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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.


SouthPoint

07/16/2015


Southeast Manufacturing Rebounded in June

The Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) report, released on July 5, showed that manufacturing activity in the Southeast rebounded from a less-than-spectacular May. If you'll recall, May's PMI reading was heading in the wrong direction. The overall index had fallen to its lowest level this year, and new orders and production also appeared to be falling, but June's Southeast PMI got us back on the right track.

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 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. An index reading above 50 indicates expanding activity, and a reading below 50 indicates contracting activity.

The PMI index rose 2.7 points in June to 55.1 from May's 52.4 (see the chart). Most of the subindexes indicated positive movement as well, particularly new orders and production.

  • The new orders subindex rose 9.3 points to 55.3, after falling into contractionary territory in May.
  • The production subindex increased 8.9 points compared to the previous month and now reads 57.9.
  • The employment subindex declined 3.0 to 57.0.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex decreased 3.4 points to 52.6.
  • The finished inventory subindex increased 1.6 points to 52.6.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell 1.4 points and now reads 52.6.

Se-purchasing-managers

The rise in the overall index is welcome news, but even more welcome are increases in the new orders and production subindexes. The new orders subindex is the most forward-looking indicator in the survey. When new orders fall, it generally suggests that future demand for manufacturing products may be weakening and future production may be lower. As a result, employment levels at manufacturers could also decline. It would normally take several months of subpar activity for this to occur, and a one-month drop is nothing to get excited about. Still, it is always nice to rebound quickly. June's report will hopefully set the stage for a strong third quarter.

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

July 16, 2015 in Inventories, Manufacturing, Purchasing, Southeast | Permalink

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04/16/2014


Beige Book: Warming Economy Accompanies Spring’s Thaw

Eight times a year, each of the 12 Reserve Banks gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its district through reports from Bank and branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. Their findings are reported in the Summary of Economic Conditions, also known as the Beige Book. The report is published on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors' website about two weeks prior to each Federal Open Market Committee meeting.

The first sentences of the national summary and each Bank's report often receive much attention because the lead sentence tends to summarize economic conditions in that region.

Here is a compilation of the first sentence of the national summary and each Reserve Bank’s report:

  • National: Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest economic activity increased in most regions of the country since the previous report. (A previous SouthPoint post also mentioned the weather’s effect on overall economic conditions.)
  • Boston: The First District economy continues to expand moderately, according to business contacts, although growth rates vary across sectors and firms.
  • New York: Economic activity in the Second District rebounded since the last report, as the harsh winter weather abated.
  • Philadelphia: Aggregate business activity in the Third District grew at a moderate pace during this current Beige Book period.
  • Cleveland: On balance, economic activity in the Fourth District declined slightly in the past six weeks.
  • Richmond: The Fifth District economy expanded moderately since our last report.
  • Atlanta: On balance, the Sixth District economy expanded at a modest pace from mid-February through March.
  • Chicago: Growth in economic activity in the Seventh District picked up in March, and contacts generally maintained their optimistic outlook for 2014.
  • St. Louis: Business activity in the Eighth District has declined slightly since our previous report.
  • Minneapolis: The Ninth District economy continued to grow at a moderate pace since the last report.
  • Kansas City: The Tenth District economy grew moderately in March, and most contacts were optimistic about future activity.
  • Dallas: The Eleventh District economy grew at a moderate pace over the last six weeks.
  • San Francisco: Economic activity in the Twelfth District continued to improve moderately during the reporting period of mid-February through early April.

As you can see, almost all districts are experiencing the same level of economic activity.

Here are some notable highlights from the Atlanta Fed's contribution to the Beige Book:

Consumer spending and tourism

  • District merchants reported an uptick in activity from mid-February through March following sluggish sales in January, which were widely attributed to the severe winter weather. Light motor vehicle sales grew modestly during the time period.
  • Hospitality contacts in areas negatively affected by the adverse winter weather saw improvements in activity.

Real estate and construction

  • Brokers reported home sales were mixed. Inventory levels continued to fall on a year-over-year basis, and the majority of contacts reported that home prices remained ahead of the year-earlier level.
  • The majority of builders reported that construction activity and new home sales were ahead of the year-earlier level. The majority of contacts continued to report modest home price appreciation.
  • District brokers noted that demand for commercial real estate continued to improve. Construction activity continued to increase at a modest pace from last year.

Manufacturing

  • Manufacturers reported increased activity across the region from mid-February through March. Significant improvements were cited in production and new orders.

Banking and finance

  • Bankers noted an increase in loan demand.

Employment

  • District payroll growth remained constrained from mid-February through March.

Prices and wages

  • Nonlabor input costs increased very slowly, with a few noted exceptions, including rising costs for developed land, construction materials, and food. Profit margins remained tight across most industries as contacts continued to report very little pricing power.
  • Contacts continued to indicate little wage pressure outside of some high-skilled positions.

The next Beige Book will be published June 4.

Photo of Teri GaffordBy Shalini Patel, an economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's research department


April 16, 2014 in Construction, Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Employment, Housing, Jobs, Labor Markets, Manufacturing, Prices, Purchasing, Real Estate, Unemployment, Weather | Permalink

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03/25/2014


Southeast Housing Update: Whether It’s the Weather

Since the beginning of the year, housing indicators have been less robust than expected. Existing home sales, as reported by the National Association of Realtors, have declined on a year-over-year and month-over month basis for the past few months. Housing starts, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, have declined from a year ago for the last two months. The big question seems to be why. A popular explanation is that the weather is responsible for all the recent ills in housing. Let’s turn to the Atlanta Fed’s monthly poll of Southeast broker and builder business contacts to see whether factors besides the weather are being overlooked.

Our contacts’ responses indicate they have picked up on the slowing pace of growth in home sales, buyer traffic, and construction activity. The majority of contacts continued to indicate an increase in sales on a month-over-month and year-over-year basis, although fewer Southeast builder and broker contacts reported an increase in home sales relative to the prior month.

Reports on buyer traffic were mixed. The diffusion index of responses is near zero, which means roughly the same number of contacts reported increased activity as reported decreased activity. Though most comments indicated that winter weather conditions slowed buyer traffic, a few comments noted that web inquiries during the same period increased. Steady web activity is consistent with buyer interest remaining constant and waiting out the weather to look at properties in person.

Overall, builders continued to report an increase in construction activity in February, but fewer builders reported an increase this month than in the past few months. To better understand what was behind this weakness, we added several special questions to our most recent poll.

We asked contacts if the recent spurts of severe winter weather had an impact on their business. More than three-fourths of our builder contacts and just shy of three-fourths of our broker contacts indicated that, indeed, the gusts of severe winter weather had in fact had a slight to significant impact on their business (see the chart). Brokers and builders explained that the severe weather events slowed home sales (for example, delayed closings), buyer traffic, and the delivery of new homes to the market.

Did the recent spurts of severe weather have an impact on your business?

We also asked our contacts several questions about investor buying activity, since investors have been a driving force for improvements in many housing markets, and their exit from the market could account for some of the slowing in housing markets. It appears investor participation has waned somewhat based on our poll results (see the chart).

Southeast Composition of Home Buyers

Digging a little deeper to better understand the variation across markets, we learned that more than half of brokers indicated that sales to investors were flat or had increased on a year-over-year basis; only 46 percent indicated a decline. So, while investor participation may have fallen at a regional level, investors are still very present in certain markets across the Southeast (see the chart).

Southeast Home Sales to Investors

Given the results to our inquiries, you might conclude that weather and waning investor interest account for much of the weakness in recent housing data. However, our contacts reported that this was not necessarily the case. While the weather events and pullback of investor buying in some markets may be contributing to the slowdown, contacts indicated that higher home prices, higher mortgage rates, and limited inventory were the most significant factors contributing to the weakness in recent housing data (a recent Real Estate Research post discusses changes in affordability). Perhaps more importantly, the majority of broker and builder contacts indicated that they do not expect the recent weakness in housing to persist (see the table).

Factors Influencing Recent Slower Growth in the Housing Market

So, to what extent were the official numbers affected by the harsh weather? The answer is still up in the air. Based on our latest survey results, it appears that a confluence of factors contributed to the recent weakness but that these headwinds will not be strong enough to derail the continuing recovery in housing.

Note: February poll results are based on responses from 42 residential brokers and 23 homebuilders and were collected March 3–12, 2014. The housing poll's diffusion indexes are calculated as the percentage of total respondents reporting increases minus the percentage reporting declines. Positive values in the index indicate increased activity, and negative values indicate decreased activity.

If you are a real estate broker or homebuilder and would like to participate in this poll, please let us know by sending a note to RealEstateCenter@atl.frb.org.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst, and

Photo of Carl HudsonCarl Hudson, director of the Center for Real Estate Analytics, both in the Atlanta Fed's research department


March 25, 2014 in Construction, Housing, Purchasing, Real Estate, Weather | Permalink

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01/24/2014


Housing Continues to Rebound

The Atlanta Fed’s December 2013 Southeast housing market poll results show ongoing progress in the housing recovery. The majority of builders and brokers reported that sales on a year-over-year basis continued to be flat to slightly up (see the chart).

December 2013 Southeast Home Sales vs. a Year Earlier

After several months of reports of declining buyer traffic, most brokers and more builders indicated that buyer traffic was up on a year-over-year basis (see the chart).

December 2013 Southeast Buyer Traffic vs. a Year Earlier

The majority of brokers continued to report that home inventory levels had fallen from year-earlier levels, and most builders reported that inventory levels remain unchanged (see the chart).

December 2013 Southeast Home Inventory vs. a Year Earlier

The majority of brokers and builders indicated that home prices increased slightly in December (see the chart).

December 2013 Home Price vs. a Year-ago

Builders continued to indicate upward pressure on labor costs. More than 90 percent of builders reported that labor costs had increased in December 2013, compared with less than 80 percent in December 2012 and roughly 40 percent in December 2011 (see the chart).

Southeast Builder Labor Costs vs. One Year Ago

While half of all contacts reported that the amount of available credit is equal to demand, just shy of half reported that the amount of available credit falls short of demand (see the charts).

Brokers: How available do you perceive mortgage finance to be in your market?

Builders: How available do you perceive mortgage finance to be in your market?

Most contacts continued to report that the available construction and development finance falls short of existing demand (see the chart). Even so, several contacts commented that when the components of construction and development finance are broken out, credit for the vertical construction of structures is fairly available, but obtaining credit for lot development remains challenging.

Builders: How available do you perceive construction & development finance to be in your market?

During the next three months, builders expect sales growth to be flat to slightly up, and brokers’ expectations are mixed (see the charts). Expectations remain fairly positive overall, however; fewer contacts are as optimistic about sales growth as they were one year ago.

Southeast Builder Home Sales Expectations Next 3 Months

Southeast Broker Home Sales Expectations Next 3 Months

More than half of all builders expect activity to increase over the next three months, but the outlook is more subdued than a year earlier (see the chart). Fewer builders expect construction activity to increase over the next three months compared to one year ago.

Southeast Builder Construction Expectations Next 3 Months

Note: December poll results are based on responses from 44 residential brokers and 24 homebuilders and were collected January 6–15, 2014. The housing poll's diffusion indexes are calculated as the percentage of total respondents reporting increases minus the percentage reporting declines. Positive values in the index indicate increased activity, and negative values indicate decreased activity.

If you are a real estate broker or homebuilder and would like to participate in this poll, please let us know by sending a note to RealEstateCenter@atl.frb.org.

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



January 24, 2014 in Construction, Housing, Prices, Purchasing, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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02/13/2013


Regional Manufacturing Index Jumps in January

Reports from the Atlanta Fed's business contacts indicated that manufacturing in the Southeast improved in early 2013. In particular, information from auto producers and firms that produce goods for the energy sector remained positive.

One of the data tools we employ here at the Atlanta Fed to track manufacturing activity in the region is the Southeast purchasing managers index (PMI). The Southeast PMI is produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University and provides an analysis of the most current market conditions for the manufacturing sector in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The index is based on a survey of representatives from companies in those states regarding trends and activity of new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery time, and finished goods. A reading on this index above 50 represents an expansion in the manufacturing sector, while a reading below 50 indicates a contraction.

In January 2013, the Southeast PMI increased 5.5 points to a reading of 51.9—its highest level since last September (see the chart). All subindices logged increases as well, in particular new orders, production, and employment. New orders saw the most substantial increase, jumping 12.6 points from December to January to 55.3. Production rose 9.1 points to 50.9, and the employment measure recorded a 3.4 point rise to 51.8.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the January survey reflects the purchasing managers' outlook on production expectations over the next three to six months. While this question is not a component of the overall PMI, this information provides input from those closest to the industry on what activity is expected in the months ahead. Among survey participants, 57 percent expect production to be higher in the next three to six months, versus 47 percent from the prior survey period.

By Amy Pitts, a senior REIN analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

February 13, 2013 in Manufacturing, Purchasing | Permalink

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