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Use the Fed’s Beige Book to find local economic stories

A map of the 12 Federal Reserve Districts

Dusty as the title sounds, this compilation of regional economic observations is watched by investors and combined with expected remarks today from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is likely to affect our gyrating stock market one way or the other.

More formally known as the “Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions by Federal Reserve District,” the report – published eight times a year – is a round-up of mostly anecdotal analysis gleaned by the fed districts from discussion with business leaders and experts in each region.

(Just a reminder: The Federal Reserve is comprised of 12 districts, each covering a portion of the United States.  If you’re not sure which district your market falls in, check out this handy interactive map. But don’t limit your clicking and interviews to just one district; most Fed banks have individual Web sites chock full of economic data, consumer information, industry info and more.  Their analysts and economists are usually accessible and helpful, too.)

The Beige Book includes a national summary and individual reports for each district.  My region – Metro Detroit — is part of the Chicago fed, for example, and the last report out in April highlighted manufacturing hiring, showroom traffic at auto dealers and credit.  For the same reporting period, the San Francisco fed focused more on agriculture, housing and niches like oil extraction.

If you want to peruse back issues of the Beige Book, the Minneapolis fed offers this interactive database; you may search by region and by date to find specific reports.

Once you have today’s report in hand, you can summarize it for your audience.  But the topic is admittedly dry and you might be better off crafting a reaction story.  Run the findings past local CEOs and other business leaders in the pertinent categories, and see if their opinion jives with that of the federal economists.  Home in on specific categories – casino gambling, retail sales, energy, or whatever hits home with your readers – and dig into recent activity for related businesses.

You also should be aware that the anecdotal nature of Beige Book information draws quite a few critics.  It’s understandable – we all know as reporters that business officials like to put an upbeat spin on any story, and there’s no reason to think that isn’t true when they’re talking with federal bankers, as well.

This lengthy analysis on the Minneapolis fed site goes into the history and limitations of the report but concludes that anecdotes have their place in economic reporting.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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