There are 12 branches of the Federal Reserve Bank: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco. Eight times a year they get together and compile a report, the Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions, better known as the 'Beige Book'. On July 29, the most recent version of the Beige Book was posted. The summary reports, anecdotally, that conditions are moderating since the report issued June 10.
Contrast the reactions of individual branches: New York, Cleveland, Kansas City, and San Francisco reported a stabilization of economic decline. Two more branches reported moderation in declines: Chicago and St. Louis. Minneapolis, however, reported a decline since the last Beige Book release (June 10). Minneapolis released the most sobering summary of conditions in their district (the ninth district):
"The Ninth District economy contracted since the last report. Decreases in activity occurred in the retail spending, tourism, services, residential construction, agriculture, mining and manufacturing sectors. The commercial construction sector was stable at low levels, while the energy and residential real estate sectors saw moderate increases. Labor markets slackened since the last report, and wage increases were moderate. While a number of prices were lower than a year ago, prices have generally remained stable since the last report." - From July 29, 2009 Beige Book, Minneapolis
The Beige Book breaks down economic sectors into Consumer Spending and Tourism, Nonfinancial Services, Manufacturing, Real Estate and Construction, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Banking and Financial Services, and Employment, Wages and Prices. This helps to give a closer look at which individual sectors are suffering the most (in downturns or otherwise) and which sectors are booming (again, in whatever conditions). This Beige Book was rather muted in terms of improving sectors, and Travel and Tourism is downright dismal.
Not all is horrible, however! Some residential "green shoots" are popping up, although commercial may be the next shoe to fall (Metaphor alert!). Manufacturing is showing signs of life, with some improvements reported since June 10th's Beige Book: "Reports on the manufacturing sector remained subdued but were slightly more positive than in the previous Beige Book". Even hiring may be bouncing back, selectively: "Boston, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, and Minneapolis noted selective hiring, including attempts by some firms to take advantage of layoffs elsewhere to pick up experienced talent."
I don't know if you can consider this subdued report a sign of 'green shoots', but it certainly is better than all of the gloom and 'sky is falling' commentary in the recent past. Even a slow recovery has to start somewhere. Combined with the recently released BEA report on GDP (reporting annualized declines of 1.0% in GDP, vs. 6.4% in the first quarter), less bad may actually mean good. What do you think? Eye of the storm (it's a hurricane metaphor), or legitimate sign of life?