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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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03/28/2014

An Economic Perspective from North and Central Florida

Over the course of the six weeks between the January and March Federal Open Market Committee meetings, my colleague Chris Oakley, the regional executive of the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch, and I met with 17 business leaders from across north and central Florida, as well as with members of our branch board of directors, to gain a broad perspective on current economic conditions.

Overall, most contacts indicated that that the stronger pace of activity experienced in the latter part of last year either has been sustained or should resume as the weather improves. (Unlike the rest of the country, Florida has been relatively untouched by the adverse winter weather. However, our contacts with a national footprint or those who experienced delayed parts deliveries, like manufacturing, construction, and food services, have noted disruptions in activity as a result of bad weather in certain markets.)

Designers and builders of both large and small enterprises noted a pick-up, especially in manufacturing, health care, and financial services, with one firm reporting a record backlog of projects due to organic growth and acquisitions. Other areas of strength for the state included tourism, housing construction, port activity, and an increasing number of retirees choosing Florida as their new home. On the flip side, banker contacts continued to be disappointed with a lack of loan demand among small business clients, but "tire kicking" appeared to have increased along with expectations for a higher level of activity this year. Restaurant contacts indicated worries about middle- and low-income consumers, whose disposable incomes are challenged with low wage growth and adjusting to increased health care premiums.

Florida has experienced a stronger rebound in new home permits than the nation since the beginning of 2014 (see the chart). Conversations with business contacts reflect this trend. Some residential home builders indicated that they are building spec homes with confidence that the properties will sell; one custom builder reported that his spec homes have been selling at 98 percent of the asking price. Banker contacts noted price increases as a result of both reduced real estate owned inventories on their books and a shortage of developed lots for new home construction. On the credit side, bankers reported that available credit now appears to have achieved some equilibrium with real estate demand. It was also noted that demand for rental property remains robust as some previous homeowners who lost their homes during the downturn have indicated no interest in owning another home and will continue to rent, at least in the near term.


Feedback regarding the labor market was mixed. We heard several stories about the inability to fill construction jobs, especially high-skilled positions. One contact speculated that this lack of talent could eventually result in a greater proportion of construction taking place in factory-like settings with only assembly occurring in the field, allowing for the use of greater automation in manufacturing components. Staffing contacts noted postrecession high levels of openings, and those workers with unique skills (often I.T. or accounting-related) were in the driver's seat and were able to dictate working conditions and have some leverage in compensation negotiations. A large manufacturer found success in partnering with Florida's universities and military veteran placement services to ensure an adequate supply of engineers and other high-skilled workers.

A good amount of discussion about increased labor costs focused on health care benefits, with sources sharing anecdotes about annual increases as high as 20 percent. A majority of contacts indicated they are passing along or sharing premium increases with employees. We also heard stories of companies reducing or discontinuing benefits for family members who might otherwise qualify for benefits elsewhere. Further, it was emphasized, especially among lower-wage, service-oriented companies, that the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act is resulting in a larger number of eligible employees electing coverage, which is also driving up costs for the employer. A large design-build firm noted increased labor costs among its subcontractors, and a real estate rental firm indicated a "fair amount of wage pressure" for higher-level employees, such as property managers. In the government sector, both at the county and municipal levels, contacts commented on a resumption of wage increases among their constituents, the first for most since the recession.

With regard to nonlabor costs, developed land and construction material costs were both noted as concerns among construction contractors. Restaurant contacts expect food costs to rise about 4 percent this year, consistent with what they experienced in 2013, with increasing meat prices driving the rise. Banker contacts continued to point to rising regulatory and compliance costs. Overall, there appears to be more of an appetite for attempting to push through input cost increases through pricing, though the consensus is that any increase would be conservative.

So, overall, the takeaway from all of these anecdotes is that it's more of the same. While uncertainties are fewer and farther between than in the past couple of years, the outlook in the northern half of Florida appears a little less cloudy and even laced with cautious optimism. For a wider viewpoint on the economy across the Southeast, see the Atlanta Fed's latest Southeastern Insights.

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


March 28, 2014 in Economic conditions, Economy, Employment, Florida, Real Estate | 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 [email protected].

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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02/27/2014

Southeast Housing Update: Modest Improvement Continues

According to the latest results from our Southeast housing market poll, contacts continued to indicate that growth remained positive. More than half of our Southeast builder and broker contacts reported that sales increased modestly on a year-over-year basis (see the chart).

January 2014 Southeast Home Sales vs. a Year Earlier

Many builders indicated that buyer traffic had increased on a year-over year-basis. Reports from brokers were mixed (see the chart).

January 2014 Southeast Buyer Traffic vs. a Year Earlier

The majority of our Southeast builder panel indicated that inventory levels had remained unchanged from year-earlier levels, although most of our Southeast broker panel indicated that inventory levels had fallen from year-earlier levels (see the chart).

January 2014 Southeast Home Inventory vs. a Year Earlier

Most brokers and builders continued to report that home prices had increased slightly in January compared to year-ago levels (see the chart).

January 2014 Home Price vs. a Year-ago

Two-thirds of brokers reported that the amount of available credit either met or exceeded demand (see the chart).

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

Similarly, two-thirds of builders indicated that the amount of available credit met or exceeded demand (see the chart).

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

It’s worth noting that while this picture hasn’t drastically improved over time, it hasn’t deteriorated much either despite the recent implementation of mortgage regulations (for example, thequalified mortgage rule, which went into effect on January 10). We plan to keep a close eye on this question as the year unfolds.

Residential construction update
Our builder contacts indicated that construction activity increased slightly on a year-over-year basis but remained unchanged month over month. Nearly three out of four builders reported that activity was in line with their plan for the period.

You may recall from previous SouthPoint posts that builders have faced challenges securing acquisition and development financing for lot development (here) and that builders identified lot availability as one of the biggest risks to their outlook (here). We posed a special question to our builder panel in an effort to gain more insight into the current lot inventory situation. Here are a few of the main takeaways:

  • Overwhelmingly and regardless of the market, builders reported that finished lots are extremely hard to come by in desirable locations. With few finished lots in the most desirable areas, many builders have moved to B and C locations for vertical construction. (B locations have become the new A locations, and C locations have become the new B locations.)
  • As a result of the increased demand for finished lots in good locations, contacts indicated that lot prices were appreciating rather quickly, and that this rate of price appreciation was problematic because the added cost on the front end does not align with the valuation that can be achieved on the back end.
  • A few builders reported that they were in the process of developing new lots in A locations, but many more contacts noted that it was cost-prohibitive to develop raw land in any location at this time. The latter group reported that private acquisition and development money was available to fill the void that banks have left but noted that it was more expensive and would significantly raise the cost of development to the point where it becomes no longer viable. No one on the builder panel seemed to think that it would be viable to develop raw land in B and C locations at this point.

Outlook on sales and construction activity
Over the next three months, most builders and brokers expect home sales to increase. Although expectations remain fairly positive, contacts were slightly less optimistic about sales growth relative to their year-earlier responses (see the charts).

Southeast Builder Home Sales Expectations Next 3 Months

Southeast Broker Home Sales Expectations Next 3 Months

Nearly two-thirds of builder contacts expect construction activity to increase over the next three months. With that said, builders’ outlooks appear to be slightly less optimistic relative to their year-earlier responses.

Southeast Builder Construction Expectations Next 3 Months

Note: January poll results are based on responses from 42 residential brokers and 23 homebuilders and were collected February 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 [email protected].

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


February 27, 2014 in Construction, Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Housing, Inventories, Prices, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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02/04/2014

Southeast Commercial Construction Update Strikes Upbeat Note

The Atlanta Fed’s fourth quarter 2013 commercial construction poll results were fairly optimistic. The majority of commercial construction contacts indicated that pace of nonresidential construction activity (measured by square feet) and the pace of multifamily construction (measured by number of units) had increased from year-earlier levels (see the charts).

Pace of Nonresidential Construction Activity (sq ft) versus a Year Ago

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

Most contacts reported backlogs greater than year-earlier levels, suggesting a healthy pipeline of construction activity (see the chart).

Backlog versus a Year Ago

More contacts reported upward pressure on labor costs than in previous polls (see the chart). Perhaps not surprisingly, this trend of upward pressure on labor costs for commercial contractors is consistent with our recent reports (here and here, for example) of upward pressure on labor costs for residential builders.

Labor Costs versus a Year Ago

Most contacts also noted upward pressure on material costs and have consistently reported this pressure several quarters in a row (see the chart).

Material Costs versus a Year Ago

Relative to recent polls, the number of respondents reporting that the amount of available credit exceeded demand increased; the number of respondents reporting that the amount of available credit fell short of demand also increased (see the chart). Another way of viewing the results is that more than half of the respondents indicated that amount of available credit met or exceeded demand, which has been the case for three consecutive quarters.

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

When asked what type of projects will dominate the landscape during 2014, business contacts indicated that they plan construction activity across a wide variety of property types. The property types mentioned include multifamily housing/senior housing, education, office, health care/medical, infrastructure/energy, retail/restaurant, municipal buildings, hotels, and industrial/warehouse.

Note: Fourth quarter 2013 poll results were collected January 6–15, 2014, and are based on responses from 19 business contacts. Participants of this poll included general contractors, subcontractors, lenders, developers, and material fabricators with footprints of varying sizes across the Southeast.

If you are a commercial contractor and would like to participate in this poll, please let us know by sending a note to [email protected].

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


February 4, 2014 in Construction, Housing, Prices, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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01/28/2014

Are the Clouds Lifting in the Sunshine State?

Each month, the Atlanta Fed produces a Data Digest for each state in our district. Beyond providing an economic snapshot for each state, the Data Digest also breaks down the information by metro area or industry, where appropriate.

Florida’s latest Data Digest indicates that the state’s overall economic activity is improving. For example, a broad measure of economic performance—the Coincident Economic Activity Index, which the Philadelphia Fed compiles for all 50 states—has been steadily improving since 2010 and improved at a slightly faster clip than the nation since August 2013 (see the chart).

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Looking at Florida’s labor markets, you can see that the state’s unemployment rate has improved from a peak of 11.4 percent in early 2010 to under 7 percent in November 2013 (see the chart). In addition, the state has regained more than half of the jobs that were lost during the downturn. The leisure and hospitality, education and health care, and retail trade sectors have more jobs today than prior to the downturn. Regarding the first sector, my Atlanta Fed colleague Gloria Guzman wrote in a previous SouthPoint post that the leisure and hospitality sector has been a significant contributor to Florida’s economic recovery. Meanwhile, employment in the manufacturing and construction sectors still has a long way to go before full recovering can be declared.

Employment Loss and Gain by Industry: Florida, November 2013

The University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research reported that although consumer confidence is off its recession lows, improvement has stalled. Despite that slowing, Florida sales tax revenue continues to rebound (see the chart). The Florida Department of Revenue notes that sales tax has been positively affected by the healthy activity in the leisure and hospitality sector.

Florida Sales Tax Revenue and Consumer Confidence, November 2013

The Atlanta Fed’s monthly real estate poll of homebuilders and brokers has noted improving home prices, and other data confirm this trend in Florida. The state has experienced an improvement in home prices of 8.4 percent from November 2012 to November 2013, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Furthermore, the S&P Case-Shiller home price index shows similar trends in Miami and Tampa (see the chart).

S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, through October 2013

Our monthly real estate poll also showed a rebound in residential construction (see the chart). Data from the U.S. Census Bureau confirm this trend, although it is important to note that activity is well below the prerecession peak. Although we do not expect a return to 2005 levels of activity, the steady rebound in new home construction is another signal of the state’s overall economic recovery.

New Residential Home Construction Permits, November 2013

Florida’s economy is clearly moving in the right direction. The Atlanta Fed’s surveys as well as regular input from business leaders and economic data all point to a steady rebound.

By Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, an economic and financial education specialist in the Atlanta Fed’s Miami Branch


January 28, 2014 in Construction, Employment, Florida, Housing, Prices, Real Estate | 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 [email protected].

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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12/23/2013

Southeast Commercial Construction Update: Activity, Costs Up

Last week, I reported on the latest results from the Atlanta Fed’s monthly housing market business contact poll. The Atlanta Fed also conducts a poll of commercial construction business contacts that tracks construction trends and developments in commercial real estate. (This category includes office, retail, industrial/warehouse/distribution, hotel, and multifamily properties).

I wanted to present a few highlights from the third-quarter 2013 poll:

  • The overwhelming majority of contacts indicated that the pace of construction activity for nonresidential structures had increased from year-earlier levels. On a quarter-over-quarter basis, most contacts indicated that the pace of construction was flat to up slightly.
  • Just over half of all respondents indicated that the level of backlog in the third quarter was similar to the level one year earlier. The rest indicated that the level of backlog in the third quarter was greater than the year-earlier level.
  • Most contacts indicated that material costs were slightly up from year-earlier levels.
  • The majority of contacts indicated increases in labor costs of from 1 percent to 4 percent from year-earlier levels. On a quarter-over-quarter basis, half of all contacts indicated no change in labor costs; the remaining noted labor cost increases of varying degrees.
  • Most contacts expected to modestly increase the number of employees at their firms in the fourth quarter of 2013. Just under half of business contacts indicated that it was more difficult to fill positions than a year earlier.
  • When asked about the availability of commercial construction and development finance in their market, more than half of contacts perceived the amount of available credit as sufficient to meet demand.

Note: Third-quarter 2013 poll results were collected October 7–16, 2013 and are based on responses from 17 commercial construction firms with footprints across the Southeast.

If you are a commercial contractor and would like to participate in this poll, please let us know by sending a note to [email protected].

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


December 23, 2013 in Construction, Housing, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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12/19/2013

Southeast Housing Update: Sales Growth Slows

In an effort to stay on top of changing housing market conditions, the Atlanta Fed conducts a monthly poll of home builder and residential broker business contacts. The poll dates back to December 2005. It opens on the first Monday of each month, closes a week and a half later, and reflects activity from the previous month. Since the most current housing data often come with several months’ lag, we like to keep a close eye on this poll for any early signals that the housing landscape is changing.

According to the latest poll results, the majority of builders and brokers reported that sales on a year-over-year basis continued to be flat to slightly up. On a month-over-month basis, contacts indicated that sales continued to be flat to slightly down (see the chart).

November 2013 Southeast Home Sales vs. a Year Earlier

Nearly half the brokers indicated that buyer traffic was down on a year-over-year basis. More builders have also started to indicate that buyer traffic is declining (see the chart). Many of the comments we received from contacts suggested that seasonal factors are driving the decline in buyer traffic.

November 2013 Southeast Buyer Traffic vs. a Year Earlier

The majority of brokers and builders continued to report that home inventory levels were down from a year earlier (see the chart). Several contacts commented that they expect to see slight increases in inventory levels over the next few months as more homeowners regain equity in their homes.

November 2013 Southeast Home Inventory vs. a Year Earlier

The majority of builders and brokers continued to indicate home price appreciation in November (see the chart).

November 2013 Home Price vs. a Year-ago

Over the past two months, more builders have begun to indicate that they are having a difficult time filling positions compared with a year earlier (see the chart).

November 2013 Southeast Homebuilder Survey: Difficulty Filling Positions vs. a Year Earlier

When asked how labor costs compare with a year ago, more than 30 percent of builders indicated that they are experiencing increases of 3 percent or more (compared with 20 percent of builders one year earlier and 10 percent of builders two years earlier; see the chart).

Southeast Builder Labor Costs vs. Year Ago

More broker and builder contacts expect to see home sales growth over the next few months relative to last month’s report, although expectations for home sales growth are slightly weaker than a year earlier (see the charts).

Southeast Builder Home Sales Expectations Next 3 Months, Year-over-Year

Southeast Broker Home Sales Expectations Next 3 Months, Year-over-Year

Fewer builders expect construction activity to increase over the next three months compared with a year ago, although expectations for activity have increased from recent reports (see the chart).

Southeast Builder Construction Expectations Next 3 Months, Year-over-Year

Note: November poll results are based on responses from 43 residential brokers and 21 homebuilders and were collected December 2–11, 2013. 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 [email protected].

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


December 19, 2013 in Construction, Housing, Prices, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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11/21/2013

Southeastern Housing Update: Housing Continues Growing, Only More Slowly

The Atlanta Fed’s monthly poll of home builder and residential broker business contacts indicated that fewer contacts noted home sales growth on a year-over-year basis than in recent months. The majority of brokers reported that sales in October were flat to slightly up compared with a year earlier, and the majority of builders said that sales were up slightly (see the chart).

October 2013 Southeast Home Sales vs. a Year Earlier

More builders and brokers noted a decline in buyer traffic on a year-over-year basis. Many contacts attributed the decline in buyer traffic to seasonal factors, though many noted that the partial federal government shutdown contributed to the fall-off in buyer traffic (see chart).

Did the government shutdown (October 1-16) have an impact on your business?

When contacts were asked if the partial federal government shutdown had an impact on their business, the majority of them (more than two-thirds of builders and three-fourths of brokers) indicated that it did indeed have an impact. They noted the following effects:

  • Confusion about the availability of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development Single-Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ Home Loan Guaranty Program, and the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) mortgage insurance
  • Slow to no processing of USDA loans
  • Delays in the processing of FHA-insured loans
  • Lenders’ inability to pull tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service
  • Increased uncertainty and confusion, blows to buyer confidence, and evaporation of buyer traffic
  • Confusion about the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act, particularly whether or not rate hikes scheduled for October 1 would kick in

Most brokers continued to report home inventory levels were below the year-earlier level, and reports from builders were mixed (see the chart).

October 2013 Southeast Home Inventory vs. a Year Earlier

Both builders and brokers continued to indicate home price appreciation in October, though fewer brokers indicated price gains than in previous months (see the chart).

October 2013 Home Price vs. a Year-ago

The outlook among builders for new home sales growth over the next several months remained positive, although a bit weaker than expectations a year earlier. Their outlook for new home construction has strengthened from recent reports but is still less upbeat than year-earlier responses (see the charts).

Southeast Builder Home Sales Expectations Next 3 Months, Year-over-Year

Southeast Builder Construction Expectations Next 3 Months, Year-over-Year

The outlook among southeastern brokers for home sales growth continued to weaken from this spring and summer, and they are less optimistic than year-ago expectations (see the chart).

Southeast Broker Home Sales Expectations Next 3 Months, Year-over-Year

The majority of brokers and builders indicated that the amount of available mortgage credit now meets demand, a marked shift from year-earlier conditions, when contacts overwhelmingly indicated that the amount of available mortgage credit fell 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?

Builders continue to indicate that amount of available credit for construction/development falls short of demand, though more contacts did report that credit availability now meets demand (see the chart).

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

Note: October poll results are based on responses from 52 residential brokers and 26 homebuilders and were collected November 4–13, 2013. 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 [email protected].

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


November 21, 2013 in Housing, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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