output declined, although demand for exports remained "generally high'' thanks in part to the weakened U.S. dollar.
Among insights out of the Atlanta district, which includes Florida:
• Hotels reported more cancellations and shorter trips, though convention business was strong.
• Some businesses reported using credit cards, personal borrowing or delaying payments to manage their cash flow.
• Several employers said they were keeping highly skilled workers on payrolls as long as possible because of concerns about being able to hire them back later.
• Wage increases were "pronounced'' in the health care and energy-related industries.
• Rail shipments of auto and construction materials continued to drop, offsetting gains in shipping coal, minerals and farm products.
• For commercial contractors, "weakness remained most pronounced in Florida,'' with retail development slowing significantly.