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Beige Book: Economy expands modestly but housing still a drag

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The economy in most parts of the country continued to expand between early October and mid November but mostly at a modest pace, according to the Federal Reserve. The Beige Book, which gathers anecdotal evidence of economic conditions in the dozen Fed districts nationwide, once again showed a depressed housing market across the U.S. with further deterioration in several districts. The Fed said residential real estate and construction activity remained at a low level in all districts, and commercial real estate conditions were mixed during the period but also remain at low levels. Home sales were down in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and St. Louis, while Boston, New York and Richmond districts reported the market as soft. Cleveland, Dallas, Kansas City and San Francisco said their housing market was sluggish during the period.  The Fed's Chicago district said the high inventories of unsold homes "continued to be a drag on new residential construction and home prices." Only the Dallas district reported an increase in home prices from a year earlier. "Contacts in Boston, Richmond, Kansas City and Dallas expressed some optimism about the near-term outlook in their districts, but contacts in several other districts expressed a more cautious outlook" for the housing marker, the Fed said. Most districts said lending conditions remained stable during the period, although the Atlanta district reported constrained credit conditions and weak loan demand. The Fed said more aggressive loan pricing is occurring in Chicago and Dallas, as more competition for high-quality borrowers ensues. Meanwhile the San Francisco Fed said loan demand decreased because of "households' desire to deleverage." Lenders continue to grapple with consumers' credit quality, although some districts reported a surge in residential real estate loans, specifically refinancings. Write to Jason Philyaw.

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