The Numbers: Economic Activity Improves While Unemployment Rate Drops


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Jean Teller |

CHICAGO — ECONOMIC ACTIVITY CONTINUED TO IMPROVE in July and early August, according to the 12 Federal Reserve Districts in the latest Beige Book report from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Nine districts report modest economic growth, with two reporting slow growth and the 12th indicated mixed reports with some slowdown.

Retail activity, including car sales, had increased since the previous report, although the districts showed only slight increases. Several districts – Boston, New York, Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis and San Francisco – indicated that tourism was on the upswing.

The tourism increase was backed by a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. International visitors, according to the commerce report, have spent more than $82 billion on U.S. travel and tourism-related products since the first of the year, an increase of 11% from this time last year.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR showed an increase of 96,000 non-farm jobs in August, allowing the unemployment rate to drop to 8.1%. The Labor Department showed job increases in food service establishments, as well as healthcare industry and the professional/technical sectors.

CNN Money reported that paycheck-processing firm ADP shows private companies added 201,000 jobs in August, up from 173,000 in July.

MORTGAGE APPLICATIONS WERE DOWN 2.5% for the week ending Aug. 31, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Refinance activity remained the same at 79% from the previous week.

Also from the real estate industry, a new measure indicates that homes are selling more quickly, with traditional sales near the point of a balanced market, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median sale time was 69 days in July – down nearly 30% from the 98-day median sale time in July 2011.

RETAILERS FOUND OVERALL SALES to be a bit rocky for the start of September, with sales down about 0.4%, says the International Council of Shopping Centers and the Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales index. When compared year to year, however, retail sales improved by 3.7%.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE INCREASED slightly in August, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan. More consumers are seeing their current financial states in a more favorable light, mainly due to decreases in outstanding debt.

“Despite the August gain, confidence has been in a holding pattern during the past few months,” says Richard Curtin, Surveys of Consumers chief economist. “Aside from the past few years, the average level of consumer confidence in 2012 was lower than in any other year since 1982.”

About the author

Jean Teller

Contributing Editor, American Trade Magazines

Jean Teller is contributing editor at American Trade Magazines. She can be contacted at


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