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Fed Beige Book shows wide tariff anxiety, varied impact so far

(Bloomberg) – US companies showed widespread concerns about tariff and trade policy uncertainty, but generally reported minimal impact thus far, according to a regional survey from the Federal Reserve.

The anxiety about protectionism was broad geographically and across industries as pricing difficulties, labor shortages and supply-chain disruptions were cited in the Fed’s so-called Beige Book, released on Wednesday. The ability to pass on higher costs was varied, according to anecdotal examples before the U.S. put a 15% tariff on $112 billion in Chinese imports Sept. 1.

“District reports on the impact of tariffs on pricing were mixed, with some Districts anticipating that the effects would not be felt for a few months,” the report stated, based on information collected in about a six-week period to Aug. 23.

Here are some other highlights:

  • In the Fed’s Boston district, import taxes continued to be a “minor but persistent pricing issue for manufacturers.” One contact in the electrical equipment business said that the tariffs had led them to invest more in automating factories in the U.S. as opposed to moving them to Mexico.
  • Ongoing concern about tariffs and trade tensions led a Chicago firm to increase efforts to diversify its supply chain.
  • Several Richmond district firms continued to note that tariffs “were a driving factor behind some higher raw material prices, but lower prices were reported for lumber, steel, copper, and trucking. In addition, some retaliatory tariffs by China reportedly drove down selling prices for U.S. scrap metal and paper.”
  • A Chicago area firm is incrementally increasing prices to avoid a single, noticeable increase when and if the tariffs came into full effect.
  • One New York area retail chain tried to raise prices on furniture, but the increase will likely be reversed given the consumers response.
  • Despite the uncertainty concerning trade, a South Carolina appliance manufacturer reported strong sales and revenue growth and invested in expansion projects.
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