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Beige Book - March 7, 2018

Federal Reserve Bank - First District Boston
Posted from: Federalreserve.gov

Summary of Economic Activity
Economic activity expanded at a moderate pace in the First District, with almost all retail and manufacturing respondents citing sales and revenues in recent weeks ahead of year-earlier levels. By contrast, staffing firms reported year-over-year revenue declines, reflecting ongoing difficulty finding workers to fill openings. Commercial real estate contacts offered generally upbeat reports. Residential real estate markets in the region saw sales declines and price increases, which respondents attributed to very low inventories. Outlooks continued to be generally positive.

Residential Real Estate
Residential real estate markets in the First District showed declines in closed sales despite strong demand. Closed sales for single-family homes decreased in four out of the six reporting areas, while New Hampshire and Maine reported moderate increases. For condos, sales decreased in all reporting areas but Maine. (Three of the six states, as well as the Greater Boston area, reported data through December 2017; Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont reported results to January 2018.)

Median sales prices increased for both single-family homes and condos, except in Vermont. Low inventory continued to be a key constraint in the First District, with all areas except Greater Boston reporting substantial decreases in inventory.

Contacts expressed positive outlooks in terms of market activity, citing strong buyer demand and the prospect of rising mortgage rates as the reasons. A Boston contact noted "Despite these drops in overall sales, activity has remained strong and we're seeing an eager buyer population."

Commercial Real Estate
Contacts offered mostly upbeat reports on commercial real estate activity in the First District. Office leasing activity remained robust in greater Providence, driving further increases in rents, although suburban office locations remained less sought-after. Rhode Island's industrial property market continued to experience strong demand. Boston posted an increase in office leasing activity, while leasing activity slowed across all sectors in Connecticut. Construction activity remained robust in Providence and Boston, but luxury multifamily construction continued to dominate in Boston where some contacts cited ongoing concerns about overbuilding in that submarket.

Respondents across the First District voiced concerns that commercial property values could fall in response to rising yields on long-term Treasuries, and cited both upside and downside risks related to recent changes in federal tax laws and the recently signed federal budget. A Connecticut contact said business sentiment remained very weak, leading to a pessimistic outlook for commercial real estate activity. A Rhode Island contact expected slower economic growth in the second half of 2018; by contrast, Boston contacts forecasted stable or strengthening growth despite risks in some submarkets.


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