WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The Federal Reserve System's latest survey of business conditions released this month paints another portrait of generally robust retailing around the country.
The report, know as the "beige book," because of the color of its cover, also has retailers in regions from Boston to San Francisco to Dallas reporting widespread labor shortages, but little acceleration in wages or evidence of rising inflation.
Overall, the report concluded: "District reports indicate continued strength in economic activity."
The report includes a wide range of retailers and categories, including soft goods and hard goods at general-merchandise retailers. It provides a snapshot of consumer demand nationwide.
In New York, most retailers reported that sales retreated to more normal levels in July, following exceptionally strong activity through the second quarter. Comparable-store sales rose 6% to 8% from a year ago at discounters, but a more modest 0 to 5% at general-merchandise stores. Retailers reported increased difficulty in finding and retaining workers, but said "the real test will come during the peak Christmas season."
Contacts in Boston reported retail sales growth in the "middle single-digit range" in June and July and characterized the results as "strong." Still, retailers reported that wages rose at a rate of 3% to 5%. All contacts reported significant expansion in the e-commerce area. "Looking forward, most contacts say that economic fundamentals are strong and that they expect steady economic growth to continue for the next six months, barring major policy changes," according to the report.
Philadelphia retailers reported a surge in sales of seasonal soft goods and hard goods. Merchants said they expect a slowing in the rate of sales for August prior to the back-to-school shopping period, but that generally a "good fall season" is expected.
In Cleveland, most retailers reported double-digit gains over last year and expressed optimism that sales would remain strong through the holiday shopping season. To guard against potential Y2K-related delays from foreign suppliers, retailers reported accelerating orders from abroad.
In Richmond, Va., retail sales surged in June, but slowed a tad in July. Qualified retail workers were difficult to recruit.
Atlanta retailers said sales results during June were mixed, but improved in July.
Retail contacts in Chicago said sales were moderately above last year's results and in line with their expectations. Retailers said consumer spending would remain strong due to tight labor markets and high consumer confidence.
In St. Louis, the "economy continues to grow at a brisk pace." Although the district did not mention retail specifically, general contacts reported growth in sales and demand.
"The pulse of the Minneapolis-district economy continues strong," according to the report. Retail sales were robust. Three retail centers in a county near Minneapolis said they were completing major expansions.
Retailers in Kansas City reported flat sales in June and early July. Managers said they were optimistic about future sales, especially in urban areas.
In Dallas, retailers said sales slowed significantly in July after growing at a "hectic pace" in May and June. "Overall, Texas sales were reported as slightly weaker than national sales, which is typically not the case," the report said.
San Francisco-district retailers reported solid sales growth. The strongest reports were from California and the Intermountain states.