Ohio Retail Business; Federal Reserve Beige Book of Economic Conditions

The Federal Reserve published its recent Beige Book Report covering economic conditions of each banking district. Each day this week, one sector of the Cleveland Federal Reserve report will be posted. Today, the following covers economic activity of Ohio’s retail sector.

Reports from retailers on the holiday shopping season were generally positive. General merchandise stores had the strongest results, while activity at small specialty outlets was mixed. Almost all of our contacts said that sales increased in the low to mid-single digits when compared to year-ago levels. Some retailers noted that consumers are becoming more confident, and it is beginning to show in their buying patterns. Nonetheless, we still heard mixed reports on purchases of discretionary items. Looking forward to the first quarter of 2011, retailers generally expect transactions to rise in the low to mid-single digits on a year-over-year basis, and they believe that rising sales will include more discretionary items. Vendor pricing was generally stable. Most retailers plan a modest increase in capital spending during 2011 for remodeling, expansion, and e-business. Hiring was limited to temporary holiday workers and no pickup is expected in the new year.

Auto dealers reported new vehicle sales during November were steady to up slightly on a month-over-month basis. When compared to year-ago levels, sales were generally higher. A few of our contacts also noted an increase in leasing activity. Looking forward, dealers expect sales to follow seasonal trends through the winter months. However, they anticipate that sales will be slightly higher than the prior year’s level. New car inventories are in line with demand. Reports on used vehicle purchases were mixed. Little change was seen in credit availability. Buyers with high credit scores can readily obtain financing. Dealers’ spending on showroom upgrades to comply with factory mandates remains modest. More aggressive capital outlays are dependent on sustainable demand.

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