St. Louis Fed economist Rubén Hernández-Murillo discusses current economic conditions in the Eighth District, as published in the Beige Book.
The economy of the Eighth District has grown at a modest pace since our previous report. Recent reports of planned activity from service firms have been positive. In contrast, reports of planned activity from manufacturing firms have been negative on net. Residential real estate market conditions have continued to improve, and commercial and industrial real estate conditions have also improved in some areas. Total lending at a sample of small and mid-sized District banks decreased slightly from early September to mid-December. Agricultural conditions in the District have been mixed since our previous report.
Reports of plans for manufacturing activity have been negative on net since our previous report. Several manufacturing firms reported plans to lay off workers and close plants in the Eighth District, while fewer manufacturing firms reported plans to hire new workers or expand operations. Firms in HVAC equipment, electric components, food, and automobile parts manufacturing reported plans to lay off workers. In contrast, firms that manufacture small arms and medical devices reported plans to hire new workers and expand operations.
Reports of planned activity in the District's service sector have been positive since our previous report. Firms in electric power generation, food services, business support services, and information services announced plans to hire new employees and construct new facilities. In contrast, firms in medical services and in financial services reported plans to lay off workers. Retail contacts in Louisville reported the opening of several new facilities, and an auto dealer group is expanding operations in the Memphis area. Retailers in Memphis reported increased sales on an annual basis, and auto dealers in Little Rock and Louisville also reported increased sales for the year.
Home sales increased throughout most of the Eighth District on a year-over-year basis. Compared with the same period in 2011, November 2012 year-to-date home sales were up 16 percent in Louisville, 5 percent in Little Rock, 13 percent in Memphis, and 19 percent in St. Louis. Residential construction increased in the majority of the District. November 2012 year-to-date single-family housing permits increased in the majority of the District's metropolitan areas compared with the same period in 2011. Permits increased 40 percent in Louisville, 26 percent in Little Rock, 30 percent in Memphis, and 25 percent in St. Louis.
Commercial and industrial real estate market conditions have improved in some areas of the District. Contacts in the Memphis metropolitan area noted that commercial and industrial real estate activity remained stable. A contact in St. Louis noted that office space leasing activity improved in the downtown area, while a contact in Louisville noted strong suburban office space leasing activity. Commercial and industrial construction activity continued to improve throughout most of the District. Contacts in Louisville noted plans for speculative industrial construction in Jefferson County, Indiana, and several industrial construction projects in southern Indiana and in Bullitt County, Kentucky. A contact in Little Rock reported new commercial construction projects in southwest Little Rock. Contacts in Memphis reported a number of ongoing health care construction projects in the downtown area. A contact in St. Louis reported commercial construction plans in the Dogtown neighborhood and that an automobile assembly plant expansion is under construction in Wentzville.
Total loans outstanding at a sample of small and mid-sized District banks decreased 0.6 percent from early September to mid-December. Real estate lending, accounting for 72.4 percent of total loans, was little changed. Commercial and industrial loans, accounting for 15.7 percent of total loans, decreased 4.4 percent. Loans to individuals, accounting for 4.7 percent of total loans, were essentially unchanged. All other loans, accounting for 7.1 percent of total loans, increased 1.7 percent. During this period, total deposits at these banks decreased 0.6 percent.
November year-to-date commercial red meat production across the District's states was 4.3 percent higher in 2012 than the same period in 2011. By contrast, November year-to-date poultry production as measured by the number of young chickens slaughtered was down 2.2 percent relative to 2011. The District's states ginned 6.4 percent less cotton from January 1 to December 15, 2012, compared with the same period in 2011. Year-to-date coal production in the District's states (excluding eastern Kentucky) at the end of November 2012 was 9.4 percent higher than the same period in 2011, while coal production for November 2012 was roughly on par with production for November 2011.