National economic activity accelerated to a moderate pace from late February to early April. Consumer spending strengthened. Reports on tourism were more upbeat, bolstered by a pickup in demand for leisure activities and travel which contacts attributed to spring break, an easing of pandemic-related restrictions, increased vaccinations, and recent stimulus payments among other factors. Auto sales grew, even as new-vehicle inventories remained constrained by microchip shortages. The picture in nonfinancial services generally improved, partly supported by strengthening demand for transportation, professional and business, and leisure and hospitality services. Despite widespread supply chain disruptions, manufacturing activity expanded further with half the Districts citing robust growth. Bankers in most reporting Districts saw modest to moderate increases in overall loan volumes. Sustained high demand and tight supply of single-family homes further pushed up prices, and builders noted ongoing production challenges, including rising costs. Reports on commercial real estate and construction varied, with activity in the hotel, office, and retail segments generally remaining weak. Agricultural conditions were mostly stable over the reporting period. Activity in the energy sector was mixed; coal production fell, while oil and gas drilling was flat to up. Outlooks were more optimistic than in the previous report, boosted in part by an acceleration in COVID-19 vaccinations.
Employment growth picked up over the reporting period, with most Districts noting modest to moderate increases in headcounts. The pace of job growth varied by industry but was generally strongest in manufacturing, construction, and leisure and hospitality. Hiring remained a widespread challenge, particularly for low-wage or hourly workers, restraining job growth in some cases. Commercial and delivery drivers were specifically cited as in short supply, as were specialty and skilled tradespeople. Some firms noted absenteeism due to COVID-19 was down. Employment expectations were generally bullish. Wage growth accelerated slightly overall, with more significant wage pressures in industries like manufacturing and construction where finding and retaining workers was particularly difficult. Some contacts mentioned raising starting pay and offering signing bonuses to attract and retain employees.
Fed’s Beige Book “This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas based on information collected on or before April 5, 2021.”