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09/11/2014

Southeastern Manufacturing: Back in the Fast Lane

If you're a fan of auto racing, you're probably familiar with drivers trying to conserve gas. One mental trick they use when in conservation mode is to accelerate like there is an egg between their foot and the gas pedal. This technique prevents the driver from wasting fuel by accelerating too fast, or too slow. Manufacturing in the Southeast had been easing off the gas pedal the last couple of months, but according to the latest Southeast purchasing managers index (PMI), manufacturing activity recently refueled, and the egg has been tossed out the window. The Southeast PMI, while still expanding, had seen decreases in the overall index during May, June, and July. The August report, released on September 5, indicated that activity reversed course and is now accelerating.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI to track manufacturing activity in the region. The Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University produces the survey, which analyzes current market conditions for the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The PMI is based on a survey of representatives from manufacturing companies in those states and analyzes trends concerning new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery times, and inventory levels. A reading above 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.

The Southeast PMI increased to 56.7 points in August, a 5.4 point increase over July (see the chart). The PMI report saw significant gains in a few of the underlying variables:

  • New orders: The new orders subindex increased 11.2 points during July and is now back in expansionary territory. The significant gain in August went a long way in reversing the 14.1 point decline in July.
  • Production: The production subindex also rebounded into expansionary level; increasing 12.1 points from July to August.
  • Employment: The employment subindex fell 3.9 points compared with the previous month. However, employment remained in expansionary territory for the 11th consecutive month, indicating that manufacturers continue to increase payrolls.
  • Supply deliveries: The supplier deliveries subindex fell 1.0 point during August, suggesting that manufacturers are receiving their inputs slightly quicker.
  • Finished inventory: The finished inventories subindex rose 8.4 points compared with July, suggesting that inventory levels are slightly higher than ideal for manufacturers.
  • Commodity prices: Input price pressures changed only slightly, increasing 0.8 points in August to 58.3. The commodity price subindex continues to suggest moderate price pressures in the manufacturing sector.

Southeast_purchasing

When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, 44 percent of survey participants expect production to be higher, up from 40 percent in July. Optimism among manufacturing contacts has increased the last couple of months, after falling to 34 percent in June.

It's encouraging to see a pick-up in southeastern manufacturing activity. The national PMI (produced by the Institute for Supply Management) reached 59.0 points in August, its highest level in more than three years. (I should note that the Southeast PMI is not a subset of the national index.) Hopefully, activity in the Southeast can follow suit and continue to rise. It's also good that we got the egg removed from the car. They belong on the breakfast table (scrambled for me, not fried), not on the accelerator.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

September 11, 2014 in Manufacturing, Southeast | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

09/09/2014

Small Business Lending in the Sunshine State

No doubt, the lending environment has changed since 2007. Local bankers from the South Florida market discussed some of those changes at a roundtable event held last month at the Miami Branch of the Atlanta Fed. The discussion focused on small business lending activity and how the outlook and behavior of small business owners have evolved since the recession.

The bankers said they have a strong appetite for what they termed "qualified" small business loans and noted that they were competing against each other for good opportunities. This environment has helped put pressure on financial institutions to provide competitive loan terms for small business owners seeking credit. Most of the banks indicated that small business lending was part of a diversification strategy and an important component of their business. In a quarterly senior loan officer opinion survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Board in the second quarter of 2014, loan officers reported easing lending standards and some improvement in small business loan demand relative to a year before (see the chart).

Senior_loanofficers

The roundtable attendees agreed with the survey's findings and noted that the pool of qualified borrowers is currently limited but may expand as banks continue to review their underwriting standards in an improving economic environment.

Although all of the participating bankers were actively engaged in making small business loans, they did indicate that businesses were generally hesitant to take on additional debt and in general were behaving very conservatively. In discussing why business owners were taking on less risk, it was noted that the effects of the recession were still fresh, and most of the bankers felt that uncertainty about the future weighed on the minds of business owners. In addition, findings from the Atlanta Fed's survey of business inflation expectations indicate that business activity for smaller companies is improving but remains below normal levels (see the chart). One banker noted that rising interest rates would indicate to business owners that the economy was strengthening and that rising rates may, in fact, prompt further borrowing.

Percent_abovebelow

Credit qualification often ultimately comes down to the fundamentals. From a credit perspective, the bankers indicated that they heavily rely on the "five C's" of credit to help evaluate loan applicants: character, capacity, credit, collateral, and capital. The roundtable participants described "character" as one of the most important variables when they consider a request. Companies that weathered the recession were viewed more favorably because it demonstrated the ability to manage a business through difficult times. An owner who has personal credit issues will generally imply potential problems in managing the financial aspect of a business. The bankers cited adequate cash flow and a good balance sheet as important credit qualifications. The lenders noted that they also analyze how businesses position their balance sheets and expenses incurred by the company not related to the business.

Overall, the sentiment among the bankers at the meeting was positive, and for the remainder of the year, they expect continued improvement in lending to small businesses.

By Karen Gilmore, a vice president and the regional executive at the Atlanta Fed's Miami Branch, and Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst, also at the Miami Branch

September 9, 2014 in Business Cycles, Economy, Growth, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

09/02/2014

Jobs Increase (But So Does Unemployment)

The most recent state-level labor market data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics were mixed, with one report noting an increase in employment and another indicating a rise in unemployment.

Payroll survey
Last month the Sixth District states added 27,100 net new payrolls, matching the revised June figure and just slightly below the 2014 monthly average of 28,600 net new payrolls. The only state that subtracted payrolls was Florida, which shed 1,600 payrolls (see the chart).

Contributions

Most of the District gains came from the construction sector (up 12,100), which corresponds with the results of the Atlanta Fed's most recent poll of southeastern business contacts engaged in commercial construction (we recently discussed that poll's results). Other major regional payroll contributors were leisure and hospitality (up 6,700) and education and health services (up 6,500). Two sectors—government employment and manufacturing—subtracted payrolls from total District figures. Government (down 11,100) was the only sector where payrolls declined in all states, and most of the decline came from local government. Regional manufacturing also declined by 1,600 payrolls, but Florida represented most of the District's manufacturing loss, shedding 2,900 jobs.

Household survey
On the other hand, last month's unemployment data told a different story in the Sixth District. Although the aggregate unemployment rate ticked up 0.2 percentage points to 6.7 percent in July, three of the six states in the Atlanta Fed's district (out of a total of seven nationally) had fairly notable increases. Georgia's unemployment rate increased to 7.8 percent from 7.4 percent in June, Louisiana's increased to 5.4 percent from 5.0 percent, and Tennessee led the nation with the largest month-over-month increase: one-half of a percentage point, rising to 7.1 percent in July (see the chart). In all three of these states (plus Mississippi), the unemployment rate rose for the third straight month. Mississippi had the highest unemployment rate in the nation in July (at 8.0 percent), and Georgia had the second-highest rate at 7.8 percent. This steadily increasing unemployment across states bears watching as we enter autumn.

Unemployment_rates

We'll see what story (or stories) August data tell us when the next regional employment release comes out on September 19.

Photo of Chris Viets By Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed

September 2, 2014 in Employment, Labor Markets, Recession, Southeast, Unemployment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

08/27/2014

Southeast Housing Update: Exploring the Recent Slowdown

Following several months of somewhat disappointing reports on home sales and housing starts, we decided that it was time to ask the residential brokers and builders who participate in our monthly housing market poll to revisit the factors that may be contributing to slower-than-hoped-for growth.

When housing’s momentum began slowing in mid-2013, many contacts pointed to rising mortgage rates as the reason. Then in early 2014, many attributed the continued sluggishness to inclement weather. Although it seemed that weather did, in fact, play a role, our business contacts reported that less affordable buying conditions (for example, higher rates and prices) and limited inventory were greater culprits.

So what is the reason now? Our latest poll results suggest that contacts continue to believe that less affordable buying conditions and limited inventory—plus tight credit conditions—are the main factors behind the slowing activity (see the table).

Factors Influencing the Slow Growth of the Housing Market

Although the results of this special question help us as we think through what might be contributing to the weak growth, it is important to acknowledge that the incoming data (and upwardly revised data from the past few months) suggest that housing activity might not actually be slowing to the degree we previously thought. And in fact, a quick look at the latest poll results (without considering the special question) might also lead one to conclude that regional housing market conditions remain fairly positive. To explore the latest results in more detail, please view our Construction and Real Estate Survey results.

Note: The latest poll results reflect activity in July 2014 and are based on responses from 44 residential brokers and 16 homebuilders and were collected August 4–13. If you would like to participate in this poll, please consider signing up.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


August 27, 2014 in Economic conditions, Housing, Inventories, Prices, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

08/22/2014

Southeast Commercial Construction Update: Activity Up from Last Year

At the national level, total nonresidential construction spending fell 2.78 percent between May and June but increased 4.6 percent from the year-earlier level. Because nonresidential construction projects tend to take place over longer time horizons, it’s useful to aggregate the data by quarter to smooth out their short-term volatility. Doing so reveals that nonresidential spending increased slightly (just shy of 2 percent) between the first and second quarters of 2014 and that it increased by 6.7 percent from the second quarter in 2013.

Does the Southeast commercial construction picture align with the national one? The Atlanta Fed polls southeastern business contacts engaged in commercial construction each quarter to track and better understand regional trends in construction activity. The latest poll results appear to echo the national story, suggesting that a pickup in commercial construction activity was sustained through the second quarter of 2014.

Most respondents indicated that the pace of nonresidential construction activity in the Southeast was either ahead of the year-earlier level or remained unchanged from the year-earlier level. All contacts reported that the pace of multifamily construction had increased from year-earlier levels (see the charts).

Pace of Nonresidential Construction Activity versus a Year Ago Pace of Multifamily Construction Activity (units) versus a Year Ago

Several comments from respondents help to illustrate these trends:

  • “More projects to go after in all markets, but competition is still very intense.”
  • “Multifamily supply continues to grow at a strong pace.”
  • “For the first time in six years we are beginning to see much larger projects in the healthcare, commercial and industrial markets.”
  • “Apartment construction remains at a high level and brings concerns that the market will become overbuilt. Each month it seems there are more announcements for new apartment projects.”

Half of all respondents reported that backlog was greater than the year-earlier level; the other half indicated that backlog was similar to the year-earlier level. Although this response represents a drop from the last two quarterly measures of 89 percent and 76 percent, it is still an indication that the pipeline of future activity remains fairly robust.

The number of respondents reporting that the amount of available credit met or exceeded demand continued to increase from earlier reports. Sixty-eight percent of contacts in the second quarter 2014 indicated that credit was sufficient, compared with 60 percent the previous quarter and 57 percent one year earlier (see the chart).

How available do you perceive commercial construction finance to be in your market?

The majority of contacts reported that they plan to increase hiring during the next quarter. Seventy-five percent of contacts in the second quarter 2014 reported that they were planning to do modest to significant hiring, slightly down from 79 percent the previous quarter but up from 57 percent one year earlier (see the chart).

Hiring Plans for Next Quarter versus This Quarter

Compared with a year earlier, more contacts (roughly one out of three) indicated that they were having a difficult time filling positions (see the chart).

Difficulty Filling Positions versus a Year Ago

All contacts reported some degree of upward pressure on labor costs. Sixty percent of contacts indicated that their labor costs had increased more than 3 percent from year-earlier levels. A growing share reported labor cost increases of 6 percent or more (see the chart).

Labor Costs versus a Year Ago

The next poll will open on October 6, 2014. If you are a commercial contractor and would like to participate in this poll, please let us know by sending a note to RealEstateCenter@atl.frb.org.

Note: Second quarter 2014 poll results were collected July 7–16, 2014 and are based on responses from 20 business contacts. Participants of this poll included general contractors, subcontractors, lenders, developers, and material fabricators with footprints of varying sizes across the Southeast.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


August 22, 2014 in Construction, Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Employment, Labor Markets, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

08/20/2014

The View from South Florida

The Miami Branch of the Atlanta Fed is responsible for gathering economic information from Florida's 13 southern counties, plus the travel and tourism industry for the entire Sixth District. We gather this information from business executives, community leaders, the Miami Branch's board of directors, and the Travel and Tourism Advisory Council via the Regional Economic Information Network, all of which helps support the formulation and implementation of sound monetary policy.

Business contacts in South Florida have reported continuously improving business sentiment since January 2014, with the most upbeat reports coming in June and July.

General business conditions
During the last Federal Open Market Committee cycle, which ran from June 19 to July 30, contacts in the private sector reported robust demand in most industries, although government spending remained soft in South Florida. Several small business contacts discussed their capital expenditure projects that are under way to help meet increased consumer demand. Although these contacts acknowledged that the availability of credit has improved, they noted that the process of obtaining a loan from a traditional lender takes longer now than before the recession, partly the result of increased due diligence. As a result, according to our contacts, small businesses are using internal cash flow, nontraditional banks, or private investors to finance their growth.

The tourism sector continued to report increases in consumer spending, and retail contacts reported that lower-income consumers tend to avoid discretionary expenditures. Contacts in real estate sales and construction in South Florida report ongoing significant expansion.

Contacts indicated increases in mergers and acquisitions, facilitated in part by the low interest rate environment. However, the near-term implication of these mergers and acquisitions could be a reduction in available jobs since cost synergies are generally an important element of these transactions.

Employment and labor markets
Business contacts continue to report a concern with a skills gap between job seekers and available job opportunities. Some contacts report expanding their training and development offerings for employees. However, most are requiring applicants already to possess experience in their field. According to the attendees of a human resources roundtable, the skills gap is especially prominent in specialized fields (for example, mechanics, plumbers, and welders). Many specialists attribute the discrepancy to the social emphasis that every high school graduate should pursue a four-year degree. Also, business contacts continue to express concerns that immigration laws are hindering the relocation of talent from abroad.

Some wage pressures are being reported at various levels, and some employers are making small midyear adjustments. Most contacts report hiring highly skilled talent at higher salaries and also adjusting the wages of current highly skilled employees during their regular review cycle. Some contacts expressed concern that rising health care costs passed down to employees could suppress real wage growth.

Costs, prices, and wages
Business contacts in the manufacturing sector reported increases in input costs, and they expect that they will incur additional increases before the end of the year. Most have been able to pass the increases on to their customers. Tourism contacts continued to report price increases for hotel rates, food, and attractions, and these increases were passed on to customers with no impact on consumer demand.

Availability of credit and investment
Business contacts indicated that most of their contacts are investing in capacity expansion, anticipating improved demand, and some of them indicated that any capital expansion is the result of delayed investment. The requirements to qualify for a mortgage are much more stringent than before the recession, making the process for home buyers, particularly first-time home buyers, a challenge.

Banking contacts all report being well capitalized and having sufficient money to lend. Large banking contacts report that loan production has increased, although they are not afraid to turn down clients—their rejection rate is higher than prerecession levels. According to contacts, some small banks are taking on more risk by extending the duration of loans and becoming more aggressive on deals the larger banks are unwilling to finance. Alternative lenders are offering a "merchant cash advance" product, which is a high-priced commercial product geared primarily to small businesses for short-term financing.

Overall, as 2014 progresses, business contacts continue to report positive activity and demand with growing enthusiasm. Tourism throughout the region is thriving, with record-breaking reports from South Florida and a very optimistic outlook for the remainder of the year.

By Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Miami Branch

August 20, 2014 in Business Cycles, Labor Markets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

08/15/2014

Taking Tennessee's Temperature

During the most recent cycle of the Federal Open Market Committee (which ran from June 19 to July 30), the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) team at the Nashville Branch met with business leaders, including branch directors, to discuss economic conditions.

General business conditions
Our REIN contacts in Middle and East Tennessee remain optimistic about the prospects for their businesses and the general economy. Most have a positive outlook and report solid growth in customer demand.

Our contacts also indicate that manufacturing is expanding robustly, with the sector running at nearly full capacity, especially the auto industry. A large building-materials manufacturer expects faster growth in the second half of 2014 as the construction industry recovers from the weather-related disruptions earlier in the year. In the Nashville area, both the commercial and residential real estate markets are doing well, benefiting from the low interest rate environment, strong net in-migration, and rising household incomes as the employment picture improves.

Employment and labor markets
Employment growth has accelerated in Tennessee during the past year, and growth momentum is strong across most major metropolitan areas in the state (see the chart).

Tnemployment_momentum

Middle Tennessee State University's Business and Economic Research Center produces a heat map of Tennessee's employment growth by industry (based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data) that nicely illustrates what we've been hearing from our business contacts: namely, employment in construction, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality has been outpacing growth in other industries.

As the labor market improves, businesses are increasingly sharing stories about the difficulties companies face in finding qualified workers across a broad skill spectrum. In addition, several companies have expressed concern that replacing skilled employees who are nearing retirement age will be challenging. Consequently, companies appear to be expanding internal training programs to deal with existing and potential skill shortages.

In addition to our meetings with business executives, we polled a number of mostly larger firms to find whether they experienced difficulty filling open positions. Out of 21 respondents, two-thirds said yes. Seventy percent of those respondents said that they have raised offer wages to attract new hires.

We also conducted a brief poll of 32 of our construction industry contacts. On the residential side, 75 percent indicated that it is now more or much more difficult to find skilled labor compared to the mid-2000s. Skilled labor availability is even tighter in commercial real estate—nearly 85 percent of respondents said finding skilled workers now is more difficult.

Costs/prices/wages
We have not heard of any pick-up in materials and other nonlabor input costs but, as mentioned above, the shortage of skilled applicants is putting upward pressure on offer wages. Several manufacturing contacts said that they increased their starting wages along with peer companies in their geographic area.

In the construction industry in particular, labor cost pressures on the residential side have increased compared to the mid-2000s for almost two-thirds of respondents to our poll. Moreover, labor cost pressures have intensified for more than three-fourths of the commercial builders we've polled.

Availability of credit and investments
In the same poll, two-thirds of the homebuilders and residential brokers said it is more or much more difficult to obtain financing for construction projects compared with the mid-2000s. And everyone on that panel said that it is more or much more difficult to obtain financing for land/lot development. Financing conditions are a bit easier for commercial builders (see the chart).

Tnconstruction_poll

One national commercial construction firm said that financing conditions are actually easier for them now than 10 years ago. Notably, equity financing is becoming more prominent in a number of sectors as investors are looking for higher returns than they can get at financial institutions, and banks' lending standards remain rigorous.

All this said, the positive sentiment among our business contacts in Middle and East Tennessee could possibly also signal continued improvement in the health of the national economy, given that the structure of Tennessee's economy for the most part resembles that of the United States' as a whole. Be sure to check back here as we'll periodically update the Middle and East Tennessee economy.


Photo of Galina Alexeenko By Galina Alexeenko, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

August 15, 2014 in Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Economy, Manufacturing, Southeast | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

08/12/2014

Is Southeastern Manufacturing Leveling Off?

Manufacturing in the Southeast has been relatively strong in 2014. According to the Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), manufacturing activity expanded every month this year. The latest report, released on August 5, indicated that activity continued to expand in July. However, a couple of important indicators took a large step back from their recent highs.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI to track regional manufacturing activity. The Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University produces the survey, which provides an analysis of current market conditions for the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The PMI is based on a survey of representatives from manufacturing companies in those states and analyzes trends concerning new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery times, and inventory levels. A reading above 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.

The Southeast PMI fell 4.0 points in July compared with June, but the overall reading remained above the 50 threshold at 51.3 (see the chart below). July was the third consecutive month the overall index has declined. Some notable aspects from the survey:

  • New orders: The new orders subindex and production subindex decreased significantly last month, declining 14.2 points. The large month-over-month decrease in new orders, while not ideal, is not entirely unusual. During the last three years, the subindex has experienced similar swings during the summer months. For instance, new orders fell 22.6 points during May and June 2012 and 11.7 points in July 2013. Still, the 24.3 point decrease over the last two months is significant.
  • Production: The production subindex fell 8.5 points from June to July, and it historically has followed a similar pattern to new orders, experiencing notable falls during the summer. Meanwhile, factories appear to be increasing payrolls.
  • Employment: The employment subindex rose 1.9 points compared with the previous month.
  • Supply deliveries: The supplier deliveries subindex fell 3.8 points compared with June, suggesting that manufacturers are receiving their inputs slightly quicker.
  • Finished inventory: The finished inventories subindex rose 4.7 points during July, indicating inventory levels are slightly higher.
  • Commodity prices: Input prices fell 0.9 points in July to 57.5, suggesting that moderate price pressures continue.

Se_purchasingmanagers

Manufacturing contacts' optimism remained subdued during July. When asked for their production expectations, 40 percent of survey participants expect production to be higher in the next three to six months. That level is up from June's mark of 34 percent.

So is the stage set for another decrease in August? That's hard to say. During the last few years, manufacturing activity has tended to pull back this time of year. The national PMI, produced by the Institute of Supply Management, hit its highest level in more than three years during July. (I should note that the Southeast PMI is not a subset of the national one). That movement bodes well for the national picture and should help bolster activity in the South. It's always important to remember that although manufacturing activity may be leveling off, it is still expanding overall. So don't fret—enjoy what remains of the summer!

By Troy Balthrop, a senior Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

August 12, 2014 in Economic conditions, Manufacturing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

08/06/2014

Sunnier Times in the Sunshine State

During the most recent cycle of the Federal Open Market Committee (which ran from June 19 to July 30), the Atlanta Fed’s Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) team at the Jacksonville Branch talked with more than 30 Florida business leaders, including branch directors, about economic conditions. As one who has been involved with the REIN program since its inception in 2008, I can attest that, while “slow and steady” remains a theme in this economic recovery, the sentiment of our contacts over the past two months has been the most upbeat since before the recession.

General business conditions
Almost all firms reported increases in business activity. Two design/build firms indicated robust demand and reasonably strong pipelines, including a strengthening in industrial and office development. For the first time, we heard of some speculative building in the commercial sector from three different contacts. Housing continued its slow improvement, though several contacts used the word “bumpy” to describe activity. The appetite for auto purchases continued, as a recent SouthPoint post discussed, with lenders citing robust auto-lending activity. Some banks also reported that consumers are now slowly adding to outstanding credit card balances.

Employment and hiring
Labor markets tightened as the number and types of difficult-to-fill positions increased. In addition to highly skilled positions that are normally a challenge to fill (including information technology and engineering), contacts shared frustrations with filling midlevel positions such as analysts. In construction, finding subcontractors and skilled laborers was harder than normal. However, one contact saw a 20 percent annual increase in revenue as clients resumed a normal hiring pace.

Labor and input costs
Contacts reported seeing wage pressures in their organizations. For example, demand for truck drivers that one firm described as “significant” led to a 33 percent pay increase since the beginning of 2014. One retail contact reported wage increases for maintenance positions as the “construction boom in the area lures these workers away.” Most contacts previously noted merit programs of between 2–3 percent. However, for the first time, several contacts discussed plans for more aggressive increases of 4–5 percent. Regarding health care, most anticipate premiums to continue growing significantly, and many have self-insured to mitigate rising costs.

Most contacts described nonlabor input cost increases as benign. Although the cost of some construction-related materials was a cause for concern earlier this year, most of this volatility has dissipated. While most contacts do not claim much pricing power, some companies are seeing improved margins as they are able to push through increases in the form of higher sales prices.

Credit and investment
Contacts at medium and large companies noted that while credit is readily available, many are still risk-averse and avoiding taking on debt, relying instead on cash flow or internal reserves to fund projects. Companies that do borrow are undergoing “rigorous but rational underwriting.” One construction contact said that many of his larger clients are no longer just catching up from the recession but are now willing to take risk and invest in adding capacity. A bank also reported more risk-taking among customers, especially in commercial real estate and equipment leasing. At the consumer level, real estate agents and lenders referred to qualified mortgages as something of an impediment to mortgage loan activity, but they generally viewed the more rigorous process as worth the effort to reduce risk.

Since June, the consensus from REIN contacts at the Jacksonville Branch was largely positive. Overall demand conditions have improved, though some expressed concerns about regulatory impact. Some contacts specifically mentioned dissipating headwinds as a reason for increased investment, including one contact who sees enough improvement in the economic environment that the company has changed its strategy from diversification to more rapidly expanding its footprint with aggressive new revenue goals.

Does this jibe with what you, our readers, are seeing? As always, your thoughts are welcome.

By Sarah Arteaga, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch

August 6, 2014 in Economic conditions, Employment, Florida, Health Care, Jobs, Labor Markets, Recession, Recovery | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

08/01/2014

Southeast Housing Update: Building on Recent Gains

To detect emerging real estate trends, the Atlanta Fed conducts a monthly poll of southeastern broker and builder business contacts. The latest poll results suggest that housing market conditions in the Southeast remain positive.

The majority of brokers (60 percent) and builders (63 percent) indicated that home sales had increased from the year-earlier level (see the chart):

SE Home Sales versus a Year Earlier

The home sales outlook among contacts remained fairly upbeat. More than 80 percent of brokers and just under 50 percent of builders expect to see continued growth in home sales (see the chart):

SE Homesales Outlook versus a Year Earlier

More than half of the brokers and close to three-fourths of the builders reported that buyer traffic was up from the year-earlier level (see the chart):

SE Buyer Traffic versus a Year Earlier

Most brokers and builders reported that home inventory levels remained flat or were down from the year-earlier level (see the chart):

SE Home Inventory versus a Year Earlier

The majority of brokers and builders reported that home prices were up in June compared with year-ago levels (see the chart):

SE Home Prices versus a Year Earlier

More than three-fourths of builders reported that construction activity had increased from the year-earlier level (see the chart):

SE Construction Activity versus a Year Earlier

To explore these results in more detail, please visit our Construction and Real Estate Survey page.

Note: The latest poll results are based on responses from 40 residential brokers and 19 homebuilders and were collected July 7–16, 2014. Please sign up if you would like to participate in this poll.

August 1, 2014 in Housing, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)