Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicated that the economy continued to expand at a modest to moderate pace from mid-February through late March. Manufacturing continued to expand in most Districts, with gains noted in automotive and high-technology industries. Manufacturers in many Districts expressed optimism about near-term growth prospects, but they are somewhat concerned about rising petroleum prices.
Hiring was steady or showed a modest increase across many Districts. Difficulty finding qualified workers, especially for high-skilled positions, was frequently reported. Upward pressure on wages was constrained. Overall price inflation was modest. However, contacts in many Districts commented on rising transportation costs due to higher fuel prices.
Manufacturing continued to expand in most Districts, although respondents in the Boston and St. Louis Districts reported that manufacturing was mixed and Chicago reported that growth in manufacturing production leveled off after a strong start to the year. Contacts in automotive industries reported gains in Cleveland, Atlanta, and Chicago. The Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco Districts reported increased sales for high-technology manufacturers, with Dallas noting key demand drivers continue to be mobile applications, cloud computing, and automobiles. The Philadelphia and Dallas Districts indicated improvement in demand for manufacturing with ties to residential housing and construction. Cleveland steel producers and service centers reported that volume was trending slightly higher, while Chicago steel producers said that capacity utilization was steady. For refiners in San Francisco, capacity utilization rates continued to hold largely stable, as weak domestic gasoline demand was offset by strong foreign demand for distillate products. In Dallas, Gulf Coast refiners noted steady margins overall.
Manufacturers in Boston, Cleveland, and Chicago are expanding payrolls but finding it difficult to find highly-skilled workers. Comments from the Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, and Kansas City Districts indicated a rise in capital spending. Manufacturers in over half the Districts commented on increasing input costs, focusing, in particular, on rising petroleum prices. Contacts in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, and San Francisco remained optimistic that activity will increase in the near term. However, several respondents in Cleveland and Dallas noted that their outlooks have become more cautious. Manufacturers in Boston and Cleveland expressed concern about the European economy. Expectations were mixed in St. Louis.