SouthPoint

10/08/2014

Regional Jobs, Unemployment Rate Show Increases

In the latest edition of Southeastern Insights, my colleagues in the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) conveyed that most regional business contacts' staffing levels increased over the past couple of months. The recent release of state-level labor market data from the payroll survey produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics supports these anecdotal reports.

Payroll survey
Nearly all Sixth District states added new payrolls in August. In total, the region added 51,100 net jobs, following 38,200 new payrolls in July (revised up from 27,100). Florida was among the top job contributors in the nation, adding 22,700 new payrolls in August. The only job losses in the Sixth District occurred in Mississippi, which subtracted 4,600 (see the chart).

Contributions to Change in Net Payrolls by Sixth District State

The bulk of new jobs in the Sixth District came from goods-producing industries such as construction and manufacturing, with 25,200 jobs added on net. Florida alone contributed 10,600 of these jobs, with 6,100 added to the construction sector. Georgia added 7,900 goods-producing jobs, with 5,500 added to the manufacturing sector.

Gains in the professional and business services industry were also fairly widespread, with Sixth District states adding 15,500 payrolls to the sector in August. Only two sectors subtracted payrolls: leisure and hospitality (down 1,300 payrolls) and financial activities (down 200). Though neither sector subtracted payrolls in all states, most of the leisure and hospitality job losses occurred in Florida, which shed 5,800 payrolls, and most financial activities job losses were in Georgia, which lost 1,800 payrolls on net.

However, similar to my post last month about July's regional labor market data, jobs increased on aggregate in Sixth District states in August. However, the unemployment rate increased.

Household survey
The aggregate unemployment rate for the Sixth District ticked up to 6.9 percent in August from 6.7 percent in July (see the chart). In three of the six District states—Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee—the unemployment rate continued its upward trend (now for four straight months). Georgia had the highest unemployment rate among the states in August, at 8.1 percent, a notable 0.4 percentage point increase from 7.7 percent in July. Mississippi's unemployment rate, though still one of the highest in the nation, declined for the first time in four months in August to 7.9 percent, from 8.0 percent in July.

Contributions to Change in Net Payrolls by Sixth District State

So why did the report reflect an increase in jobs and a rise in the unemployment rate? Though there is some ambiguity about a rising unemployment rate accompanying decent employment growth, one possible explanation is that the number of people looking for work increased more than the number hired. The labor force participation rate (LFPR) is an indicator that supports this notion. In fact, the data show that the LFPR increased in most Sixth District states during the last couple of months. Perhaps recent improving trends in labor market conditions made people more confident in their ability to find employment, thus encouraging them to look for jobs.

The next release of state-level labor market data will be October 21. We'll have to wait and see if this trend continues.


October 8, 2014 in Economic conditions, Employment, Southeast, Unemployment | Permalink

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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

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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

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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

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07/22/2014

A Closer Look at Progress in Selected Southeastern Labor Markets

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles unemployment rates at the county level, which allows a glimpse of how local labor markets are performing. The interactive map of the Southeast below depicts the progress across the region since the second quarter of 2009, which the National Bureau of Economic Research defines as the end of the most recent recession.

Areas in southern Louisiana stand out as having had low unemployment even in 2009, thanks in large part to the strength of the energy sector and continued post-Katrina development. Fast-forward to 2014, and we also see considerable improvement in other areas. But some parts of the Southeast are still struggling with high unemployment.

Although the map shows improvement since the end of the recession, it doesn’t show whether we are back to normal, or even what “normal” looks like. Are local labor markets as strong as they were before the recession? Drilling down a bit more, we separated counties into two categories: those defined as a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) by the U.S. Census Bureau, and those not defined as an MSA. Those counties within an MSA are typically more urban and densely populated, and non-MSA counties tend to be more rural and less populated. In the chart below, we have calculated the unemployment rate for both MSA and non-MSA counties. The size of the bubble represents the size of the labor force, and the solid lines show the national average unemployment rate in each of the two time periods.

In 2007, non-MSA counties in Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi had unemployment rates above the 2007 average, whereas all but Mississippi had MSA unemployment rates below the national average. In 2014, unemployment in non-MSA counties in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi was above the national average, and all but Georgia had MSA unemployment below the national average. So, above-average unemployment is generally more prevalent in non-MSAs than in MSAs, seemingly a persistent problem. (Florida and Louisiana are the two exceptions in the region, with average or below-average MSA and non-MSA unemployment rates before and after the recession.)

Another way to gauge labor market strength is to measure job growth. Generally speaking, unemployment and job growth move in opposite directions, although declines in labor force participation can also cause the unemployment rate to decline even without strong job growth. In the chart below, to view how MSA and non-MSA counties fared across states, we have plotted year-over-year employment growth in 2007 (prior to the recession) against growth for the year ending with the first quarter of 2014. Once again, the size of the bubble represents the size of the labor force in 2014. We see that across the region, employment growth was weakest among non-MSA counties in both periods, but employment growth was generally stronger among MSA counties in both periods (although only MSA counties in Florida and Louisiana experienced above average employment growth in 2007 and 2014).

The unemployment map demonstrates that labor market conditions have improved in most parts of the Southeast since the end of the recession. However, many smaller rural communities continue to struggle with higher levels of unemployment and weaker employment growth than their big-city neighbors.

Photo of John RobertsonBy John Robertson, a vice president and senior economist, and


Photo of Whitney MancusoWhitney Mancuso, a senior economic analyst, both of the Atlanta Fed's research department


July 22, 2014 in Employment, Jobs, Labor Markets, Recession, Southeast, Unemployment | Permalink

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07/10/2014

A Southern Slowdown in Manufacturing?

Manufacturing in the Southeast had been thriving in recent months. According to the Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) report, new orders, production, and employment at regional manufacturers had been strong since March. The latest PMI report, released on July 7, suggests that activity may be slowing down a little bit.

The Southeast PMI is produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University. A reading on the index above 50 represents an expansion in the manufacturing sector, and a reading below 50 indicates a contraction. The survey provides an analysis of manufacturing conditions for the region in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Representatives from various manufacturing companies are surveyed regarding trends and activities in new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery time, and finished inventories.

The June PMI decreased 4.5 points compared with May. Although still boasting an overall reading of 55.3 points (which is not bad), the new orders and production subindex readings dropped. The new orders subindex fell 10.1 points from May to 59.4, and the production subindex fell 10.8 points to 56.6 compared with the previous period (see the chart). The readings are still firmly in expansion territory, but they don’t have the excitement of the high readings from previous months. The employment subindex also decreased 4.6 points from May’s 55.2. Manufacturing payrolls are still increasing, according to the PMI survey, but fewer companies may be adding employees.

Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

The supplier delivery times subindex increased 1.8 points during the month, suggesting that it is taking a little longer to receive inputs at manufacturing plants. The commodity prices subindex fell 10.0 points compared with May, which could be a sign that price pressures for materials may be easing.

Looking ahead, manufacturing contacts’ optimism concerning future production remains lackluster. When asked for their production expectations, only thirty-four percent of survey participants expect production to be higher in the next three to six months. The percentage of contacts expecting higher production has been falling in recent months.

So, is manufacturing activity slowing? It’s difficult to draw that conclusion over one month’s data. However, the sharp drop in new orders and production is hard to ignore. It’s important to remember that the overall PMI reading is still positive and is in line with June’s national index reading of 55.3 from the Institute for Supply Management. The Southeast PMI indicated that manufacturing activity had been sprinting down the track in recent months. Maybe it needed a breather, or maybe it pulled a hamstring. We’ll have to wait and see.

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


July 10, 2014 in Employment, Inventories, Manufacturing, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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07/03/2014

Separating Out Job Groups in the Sixth District

There’s been a lot of discussion about the decline of jobs considered to be “mid-skilled” during the last several years. A recent Regional Economic Press Briefing prepared by our friends at the New York Fed took another look at this important issue. They aggregate occupations into three skill categories: higher-skill, middle-skill, and lower-skill professions. The specific occupations of each category are outlined in the following chart:

Southpoint_2014-07-03A

Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics dataset, we were able to decompose the Sixth District states’ labor markets using the same skill categories that the New York Fed used.

Both the higher-skill and lower-skill categories grew from 2007 to 2013, and the middle-skill group shrank for both the United States and Sixth District. The proportion by which the middle-skill group’s share shrank during the time period was roughly similar for the nation and Sixth District, with the difference between the two differences being less than 1 percentage point. Yet more interesting, we were able to compare how these groups’ compositions have changed prior to and following the recession for each Sixth District state. You can see a state-by-state decomposition in the following chart:

Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee all saw their share of their middle-skill jobs shrink by roughly 4 percentage points during the time period, while Alabama’s share of middle skill jobs decreased by about 3 percentage points. The middle-skill groups in Louisiana and Mississippi, often the outliers in Sixth District data, shrank by the smallest amounts during the time period 2007–13, roughly by 2 percentage points. However, Louisiana’s share of higher-skill occupations was the only one not to expand from 2007 to 2013. The shrinking share of middle-skill jobs in that state was almost solely the result of a growing share of lower-skill jobs.

To understand how the data in the chart above came about, we can look at changes in the composition of these groups (higher-, middle-, and lower-skill groups) by state during both the recession and recovery. The first chart below shows that the middle-skill groups took a particularly hard hit across the nation and District in the previous recession...

Southpoint_2014-07-03C

...while those middle-skill jobs have been the most sluggish to come back, both across the nation and the Sixth District, as the following chart shows:

Southpoint_2014-07-03D

By Mark Carter and Sandra Ghizoni, both senior economic analysts in the Atlanta Fed’s research department


July 3, 2014 in Employment, Jobs, Labor Markets, Recession, Recovery, Southeast | Permalink

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06/26/2014

Florida, On Holiday

In May, the Sixth District states added just 15,000 net new payrolls. This increase follows three months where the states hit the mark of 40,000 new payrolls per month. However, last month, the District's labor market held two dubious distinctions: first, Florida shed more payrolls than any other state in the nation, and second, Georgia—despite adding 12,900 payrolls in May—had the largest statistically significant increase in its unemployment rate than any other state in the nation (up 0.3 percentage points; see the chart).

Contributions to Change in Net Payrolls, by Sixth District State

As you can see in the chart above, Florida added about 100,000 payrolls for the first four months of 2014 before hitting a snag in May. So what happened last month? Three of the state's sectors that appeared to have turned the corner following the downturn actually were hit hard in May: employment in the construction and accommodation and food services sectors both declined last month, losing 6,100 and 7,700 payrolls, respectively. Hiring in professional and business services—a sector recovering faster than most in the postrecession period—shed 9,500 payrolls. Florida's professional and business services sector added 25,500 payrolls during the first four months of 2014.

As always, a reasonable word of caution when looking at these data: one month does not a trend make. Still, you can't help but scratch your head on this one, especially with accommodation and food services, as the weather warms up after a harsh winter and people begin planning their Florida beach getaways. You can see how employment in the previously mentioned sectors is faring relative to their most recent peaks and troughs in the chart below.

Florida Total Nonfarm Payrolls and Selected Industries

On the other hand, Florida's labor market is still showing some signs of life: the trade and transportation sector added 5,300 payrolls, and retailers added 2,100 payroll jobs.

Other District states fared better in May. As previously mentioned, Georgia added 12,900 payrolls (with 5,400 of those being in professional, scientific, and technical services), and Louisiana added 8,500 payroll jobs over the month. Tennessee added 6,700 payrolls, and Mississippi—where monthly payroll growth has averaged 1,300 during the past 12 months—added 4,100 payrolls.

State unemployment rates
Despite five out of six District states adding payrolls in May, five out of six District states also saw increases in their unemployment rates. The District's aggregate unemployment rate ticked up 0.1 percentage point to reach 6.5 percent, while Mississippi's ticked up to reach 7.7 percent (the highest rate in the District). Georgia saw a 0.3 percentage point increase, reaching 7.2 percent. Louisiana's noticeably lower rate of employment increased to 4.9 percent (see the chart).

Unemployment Rates for Sixth District States, and Sixth District Aggregate

To find out how many jobs it would take to lower unemployment rates in all 50 states, check out the Atlanta Fed's Jobs Calculator.

The next national employment release will be out July 3, and the next regional employment release comes out July 18.

By Mark Carter, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department

June 26, 2014 in Employment, Florida, Labor Markets, Southeast, Unemployment | Permalink

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06/25/2014

The Growing Gulf Coast: Good Signs despite Low Sales

The weather is not the only thing about to heat up along the Gulf Coast. The economy is warming up as well, according to the Regional Economic Information Network’s (REIN) contacts. The REIN team in the Atlanta Fed’s New Orleans Branch reaches out to leaders from large and small businesses from all sectors of the economy and to representatives from community groups along the Gulf Coast in order to gain a representative picture of regional economic conditions, which, by the way, appears to be markedly improving. Since mid-April, we’ve held 15 one-on-one interviews, one roundtable with a mix of business leaders, our branch board meeting, and we also attended several conferences.

According to our contacts, business sentiment has picked up. Most of them were optimistic about near-term (three to six months) and medium-term (two to three years) growth and were more confident in their outlook than in the recent past. Of contacts who indicated they were experiencing second quarter growth, approximately half believed the growth was a rebound from an unusually weak first quarter, with the other half attributing it to a modest increase in economic strength.

Burgeoning capital investment was a consistent recent theme. A lack of “visibility”—or a firm’s ability to confidently predict future business conditions—was not reported as a significant inhibitor of capital investment. Nearly every contact shared information about merger and acquisition (M&A) activity or capital expenditure projects under way or planned for 2014. Most projects involved expansion to meet growing demand, including constructing new facilities and upgrading existing ones, although several projects involved new product offerings. Consistent with the recent trend along the Gulf Coast, much of the increased investment stemmed from the energy sector. However, we noticed investment picked up in other industries, such as in education and medical services.

Business contacts also reported that spending on consulting services for leadership development and organizational culture training increased. The addition of new leaders, M&A activity that resulted in conflicting organizational cultures, and the recession-era deferral of discretionary spending generated a surge in demand for these services.

Residential real estate across the Gulf Coast picked up marginally since mid-April. The median residential home sale was around $200,000, though inventories were low. Homes in coastal Alabama’s high-end market (over $600,000) were slow to move, and a lack of high-end inventory in coastal Mississippi led to increased construction in that market. In past months, we heard reports of an increase in raw land deals along the Florida Panhandle, and similarly, a recent reemergence of raw land deals was reported in coastal Alabama, often 50 percent bank-financed with fully collateralized loans. Commercial construction also resurfaced in parts of the region.

Resting retail
Unfortunately, the general optimism was not shared by all sectors. Regional retail contacts shared dampened expectations for the second quarter. Some admitted to difficulty adjusting to a shopping landscape increasingly dominated by the internet, which forced big-box retail stores to rethink sales strategies and reevaluate store locations and sizes and in some cases led to resurgence in the redevelopment of shopping centers.

Bracing for the boom
The employment picture was heartening, with nearly all of our contacts implementing hiring plans. In fact, a few contacts who took steps to reduce employment to “lean and mean” levels during the recession and early recovery admitted they were not so sure the decision was advantageous, and recently they saw productivity increase significantly once they added workers. However, the continued shortage of skilled labor has many contacts worried that some project start dates may be pushed back as they struggle to find qualified people.

Most contacts continued to report isolated wage pressures for skilled labor, medical services, and professional jobs, though some expressed they are bracing themselves for significant wage pressure in the coming months as the economy picks up.

The chatter about plans to increase prices in recent months materialized into reports of price increases, yet contacts admitted the increases were challenging and required a great deal of negotiating.

Overall, the Gulf Coast economy appears to be rising out of the recessionary fog and shedding the winter frost. The picture across most industries was definitively positive, with reports of large investment projects, hiring plans, and price increases.

By Adrienne Slack, vice president and regional executive; Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist; and Harrison Grieb, economic intern, Regional Economic Information Network, all in the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed


June 25, 2014 in Construction, Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Employment, Gulf Coast, Prices, Real Estate, Retail | Permalink

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06/12/2014

Southeast Manufacturing Rides a Wave in May

The most recent Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) indicated that manufacturing activity continued to expand in May. The latest report, released on June 5, put the overall index at 59.8 points. Although the May index was 3.4 points below April’s 63.2 level, it was still well above the 50-point threshold, indicating expansion in the manufacturing sector.

The Southeast PMI is produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University. A reading on the index above 50 represents an expansion in the manufacturing sector, and a reading below 50 indicates a contraction. The survey provides an analysis of manufacturing conditions for the region in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Representatives from various manufacturing companies are surveyed regarding trends and activities in new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery time, and finished inventories.

All components of the Southeast PMI decreased during May, but for the most part, only slightly (see the chart):

  • The new orders subindex fell 2.8 points from April but remained a solid 69.6. A high new orders subindex is a good sign that future production activity will be robust.
  • The production subindex fell 0.7 points compared with April, but like new orders, it remained strong with a reading of 67.4. The high production subindex suggests that factories are currently busy, Coupled with the elevated new orders subindex, manufacturing firms stand a good chance of remaining busy in the months to come.
  • The employment subindex declined 0.8 points from April to 63 but still indicates that manufacturing payrolls are increasing.
  • The supplier delivery subindex also suggested strengthening in the sector. While it fell 5.2 points to 57.6, it remains solidly in expansionary territory—an indication that demand for inputs among manufacturers is healthy.

A notable aspect in the PMI report was the responses to the survey question concerning future production. When asked about their production expectations over the next three to six months, only 41 percent of purchasing managers expect production to be higher. That rate is somewhat out of line with the strong new orders numbers we’ve seen, but maybe some underlying elements are dampening purchasing managers’ optimism.

The Southeast PMI has averaged a reading of 61.5 during the last three months. That level represents the strongest three-month average since early 2012. Let’s hope that manufacturing activity can continue to ride the wave and not wipe out this summer.

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


June 12, 2014 in Employment, Inventories, Manufacturing, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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