Fed's Beige Book bears bad news along with signs of stabilization

The Federal Reserve says the economy isn't shrinking as fast as it was earlier this year or is now holding steady "at a low level" in most parts of the country. Still, finding genuinely good news in the economic snapshot, known as "the Beige Book," isn't always easy.

Hiring was "extremely soft" across the country, retail sales were "sluggish" and commercial real estate markets slumped further or remained depressed in most areas. Five of the twelve Fed districts said described their local economy as "slow," "weak" or "subdued."

While understanding Fed statements can often require quite a bit of tea-leaf reading, today's Beige Book offered a very slightly more optimistic view of the economy than the previous one, which was released about six weeks ago.

Today's report said, "economic activity continued to be weak going into the summer, but most Districts indicated that the pace of decline has moderated since the last report or that activity has begun to stabilize."

Compare that to last month's statement, which read, "economic conditions remained weak or deteriorated further during the period from mid-April through May. However, five of the Districts noted that the downward trend is showing signs of moderating."

The difference appears to be that some regions are seeing their economies stabilize, a development that wasn't yet apparent in early June. It's not yet a recovery, but the Fed seems to be signaling that some places may have reached bottom.

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