Economy 'Somewhat' Better, Says Beige Book

Our wimpy recovery continues to get stronger, little by little, month by month. The latest good-ish news comes from the Beige Book, the latest economic report out from the Federal Reserve.

"Overall economic activity increased somewhat since the last report," it said.

It's the "somewhat" that gets you. I personally would have preferred "robustly," or "boldly," but I guess we'll have to take what we can get....

The word "somewhat" aptly describes the most important news in the report, since the Beige Book contains no statistics and few hard numbers. Instead it summarizes opinions on the economy from experts in all 12 Federal Reserve districts. It's a kind of mood ring for the economy -- it shows how the experts feel about the latest reports they've been reading and their own business prospects.

How do they feel? "Activity increased somewhat." Any optimism is tempered by realities such as, for example, our current high unemployment rate. "Some hiring activity was evident, particularly for temporary staff ... while labor markets generally remained weak," said the Beige Book.

Residential real estate activity also increased in most of the districts, "albeit from low levels," according to the report. The exceptions were St. Louis, where activity was mixed, and San Francisco, where it was flat. Sources in Philadelphia, Cleveland and Kansas City worried that the number of home sales would stop growing after the expiration of the first-time home-buyer tax credit.

Luxury homes continue to be the hardest to sell, according to sources in New York, Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco.

Commercial real estate activity was slow across most of the nation.

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