The Federal Reserve's beige book, which represents a collection of anecdotal information on the state of the U.S. economy gathered by the Fed's 12 District Banks, indicated in its summary that "economic activity slowed somewhat" since the Fed's last beige book was released on June 11.

At that time, the Fed said that "economic activity remained generally weak." There were not many differences between the two reports, although the number of District Banks that said economic activity had weakened increased to five from three.

Most of the other details within the report could be surmised from recent economic data and financial and corporate events. In fact, the beige book, which was based on information obtained on or before July 14, could be said to be lagging behind these fast-changing times.

Here were the beige book's remarks about a top influencing factor, home prices:

"Home prices continued to decline in most Districts, and increased use of incentives and discounting was noted in several Districts. San Francisco noted particularly sharp declines in home prices in areas of California, Arizona and Nevada that have experienced large increases in foreclosures.Atlanta said home prices dropped across the board. On the other hand, home prices were said to be holding up in the Dallas District and were little changed in the Kansas City District. Difficulties obtaining mortgage financing were reported in the New York and Chicago Districts."

In the "no kidding" department (most of the beige book):

Energy activity strengthened further with rising energy prices.

All reporting Districts characterized overall price pressures as elevated or increasing.

Most Districts reported a further tightening of credit standards, especially for residential real estate and construction loans.

Loan growth was generally reported to be restrained across the country, with residential real estate lending and consumer lending showing more weakness than commercial lending.

All reporting Districts characterized overall price pressures as elevated or increasing.

Most Districts reported labor markets as unchanged or slightly weaker compared with the last survey period, and that wage pressures were generally modest.

Reports on automobile sales were almost uniformly weak across Districts.

Tony Crescenzi is the chief bond market strategist at Miller Tabak + Co., LLC, and advises many of the nation's top institutional investors on issues related to the bond market, the economy and other macro-related issues. At the request of the Federal Reserve, Crescenzi is a regular participant in the board's Livingston Survey of economic forecasters. He is also the author of the revised investment classic,

The Money Market

, first published in 1978 by Marcia Stigum, and

The Strategic Bond Investor

. At the time of publication, Crescenzi or Miller Tabak had no positions in the securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Crescenzi also is the founder of Bondtalk.com, a popular Web site covering the bond market and the economy. Crescenzi appreciates your feedback;

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