Economic Conditions in Southeast Heating Up

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Brune Mathis, Times-Union senior business writer

Recent economic good news from the Federal Reserve Board spread throughout the United States.

"Economic activity in April and May continued to expand across the nation," the nation's central bank reported in its latest Beige Book report of conditions among its 12 geographic districts. Economic growth in the Southeast, including Florida, "remained robust in April and May," the Fed reported for the Atlanta district.

As the political season heats up this summer, candidates are casting different spins on the economy. For its part, the Fed, headed by longtime Chairman Alan Greenspan, found that its business contacts across the country reported good conditions. The information covered April and May and was gathered before June 7.

Business contacts in the Atlanta district reported stronger retail and auto sales, marginally improved commercial construction, high levels of residential housing sales and construction, positive tourism activity, improved hiring and mixed factory activity. In more detail:

-- Consumer spending. Sales exceeded last year's levels and the strongest reports came from Florida. Best-sellers were women's and children's clothing; jewelry; shoes; and home-related goods.

Anticipated second-quarter sales look good, too. Auto sales improved but "remained off on a year-to-date basis."

-- Real estate. Single-family housing markets were reported as robust in May, but "some softening was noted for both new and existing home sales." Home prices continued to go up because of rising material costs. Second-quarter sales and construction are expected to exceed last year's levels. Commercial real estate showed "modest improvements" but construction remained slow. …