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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.


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11/19/2015


Southeastern Transportation: Tapping the Brakes?

Em_trade_transportation

The Atlanta Fed's Trade and Transportation Advisory Council met on October 6 at the Jacksonville Branch to discuss economic conditions in the industry. According to a majority of council members, transportation activity has been affected by slowing of exports resulting from tepid global demand, a stronger dollar, and increased inventory levels. Although the European economy appeared to be doing better, the slowdown in China was having an impact on every key global market.

Council members reported seeing growth in inventory-to-sales, which reduced customers' needs for transportation services, and most members perceived the extra inventory as a result of slower sales rather than from overpurchasing or hedging against future price increases.

Employment and labor markets pose continuing challenges
Finding appropriate labor in logistics at all levels continues to be a challenge. Issues negatively affecting recruiting include failing substance abuse tests, experience and education gaps, and difficulty attracting talented youth into the sector. As these issues continue, domestic trucker and qualified mechanic availability remains a concern.

Costs, prices paint a mixed picture
Driver shortages continued to plague the industry, and persistent increases in driver pay have not alleviated the problem. Demand for talent has been pushing wages up for professional levels as well. However, some reported different types of pressure that are causing turnover and recruitment challenges. For example, younger workers expect flexibility, access to technology, and scheduling autonomy, conditions that are difficult to accommodate in businesses that require a specific work schedule.

Declines in fuel costs were reportedly keeping overall nonlabor costs steady by offsetting increases in other input costs. Increases in insurance premiums and an uptick in equipment costs were examples of upward pressure on costs. Congestion at West Coast ports was cited as a cause for an increase in nonproductive operating costs.

Regarding pricing power, rail continued to see strong pricing power as capacity remains tight across other modes of transportation. For others, the softening of the economy has dampened the ability to raise prices. Therefore, pricing power is limited, and increases engender considerable customer pushback. The majority of council members, however, expect to be able to increase rates one year out and beyond, though opportunities could become limited if the economy does not continue to improve and fuel prices do not rebound.

International trade plays a regional role
The appreciation of the dollar has continued to exert downward pressure on exports. The economic slowdown in China, the larger Asia-Pacific region, and Latin America (specifically, the recession in Brazil and ongoing economic turmoil in Venezuela) is substantially affecting air trade. However, these markets have not had a material impact on some transportation businesses such as rail since exports' direct exposure to the Chinese economy is limited.

Over the horizon...
Although the overall message from this council meeting was one of decelerating activity, the majority of council members anticipate the same level of growth during the next three to six months, and they expect the same or higher level of activity during the next two to three years.

Topping the list of challenges for the industry down the road are the lack of drivers, finding and retaining quality/qualified labor, and a tighter regulatory environment, which may exacerbate the driver shortage in the coming years. Council members said long-term strategic planning and capital investments in ports and highway infrastructure will be necessary to continue to meet demand.

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

November 19, 2015 in Employment, Florida, Southeast, Trade, Transportation | Permalink

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09/17/2015


Southeast Manufacturing Slows in August

Em_sp_manufacturing

Southeast manufacturing activity had been fairly sturdy this year, according to the Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI). The PMI averaged a healthy 56.2 reading from January through July and, with the exception of one subpar month, new orders and production levels had been robust. However, the latest report indicated that factories pumped the brakes in August. According to the August report, new orders and production both slowed significantly.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI to track manufacturing activity in the region. The Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University produces the survey, which examines 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 that activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.

The overall PMI declined 5.5 points from July and now stands at 48.8 (see the chart). The August report marks the first month the overall index has been below the 50-point threshold since November 2014. The most disconcerting aspects of the report centered on the month-over-month declines in the new orders, production, and employment subindexes.

  • The new orders subindex fell 7.1 points from July to a reading of 49.1.
  • The production subindex dropped 15.2 points from the previous month to a reading of 49.1.
  • The employment subindex declined 6.3 points to a reading of 50.0, which indicates no change in employment levels at Southeast factories.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex increased 3.6 points to 50.9.
  • The finished inventory subindex decreased 2.7 points to 44.6.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell 10.7 points and now reads 34.8.

Southeast-purchasing-managers

On its own, the fall in the Southeast PMI is nothing to get too worked up about. Historically, the Southeast PMI subindexes are prone to volatile month-over-month fluctuations. Still, there are other factors to consider. For instance, the August national PMI index fell to its lowest reading in more than two years, and the August employment report indicated that the U.S. economy shed 17,000 manufacturing jobs. It's also possible, if not probable, that the strong U.S. dollar coupled with weak global demand is dragging down U.S. exports and reducing demand from domestic manufacturers.

No matter the cause, other aspects of the Southeast and national economy appear strong. We'll be monitoring the developments and hoping for some acceleration in the near future.

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

September 17, 2015 in Manufacturing, Southeast | Permalink

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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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06/17/2015


Southeast Manufacturing Dips in May

National manufacturing activity hasn't been particularly strong so far this year. It hasn't been particularly horrible mind you, but there hasn't been much to get excited about, either. Southeastern manufacturing activity—until recently—has been a different story. The Southeast purchasing managers index (PMI) and the Institute for Supply Management's national index both indicated that southeastern activity had been outpacing national activity in each of the first four months of 2015. I hate to throw cold water on the strong numbers, but according to the latest PMI report, released on June 5, that trend may be reversing.

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

The Southeast PMI has averaged a 57.9 reading so far in 2015, compared with a 52.4 for the national index. However, the May Southeastern PMI's overall index fell 5.2 points from April to 52.4, clocking in below the national index for the first time in four months (see the chart).

Se-purchasing-managers

The index remained above the 50 threshold for expansion, but the subindexes of the May report contained some disconcerting numbers:

  • The new orders subindex fell 11.0 points to 46.0.
  • The production subindex decreased 16.0 points compared with the previous month and now reads 49.0.
  • The employment subindex declined 1.0 to 60.0.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex increased 3.0 points to 56.0.
  • The finished inventory subindex decreased 1.0 points to 51.0.
  • The commodity prices subindex rose 9.0 points and now reads 54.0.

The 11-point fall in the new orders subindex was discouraging since it is the most forward-looking indicator of future activity. The new orders subindex has seen large one-month fluctuations in the past. For instance, it fell 27 points last December only to rebound 23.4 points the following month. So it could be a one-month aberration. Let's hope so. The 16-point fall in the production subindex was also an abnormally large fall, but—like new orders—it has happened before. Optimism for future production also decreased from April to May. When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, only 38 percent of survey participants expected production to be higher going forward, compared with 46 percent in April. The good news is that the employment subindex registered a strong reading, which is a good indication that manufacturers are still adding to their payrolls. So even though production outlooks have come down, firms still seem to expect that they will need employees to work more hours in the future, which could be a good sign for employment.

We should remember that the overall index still indicated expansion in manufacturing. Hopefully, as the summer heats up, so will manufacturing activity. I hate to throw cold water on our hot streak, but this time of year, a little cold water can feel good.

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

June 17, 2015 in Employment, Manufacturing, Southeast | Permalink

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05/12/2015


Trials and Tribulations in Transportation

Members of the Atlanta Fed's Trade and Transportation Advisory Council convened on April 7 at the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch to discuss the Southeast latest developments in this sector.

Just over half of council members reported an expansion of overall activity compared with the same period last year. A few members reported reduced freight activity, citing the primary causes as both a decrease in movement of materials related to oil exploration and the appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the euro. Members noted that severe winter weather affected shipments for railroads and truckers primarily throughout the north and northeast United States, and the West Coast ports situation disrupted supply chains across the country. East Coast port volumes are now over capacity as shippers began diverting cargo away from the West Coast. Council members anticipate that it will be August before the backlog of port cargo will be cleared, a situation that may adversely affect the peak fall shipping season. However, members believed that many of the structural problems of the West Coast ports will remain in place long after the labor situation is resolved.

Employment, wage picture largely mixed
A majority of council members reported that employment levels were flat or slightly higher compared with this time last year, and two-thirds of council members expect higher workforce levels this time next year.

Truck driver shortages remained an almost universal concern for the industry. Technicians (formerly referred to as mechanics) are also in demand and harder to find as new federal emission requirements demand workers with more specialized skills.

Responses regarding wage pressures were mixed. Trucking companies continued to raise driver pay, as finding willing and qualified truck drivers remained difficult. Outside of specific areas of expertise, such as railroad engineers and technicians, employers were easily filling nondriver positions without increasing starting salaries. Logistics firms, however, perceived the labor market as tightening and reported more frequent voluntary turnover with "higher pay" being cited as a reason for leaving. Additionally, candidates were receiving multiple offers and enhanced benefits packages.

Nonlabor input costs and prices
A number of council members reported seeing some upward cost pressures in nonlabor inputs such as commercial insurance, equipment, locomotives and leases, ocean freight rates, and domestic trucking rates. The sharp decline in fuel costs, however, has helped keep overall costs down.

Almost all council members reported better pricing power since the last meeting in October 2014. Members indicated that some customers understand market forces and work to negotiate the best deal possible with their current carrier, but others shop around for the lowest cost. All council members anticipate greater ability to raise prices one year out and beyond, citing constrained capacity and expected higher commodity prices as the principal reasons, along with seeking to recover increased regulatory compliance costs.

International trade rises modestly
Council members with insight into international trade indicated modest growth in imports, related to the strong U.S. dollar against the euro and other foreign currencies and an improved domestic economy. Regions expected to drive demand for U.S. exports are South America and Asia as those economies continue to expand consumer buying power. Near-shoring is expected to become a bigger trend, and the automotive sector's investments in Mexico will drive greater cross-border growth between the United States and Mexico.

Outlook
Two-thirds of council members expect higher growth in the short term. Over the next two to three years, three-quarters of members expect higher growth. When asked about the most challenging issues facing the transportation sector, responses varied by sub-industry. Driver shortages continued to be the headliner, along with regulatory issues, which continued to drive capacity out of the market and significantly push up operations costs. Broadly, the supply chain has been adversely affected by infrastructure constraints, and this impact could persist: the United States has a great need for well-planned and properly funded hard infrastructure investment in ports and road networks to get goods to market.

The council meets again in October, and SouthPoint will report whether the summer months reflect improving conditions for the movement of goods.

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

May 12, 2015 in Florida, Southeast, Trade, Transportation | Permalink

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04/16/2015


Southeast Manufacturing: Solid as an Oak

When I was a kid, I spent a few fall afternoons cutting and splitting firewood with my older brother. I must say that I didn't care for the process at all. It was hard work, and I have much respect for people that carry on the time-honored tradition. I learned quickly that there were certain types of wood you wanted to stay away from. Oak was one of them. Now, I am ashamed to say that I didn't pay close attention when collecting tree leaves for science class, but I always knew when I was trying to split a piece of oak. As a matter of fact, when I would come across a piece of oak, I preferred to skip over it. Oaks are strong and stately trees and no fun at all to split. The March Southeastern purchasing managers index (PMI) report, released on April 6, reminded me of my ill-fated attempts to split oak. It is one tough piece of wood.

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. A reading above 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.

The March Southeast PMI's overall index declined slightly from February, falling 2.5 points to 58.0 (see the chart). However, the index has remained above the 50 threshold for expansion 14 out of the last 15 months. It also averaged a solid 58.0 during the first quarter.

  • The new orders subindex fell 6.6 points to 56.9.
  • The production subindex decreased 2.9 points compared with the previous month and now reads 61.8.
  • The employment subindex declined 9.2 to 57.8. The March report indicated that manufacturing payrolls have now grown for 18 consecutive months.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex increased 1.2 points to 54.9.
  • The finished inventory subindex increased 5.2 points to 58.8.
  • The commodity prices subindex rose 4.8 points and now reads 40.2.

Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

Optimism for future production also increased in March. When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, 53 percent of survey participants expected production to be higher going forward, compared with 46 percent in February.

Much of the recent national manufacturing data have been weak. In March, the industrial production report indicated that manufacturing output increased 0.1 percent during February, but output had declined in the previous two months. New orders for core capital goods also declined for the sixth consecutive month in February and the March ISM index, although still indicating expansion, fell to its lowest reading since May 2013. Some analysts believe cold weather and the strong dollar are affecting overall manufacturing activity.

Despite the recent weak national numbers, southeastern manufacturing appears to be holding strong...just like the oak trees I tried to split as a kid. If you've never split wood—and especially a piece of oak—try it sometime. I doubt it will make your top-five list of things to do. Oak is one tough piece of wood.


April 16, 2015 in Employment, Inventories, Manufacturing, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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04/10/2015


The Fruits of Our Labor

February 2015 state-level labor market data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for Sixth District states was solid—on aggregate. Overall, the region contributed 45,900 net payrolls in February, which was 17 percent of the nation's 264,000 payrolls. The combined unemployment rate of District states declined 0.1 percentage point to 6.1 percent. In fact, the unemployment rate fell in all six states, which hasn't occurred in almost two years.

While it's important to look at the aggregate picture when thinking about labor market performance for the entire District, it's also meaningful to hone in on the drivers of that performance. Although the drivers are largely related to the sheer size of the labor force, in the case of February's job growth in Sixth District states, just two states contributed to the bulk of February's job gains (see the chart).

Georgia-payroll-contributions-from-retail

Georgia and Florida carry the weight of job growth
February was a standout month for the Peach State. With 25,400 net payrolls added, Georgia supplied more than half of the jobs of all Sixth District states combined, and was the second largest contributor to job growth in the United States. This over-the-month jobs figure was the most the state added in four years, also crushing its 2014 monthly average of 12,200 net payrolls. Job gains were widespread, but the industries that contributed the most net payrolls in Georgia were retail (up 5,300) and accommodation and food services (up 5,500). In fact, both industries have almost steadily added jobs on net each month in Georgia over the past two years (see the chart).

Georgia-payroll-contributions-from-retail

Not too far behind the Peach State in February was the Orange State, with 19,700 net jobs added. The largest gains came from the government (up 4,800; local government payrolls were up 3,200), retail (up 4,200), and health care and social assistance (up 3,700) sectors. Over the past two years, the retail and health care and social assistance industries, in particular, have contributed solid gains in the state. In reality, Florida has been a consistent contributor to Sixth District jobs growth for several years (see the chart).

Contributions-to-change-net-payrolls-by-sixth-district-state

Where did the other states stand? In addition to Georgia's 25,400 and Florida's 19,700 payrolls in February, Mississippi contributed 3,500 net jobs. The remaining states subtracted from job growth: Louisiana (down 700), Tennessee (down 800), and Alabama (down 1,200).

Unemployment rate declines in all states
All six states in the District experienced a decline in the unemployment rate in February, which hasn't occurred in almost two years (see the chart). The aggregate figure was 6.1 percent, slowly approaching the national rate of 5.5 percent. February rates by state were as follows: Alabama 5.8 percent, Florida 5.6 percent, Georgia 6.3 percent, Louisiana 6.7 percent, Mississippi 7.0 percent, and Tennessee 6.6 percent.

Unemployment-rates-for-us-sixth-district-states

Keeping an eye on developing trends
I'll be paying attention to future data to spot this year's trends in regional labor market indicators and report back here.

Photo of Rebekah DurhamBy Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialis t in the Regional Economic Information Network at the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed

April 10, 2015 in Florida, Georgia, Labor Markets, Southeast | Permalink

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03/12/2015


Southeast PMI Surges in February

The Southeast purchasing managers index (PMI) report was released on March 5, and it indicates that any lingering effects from the late 2014 manufacturing slowdown have abated. If you recall, the December Southeast PMI dipped into contraction territory, but it has rebounded nicely since. The PMI index has risen 14.9 points since December and now sits at its highest reading since April 2014.

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

The Southeast PMI's overall index rose 4.9 points to 60.5 in February (see the chart). The subindexes also suggest some positive future developments:

  • The new orders subindex rose to 63.4, a 6.0 point increase over January and a 29.4 point increase over the last two months.
  • The production subindex increased 3.5 points over the previous month and now reads 64.6.
  • The employment subindex rose 7.8 points over January to 67.1, indicating that manufacturing payrolls grew for the 17th consecutive month.
  • The supply deliveries subindex increased 1.8 points from the previous month to 53.7.
  • The finished inventory subindex increased 5.5 points compared with January.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell 1.7 points and now reads 35.4.

Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

Optimism for future production fell in February. When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, 46 percent of survey participants expected production to be higher going forward, compared with 61 percent in January. The good news is that no survey respondents expect production to be lower than their current levels during the same time period.

The change in energy prices and severe winter weather are just a couple of challenges manufacturing faces. Some isolated reports of reduced orders from manufacturers closely tied to the energy sector have emerged, but on the other hand, the drop in oil prices has other contacts saving money on fuel costs. However, most contacts in the Southeast have expressed little direct energy-related effect on their business activity. Judging by the February PMI report, southeastern manufacturing is holding strong. We'll see if the positive momentum sustains into spring.


March 12, 2015 in Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Inventories, Manufacturing, Prices, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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02/13/2015


Southeastern Manufacturing Sees No Shadow

In a January SouthPoint post, I suggested that winter posed problems for manufacturing last year, and after the release of December's lackluster Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) report, it appeared that 2015 might get off to a slow start as well. Then the really disconcerting news hit: America's favorite groundhog saw its shadow on February 2, predicting six more weeks of winter. Would this event affect southeastern manufacturing going forward? According to the January Southeast PMI report, released on February 6, the answer was a resounding no!

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

After contracting in December for the first and only time in 2014, the Southeast PMI bounced back with vigor in January (see the chart). The overall reading rose 10.0 points over December to 55.6 and saw a healthy rise in most subindexes.

  • The new orders subindex rebounded 23.4 points over December, seeing the subindex increase to a solid 57.4 reading.
  • The production subindex also saw a significant gain over last month, rising 21.1 points to a 61.1 reading.
  • The employment subindex rose 5.3 points over December and remained in expansionary territory for the 16th consecutive month, suggesting that manufacturing payrolls continue to grow.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex increased 1.9 points from the previous month to 51.9.
  • The finished inventory subindex fell 1.9 points compared with December. The 48.1 reading suggests that inventories may be slightly below optimal levels, and production could ramp up in the near term as a result.
  • The commodity prices subindex continued its slide, falling another 5.0 points compared to last month.

Se-purchasing-managers

Optimism was at healthy levels in January as well. When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, 61 percent of survey participants expected production to be higher going forward.

The January report was a nice reversal from the December data and provides a strong start to 2015. Hopefully, the momentum will carry over to the entire year. Although we love Punxsutawney Phil as much as anyone, we hope his weather forecast doesn't hamper manufacturing activity. So far in 2015, there are no shadows in the Southeast.

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

February 13, 2015 in Manufacturing, Southeast | Permalink

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02/12/2015


Southeastern Labor Market Continues Strengthening

December 2014 state-level labor market data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reflected a strengthening labor market among Sixth District states, with a declining aggregate unemployment rate and solid job gains.

Unemployment rates decline, albeit modestly
The aggregate district unemployment rate in December was 6.2 percent, a 0.2 percentage point decline from the previous month and 0.5 percentage point lower than a year ago. Although higher than the 5.6 percent national figure, the aggregate rate continues to trend down. In fact, Florida matched the national unemployment rate in December and Alabama came very close (see the chart).

Unemployment-rates

The unemployment rate declined in nearly all southeastern states. Alabama's unemployment rate fell to 5.7 percent, and Florida's rate declined to 5.6 percent, the lowest level in nearly seven years for both states. At 6.9 percent, Georgia's unemployment rate continued on a downward path, as did Tennessee's, with an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent. For the second month in a row, Mississippi had the highest unemployment rate in the United States with 7.2 percent, a distinction the state has taken turns owning with Georgia since June 2014.

In Louisiana, the unemployment rate rose again (for the eighth straight month) to 6.7 percent in December. What's going on there? As I've mentioned a few times (here, here, and here), increases in the labor force are the driver of unemployment rate increases in the state, as opposed to people actually losing jobs on net. This isn't a bad thing, especially considering the state added more than 6,000 jobs in December (I'll discuss that shortly). Louisiana just added more people looking for work than the number of people who found work, hence the increase in unemployment. In fact, from January to December 2014, Louisiana's labor force grew by 4.8 percent (while the number of employed grew by just 2.8 percent). An increase like 4.8 percent may not seem like a big number, but when you look at the national figure of 0.4 percent during the same period, Louisiana's labor force growth stands out. National data released last week for the month of January told a similar story: the unemployment rate ticked up 0.1 percentage point to 5.7 percent from 5.6 percent in December, yet much of this increase can be attributed to labor force gains that outpaced gains in employment.

Payrolls also see modest growth
On net, the District added 47,400 jobs in December, and every state experienced positive job growth (see the chart). This contribution makes up 19 percent of the national payroll contribution of 252,000. On aggregate, the industries that contributed the most net jobs in the Sixth District were professional and business services (up 9,800), health care (up 8,300), and accommodation and food services (up 5,200).

Here are some key state-by-state payroll facts from the December report:

  • Alabama added 1,000 net payrolls. Much of the state's contributions were reduced by losses in the professional and business services sector (down by 2,400).
  • Florida added 12,700 jobs on net, mostly from the professional and business services (up 5,800) and health care (up 4,900) sectors.
  • Georgia contributed 14,100 net payrolls. Gains were widespread, yet the sector contributing the most jobs was health care (up 3,100).
  • Louisiana added 6,200 net payrolls. Gains were widespread in this state as well, though the biggest contributor was the accommodation and food services sector (up 1,600).
  • Employers in Mississippi added 900 net payrolls. Gains in the professional and business services sector (up 1,100) were reduced by losses in other sectors.
  • Tennessee employers added 12,500 net payrolls. The largest increases occurred in the goods-producing (up 5,300) and retail trade (up 2,400) sectors. employers added 12,500 net payrolls. The largest increases occurred in the goods-producing (up 5,300) and retail trade (up 2,400) sectors.

Contributions-to-change

Overall, the report was a sign of improving labor market conditions across the Sixth District states, a trend we hope to see continue into 2015.

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

February 12, 2015 in Alabama, Labor Markets, Louisiana, Southeast, Unemployment | Permalink

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I'm curious what caused the increase in the Louisiana labor pool? Is it an influx of people relocating to LA? More high school graduates? College graduates that are not looking out of state for employment? Long-term unemployment benefits not being renewed? It is interesting that the rate is an order of magnitude higher than the national figure? If the national figure is only 0.4%, what states are soooo low to counter the 4.8% from LA?
Enjoyed your article!!!

Posted by: Ron Bowlin | 02/17/2015 at 09:39 AM

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