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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.



Assessing the Impact of Oil Price Declines on Louisiana's Economy

It's no big secret that the energy sector is a huge contributor to Louisiana's economy. According to the Energy Information Administration, Louisiana is one of the nation's biggest energy producers and consumers, largely because of the industrial sector, which includes many refineries and petrochemical plants. In fact, with 19 operating crude oil refineries, Louisiana ranks second in the nation in both total and operating refinery capacity. Nearly 112,000 miles of pipelines transporting crude petroleum and natural gas run throughout the state and the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, the Henry Hub natural gas distribution point in Erath, Louisiana, is the interconnecting point for nine interstate and four intrastate pipelines that provide access to major markets throughout the country.

A 2014 study by Louisiana State University economist Loren Scott cited that the oil and gas industry's total direct and indirect annual impact on the state economy is around $73.8 billion from taxes, royalties, fees, salaries and other money spent in Louisiana by the industry. Also, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), oil and gas extraction and petroleum and coal products manufacturing accounted for more than 12 percent of Louisiana's real gross domestic product in 2012.

Consequently, what happens in energy markets influences Louisiana's economic performance. So when oil prices tumbled in 2014, I wondered about the extent of the impact on the state's economy. A barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell from a peak of more than $105 in mid-2014 to less than $50 a barrel in early 2015. The price has since recovered a bit, to about $61 a barrel as of June 11, yet it remains a fair distance from last year's peak (see chart 1).


Earlier this year, the Atlanta Fed's Energy Advisory Council shared some insights about changes in business activity and investment in the region as a result of lower energy prices, which I recapped here. But what about the labor market? During the last several months, I've seen numerous announcements of worldwide oil and gas layoffs, which Houston consulting firm Graves & Co. tallied at more than 100,000 jobs. How many Louisiana energy sector workers will be caught up in those layoffs?

Unfortunately, the true impact is not very easy to extrapolate. It's not as simple as extracting employment data on oil and gas industries, since pieces of so many other industries (such as manufacturing and construction) support the energy sector. Plus, even more industries are influenced by the energy sector's growth or contraction, such as education, health care, tourism, and services industries—it's extremely difficult to determine the number of "spillover" jobs created or lost. Using an input-output table constructed by the BEA, the impact study cited above estimated that for every job created in the extraction, refining, and pipeline industries, 3.4 additional jobs are created in other industries in Louisiana. Holding all else constant, that multiplier should apply to jobs lost in Louisiana's economy.

Business contacts in the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) have cited instances of layoffs tied to falling energy prices over the last few months. Furthermore, various media outlets have reported recent layoffs in Louisiana's energy sector (for example, here, here, and here). However, REIN contacts also indicated that firms that generally compete with oil and gas companies for workers in a very tight labor market have scooped up recently laid off workers, likely masking the net impact and potentially clouding the multiplier calculation.

If the focus is on jobs lost in Louisiana's energy sector alone as a result of falling energy prices, at this time I'll concentrate on what's happened in the segment that encompasses the bulk of energy-related jobs: the goods-producing sector, which includes the mining and logging, construction, and manufacturing subsectors. When more detailed industry data through the first quarter of 2015 are published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) later this year, I'll revisit the impact on specific energy-related industries.

In mid-2014, when the price of oil peaked and then began to fall, jobs in the goods-producing sector in Louisiana followed a very similar trajectory (see chart 2).


In July 2014, the goods-producing sector contributed about 4,000 new jobs on net in Louisiana. Then, as the price of oil began to fall, job creation followed suit, and in January 2015 the sector subtracted nearly 3,000 jobs. Judging from the data, as well as REIN anecdotes, it is clear that oil price declines from mid-2014 to early 2015 resulted in job losses in Louisiana's energy sector. Recent BLS data reflected just 800 net goods-producing jobs lost in the state in April. So is the environment improving, considering oil prices recovered a bit?

Reports from REIN contacts have been mixed. Some business leaders indicate that the volatility of lower energy prices has become better understood and integrated into flexible business plans, positioning firms to respond to the current environment. However, their response, in some cases, has involved and continues to involve layoffs, though these reports have tempered recently.

Time will tell what the ultimate impact of this period of precipitous oil price declines will be on Louisiana's economy and labor market. I'll revisit this topic after our next Energy Advisory Council meeting and the release later this year of detailed industry data from the BLS.

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

June 15, 2015 in Employment, Energy, Louisiana | Permalink


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Tracking Energy’s Trajectory

Last week, the Atlanta Fed's Energy Advisory Council convened to share industry experience during the last several months since gathering in November. I recapped some of the discussion elements following the November meeting here. At that time, the price of oil had declined by about 40 percent since its mid-June 2014 peak. From that time through last week, the pricing trend continued along a downward trajectory (though February saw a slight rise that tapered in March), with both Brent and West Texas Intermediate spot prices down by more than 50 percent from last year's peak (see the chart).


Also, when the council met in November, exploration and production (E&P) firms—marginal producers in particular—were the focus of concern as a result of falling energy prices and had begun to reevaluate business models and technologies and renegotiate cost structures with service providers. At that time, the council acknowledged that sustained or declining oil prices may lead to capital spending reductions. During last week's meeting, the general sentiment descended somewhat, and the discussion shifted from potential to definitive reductions in business activity, investment in particular.

Council members shared their opinion that energy investment had indeed slowed in the region, listing billions of dollars of project delays and cancellations of efforts not already underway, including more than just E&P firms. Oil-field service providers, industrial construction companies, and manufacturers of pipeline and other industrial equipment also felt the effects of low energy prices through reduced business activity. Furthermore, council participants reported that drilling permits for new oil wells declined in the region, which is a national trend that continues in the face of mounting production and supply of oil. (You can see updated drilling rig count information.) This reduced investment is important considering that nationally, energy is a big contributor to gross domestic product growth, as described in a recent Atlanta Fed macroblog post. In a nutshell, expectations for growth in 2015 declined among most advisory council members with direct ties to oil and gas production and/or support. However, they shared a general sense that the industry will see a pick-up after 2015 and that delayed projects will resume.

Conversely, two other sectors represented on the Energy Advisory Council continued to expand. Growth in utilities was strong, particularly the industrial segment, and the petrochemical industry experienced expansion in most business segments. In fact, we continue to receive reports about petrochemical investment along the Gulf Coast from council members and business leaders in the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network. These industry exceptions were not a big surprise considering that both industries use oil and gas products as feedstock for operations; for them, lower energy prices are good for business.

So, where is the oil and gas industry headed, and will investment pick back up? Many factors are at play—for example, global economic growth and its relation to supply and demand, geopolitical events, oil storage levels, to name a few—and they are clouding my crystal ball. Nevertheless, on the whole, Energy Advisory Council members indicated that they will continue to approach 2015 cautiously and pay close attention to energy prices as a driver of decisions, and they expect that oil and gas investment and projects will accelerate beyond 2015.

April 2, 2015 in Energy, Louisiana, Oil | Permalink


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Exploration may be down, but doesn't that mean production has increased?And refineries must be booming in the LA area. As you mentioned, industries that use petroleum as feed stock or to produce intermediaries must be doing well. Is there any kind of balance effect for the industries that are doing better because of the drop in oil prices to compensate for the loss of revenues from exploration?
Enjoy your column Ms. Durham.

Posted by: Ronald Bowlin | 04/03/2015 at 11:50 AM

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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).


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.


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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Southeastern States Mind the (Skills) Gap

During the past few years, we have heard from a significant number of regional business contacts about the challenges they experience filling certain positions and concerns about a skills gap facing the Southeast. We heard this from various industries, most often about engineering, construction, and IT jobs. The most recent Southeastern Insights mentions this widespread issue.

This skills shortage situation is not unique to the Southeast. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation published a state-by-state analysis last month measuring performance in a number of areas that contribute to economic prosperity. Their key conclusion reiterates our contacts’ concerns: that mounting skilled-labor shortages are on the horizon to such an extent that they may soon hinder economic growth. According to the study, the current skills gap dilemma is expected to grow substantially as baby boomers retire.  

Fortunately, there’s a bright side: many states have recognized this situation and have taken steps to address the ostensibly approaching workforce crisis. Many of our contacts from both private and public sectors pointed to joint initiatives created by states and businesses designed to confront and abate the situation; which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study says is essential to closing the gaps. Below is a sample, extracted from the study, of some of the efforts Sixth District states have taken:


  • In 2013, the state launched a College and Career Ready Task Force charged with identifying ways to better prepare students for the workforce by training them in the skills demanded by growing industries across the state.
  • New and expanding businesses can get workforce development services through the Alabama Industrial Development Training program, which offers services to businesses in need of skilled workers, including preemployment selection and training, leadership development courses, and third-party process improvement assessments.
  • The Alabama Technology Network provides skills training for the manufacturing and high technology workforce. The network connects businesses to the portfolio of training resources and programs provided by the state’s colleges and universities, offering services through regional centers.
  • The Go Build Alabama initiative works to attract talented workers to construction and skilled trades.


  • Quick Response Training enables new and expanding businesses in need of training to partner with community colleges and other educational institutions in the state to develop and deliver workforce training programs.
  • The Incumbent Worker Training program supports training the existing workforce to enhance and maintain competitiveness.
  • The Career and Professional Education Act guides Florida’s efforts to diversify its economy and develop a more skilled workforce by encouraging collaboration among education, industry, workforce, and economic development stakeholders from across the state.


  • In early 2014, the state approved a $44.7 million Science Learning Center on the University of Georgia’s South Campus, providing state-of-the-art facilities aimed at expanding the pipeline for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (often referred to collectively as STEM).
  • Groundbreaking also took place for the Georgia BioScience Training Center, which will support training for companies that choose to locate within the state. Georgia Quick Start, the state’s job training program, will build and operate the state-of-the-art biotech training center.


  • Via the Small Business Employee Training Program, employers can receive up to $3,000 to defray the costs of off-the-shelf training programs for an existing employee.
  • The Louisiana Workforce Commission established Workforce Partners to recognize businesses that have committed to building a “job ready” workforce in the state through support and training.
  • The Strategies to Empower People program provides access to job training, job readiness support, vocational education programs, and a variety of other skills-development services for those receiving government assistance.


  • The Workforce Investment Network consists of more than 60 training and employment centers around the state where employers and job seekers can access services like training, job postings, on-the-job training programs, employment screening services, and job placement assistance.
  • The Mississippi Development Authority also maintains a team of workforce specialists who work with colleges, businesses, workforce development professionals, and other stakeholders to identify resources useful to a particular business. The authority also builds partnerships to pursue needed training services.
  • The University of Mississippi maintains a Professional and Workforce Development program, offering online enrichment courses, certification programs, and outreach services, bringing tailored training programs directly to the employer.


  • The Tennessee Job Skills grant program offers support to technology companies that create “high-skill, high-wage” jobs, reimbursing eligible costs incurred in training development implementation.
  • Entrepreneurs in need of quick turnaround in receiving support for training costs can make use of the state’s Job Based Training Reimbursement program, which provides support within the first 90 days after a new job is created and training starts.
  • The FastTrack Job Training Assistance Program offers employers state support to cover costs for classroom instruction, on-the-job training, training-related travel, training vendors, and development of training materials and programming.

Sixth District states appear to be on a solid track to address skills gap challenges, combining investment in training, education, and business assistance as a long-term workforce development strategy. Time will tell if the investment pays off (we should know sooner rather than later, as boomers are expected to start retiring in droves).

To learn more about states’ efforts, as well as their rankings across five policy areas—talent pipeline, exports and international trade, technology and entrepreneurship, business climate, and infrastructure—check out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s study. There’s also a nifty interactive map you can use to view state rankings and data easily.

Photo of Rebekah DurhamBy Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch

July 9, 2014 in Alabama, Education, Florida, Georgia, Jobs, Labor Markets, Louisiana, Mississippi, Southeast, Tennessee | Permalink


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Jazz Fest: Another Capital Boost in New Orleans

In March, I wrote about the impact of Mardi Gras on the New Orleans economy. Well, in case you didn’t know this already, we love our festivals here in NOLA. The fact that they support our economy is just lagniappe (that’s “a little something extra” in New Orleans–speak). Second only to Mardi Gras in terms of economic impact is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, or “Jazz Fest,” which this year spanned two spring weekends: April 27–29 and May 3–6. The festival attracts about 400,000 people each year, who come to hear eclectic musical performances (from blues, jazz and rock to gospel, zydeco, pop, and more) and eat some of the best local food around (crawfish monica, alligator pie, shrimp bread, and cochon de lait, to name a few).

According to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation Inc., the nonprofit organization that owns and manages the event, Jazz Fest generates more than $300 million for the city. This figure includes spending at the festival, Jazz Fest staff wages, hotel rooms, and estimated spending at restaurants and other shops and activities. The foundation uses the profits from the festival to preserve the city’s musical culture by putting on other festivals and concerts (smaller and free), lectures and literary events, gallery exhibits, educational programs, and grants for students and community cultural organizations. So you could say that Jazz Fest not only has a positive economic impact on New Orleans but also a significant human capital contribution as well.

If you haven’t been to Jazz Fest yet, make plans to come next year. And remember, your contribution produces economic value in the form of financial and human capital.

Photo of Rebekah DurhamBy Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch

May 20, 2014 in Louisiana, New Orleans, Tourism | Permalink


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Regional Payroll Growth Rebounds in March

According to last week's regional and state employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Sixth District states added 41,500 payrolls on net in March, and the unemployment rate rose slightly from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent. This month's release also came with an upward revision to February data that indicated the District added 40,500 jobs that month, about 6,100 payrolls higher than the original February estimate. The table gives a state-by-state breakdown of payroll revisions:


The new March data and revised February data appear to be another step in the right direction and perhaps give a somewhat stronger signal that the region's labor markets are gaining some traction after experiencing a few months of slower job growth earlier in the year, a pattern not uncommon over the last few years. Not surprisingly, we've seen a similar pattern in the national data as well (see the chart).

Payroll survey
Once again, Florida was the primary driver of Sixth District payroll growth in March, adding 22,900 payrolls, with Georgia seeing a nice rebound (up 14,600) from February's negative payroll growth (when it was down 5,800). The only state to lose jobs from February to March was Mississippi, which shed 1,400 payrolls. This was the fourth straight month of net payroll losses in that state.

Florida's net payroll gain was the largest one-month addition of any state in the nation, according to the BLS report, and was driven by the leisure and hospitality sector (up 9,500), health care (up 3,300), construction (up 1,900) and manufacturing (up 1,500), and Georgia's net payroll gain—the third-largest of any U.S. state—was driven by retail (up 3,800), the professional and business services sector (up 3,300), and health care (up 3,200).

As for other District states, Tennessee experienced a modest gain in payrolls in March, adding 4,200 jobs. With the largest revision of any Sixth District state, Tennessee's February net payrolls were revised up 3,400 payrolls for a total of 10,300 payrolls. Tennessee's payroll growth over the two-month period of February and March was primarily concentrated in professional and business services (up 6,800 payrolls). Louisiana and Alabama respectively added 900 and 300 jobs in March (see the chart).

Household survey
The aggregate unemployment rate for the Sixth District rose from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent in March. Half of the six District states experienced an increase in their unemployment rates (Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi), and Louisiana's rate remained unchanged, Georgia's fell from 7.1 percent to 7.0 percent, and Tennessee's fell from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent (see the table).


Want to find out how many jobs it would take to lower the unemployment rate in any of the 50 states? Check out the Atlanta Fed's State Jobs Calculator.

The BLS's next regional and state employment report, which will reflect April data, will be released May 16.

Photo of Teri GaffordBy Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch



Photo of Mark CarterMark Carter, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department

April 25, 2014 in Alabama, Employment, Florida, Georgia, Jobs, Labor Markets, Louisiana, Mississippi, Southeast, Tennessee, Unemployment | Permalink


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Does Fat Tuesday Give New Orleans a Fat Wallet?

"Happy Mardi Gras!" is what's been enthusiastically shouted across the streets of New Orleans the past couple of weeks. Well, there's that and "Throw me something, Mister!" It's Mardi Gras season—a time of king cakes, wild and crazy Bourbon Street, and extravagant parades that include musicians, dancers, and colorful floats filled with masked locals who throw shiny plastic beads and trinkets to excited crowds. Though it may seem like a haze of decadence and chaos spanning two weeks in New Orleans, a lot of planning and money from locals and tourists alike goes into this lively time of year. More than a million people pack the city's streets during the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras day, also known as Fat Tuesday (which falls on March 4 this year). So, what does Mardi Gras mean to the local economy?

In 2009, the Carnival Krewe Civic Foundation Inc. commissioned a biennial study of the economic impact of Mardi Gras. Tulane University economics professor Toni Weiss prepared the 2009 and 2011 reports. However, in 2013, New Orleans hosted the Super Bowl during Mardi Gras season, making it difficult to separate the economic effects of the two events. Therefore, the next study will reflect 2014 data.

According to the 2011 report, the economic impact on the city was $300 million, accounting for 1.5 percent of New Orleans's gross domestic product. It's worth noting that this figure is likely understated as it does not include incremental restaurant business, airport usage, or any businesses' fixed investment. It may also underestimate local citizens' Mardi Gras–related spending. Weiss evaluated seven main categories in the study: lodging and nonlodging, food and alcohol, merchandise, Mardi Gras–themed tours, Krewes (organizations of revelers who put on the parades, host Mardi Gras balls, and participate in social events throughout the year), Krewe members (the aforementioned revelers who spend their own money on the events), and the city government. Direct expenditures from these categories during the 2011 Mardi Gras season were an estimated $144 million.

So where did the other $156 million come from? According to Weiss, the Mardi Gras "franchise" the city created accounts for the difference. It includes an extensive infrastructure of lodging, food and drinking establishments, retail shops selling themed merchandise, and other factors from which other events and businesses (for example, conventions unrelated to Mardi Gras specifically) could benefit. The net fiscal benefit to the city was more than $13 million, or a return of $8.45 for every city dollar spent.

If you ask me, that's a pretty sizable return on investment—enough to fatten the city's wallet quite a bit.

Weiss's team will begin collecting data on the 2014 Mardi Gras season in a couple of weeks, and I look forward to seeing what the new results show.

Photo of Rebekah DurhamBy Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch

March 4, 2014 in Economy, Louisiana, New Orleans, Tourism | Permalink


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Acadiana Spotlight: Optimistic about Local Real Estate Conditions

You may recall that my Atlanta Fed colleague Rebekah Durham and I reported on housing conditions in southeast Louisiana in our July 22 SouthPoint post. I recently returned from another trip to Louisiana; this time, my colleagues from the Regional Economic Information Network at the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed invited me to join them as they touched base with real estate contacts in the Acadiana region, which encompasses the city of Lafayette and the surrounding parishes. I’m happy to report that our real estate business contacts were quite optimistic on both the residential and commercial real estate fronts.

Contacts indicated that the Lafayette area has experienced tremendous growth over the past year, thanks in large part to the energy sector. However, they were quick to point out that growth in the energy sector only serves as “four of the cylinders in an eight-cylinder engine,” as they described growth in medical, fiber, technology, and petrochemical fields as other drivers of growth. Business contacts mentioned that several companies are in the process of relocating high-paying executive positions as well as management positions to the Lafayette metropolitan statistical area. This growth has had quite a positive impact on the local real estate markets.

On the commercial real estate side, contacts reported that a fair amount of construction activity is taking place in the industrial and retail sectors, with considerable construction of medical office space also under way. Contacts indicated that this increased construction activity has been steady during the past year and a half and encompassed both existing firms wanting to expand their space and firms new to the area undertaking construction. Commercial real estate brokers expressed little to no difficulty in leasing existing space.

On the residential real estate side, business contacts reported that home sales are up more than 13 percent from a year earlier. Contacts indicated that the jump in mortgage rates seems to have raised demand more than it deterred potential buyers. Though new listings are up more than 17 percent year over year, contacts noted that the months’ supply of homes for sale dropped from 6.5 months to 5.3 months. Moreover, home prices have increased almost 2 percent from a year earlier, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s quarterly house price index.

All said, contacts expect 2014 and 2015 to be even better than 2013 was. They pointed out that these large infrastructure investments by area businesses send a strong signal that the energy sector will not be leaving the area any time soon. As the nearby port expansions wrap up, more rigs come online, and manufacturing and petrochemical plants open their doors, business contacts are confident that an increase in real estate demand will follow.

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

October 31, 2013 in Construction, Economic Indicators, Energy, Growth, Housing, Louisiana, Real Estate | Permalink


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Energy Brightens Louisiana's Manufacturing Outlook

Oil and gas activity is at its strongest level in decades, and investment is a big part of the story. The Atlanta Fed’s Energy Advisory Council reported an estimated $160 billion in capital investment across the Gulf Coast for pending projects related to liquefied natural gas (LNG) import/export terminals and petrochemicals over the next several years. Numerous gas shale plays (a term for shale formations containing natural gas) and technological innovation in hydraulic fracturing (commonly called “fracking”) techniques have made supply of natural gas abundant and prices low.

This increased investment and plentiful and low-cost natural gas are having a major impact on manufacturing in Louisiana in particular, leading many industry experts to declare a “renaissance” and “new industrial revolution” in Louisiana. Chemicals manufacturing in particular is expanding at a rapid pace in Louisiana, considering natural gas is a key feedstock in its production process. Over the next two years, chemical firms are planning more than $60 billion in new and expanded investments in the state.

Loren Scott, an emeritus faculty member in Louisiana State University’s E.J. Ourso College of Business’s economics department, conducted a study of the chemicals industry in Louisiana, published by the Louisiana Foundation for Excellence in Science, Technology and Education in 2012. Scott reported the state’s chemical industry is thriving and providing thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic impact, and generous tax revenues to state and local governments. “The chemical industry is the top producer of direct jobs in the Louisiana manufacturing sector, a major player in the national economy and is the state’s top manufacturing exporter,” Scott said. The industry accounted for 7.3 percent of all earnings in the state in 2011, generating $8.9 billion and 26,944 jobs. Scott’s report provides a list of nearly 20 chemical firms that announced billions of dollars in expansions across Louisiana in 2012. He attributes this wave of growth to the competitive advantage generated by low natural gas prices.

The boom in Louisiana manufacturing is not limited to the chemicals industry. Others are reaping the benefits of low natural gas prices. Steel makers, for example, are gaining from both the reduced cost of manufacturing as a result of low natural gas prices and from strong demand for steel pipe used for oil and gas drilling. Companies are setting up shop closer to major gas distribution hubs in Louisiana, and others are polishing up aging plants to replace coal with cheaper natural gas. The Atlanta Fed’s Energy Advisory Council reported this capital investment is being made in the utility sector.

Employment growth in manufacturing should increase as these investments and relocations accelerate. The chart below shows that manufacturing job growth in southern Louisiana, where much of the state’s energy-related activity is located, has consistently outperformed the rest of the state and the nation as a whole.

What does all of this mean for the future of Louisiana manufacturing? It looks bright, as long as natural gas remains accessible and low cost—which could be challenged by other parts of the world with vast, untapped shale plays. With all of the excitement and progress it’s easy to forget that just three years ago, manufacturing was considered a declining industry in Louisiana. Energy-related activity, especially in the southern part of the state, is helping to shift that perception.

Photo of Rebekah DurhamBy Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed’s New Orleans Branch

August 20, 2013 in Employment, Energy, Louisiana, Manufacturing, Oil | Permalink


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Southeast Louisiana Housing Market Update

After Katrina hit in late August 2005, the real estate market in southeast Louisiana did not behave as it did in the rest of the nation. Once it came to terms with the destruction, the region attracted a substantial amount of public and private capital, and a period of rebuilding and growth in the housing sector ensued. Meanwhile, other events played out in the region that had some effect on the real estate market: in April 2010, the BP oil spill took place and the region began to experience an energy boom. Both of these occurrences attracted additional capital into the region.

With this as context, the Regional Economic Information Network at the New Orleans branch of the Atlanta Fed thought it would be helpful to touch base with residential real estate contacts to see how housing markets in the region are faring these days.

In general, contacts characterized the current state of the regional housing market as “healthy.”

Existing home inventories in the area have returned to, and often fallen below, levels associated with market equilibrium. Business contacts indicated that declining inventories were being driven by greater absorption, a decline in the number of distressed properties moving through the pipeline, and hesitancy on the part of existing home owners to place their homes on the market. Time on market has declined for existing, move-in-ready homes in desirable neighborhoods while the number of offers for these properties has increased.

Contacts also reported that the rising interest rate environment has not yet had much of an effect on home sales. In a few cases, borrowers have had to adjust their price point in order to maintain affordability. Move-up buyers tend to account for a larger share of home sales; contacts noted that most first-time homebuyers are still struggling to return to the home-buying market due to tight credit conditions and declining affordability.

Appraisal difficulties have somewhat subsided, according to contacts, though difficulties still exist.  One persistent problem is that appraisal management companies continue to send out-of-market appraisers. However, a noted improvement was mostly attributed to savvy, proactive agents, who now bring appropriate comps (comparable properties) to the attention of these out-of-town appraisers.

On the new-construction side, contacts noted that larger national and regional builders are gaining market share in southeast Louisiana housing markets. Vacant developed lot inventories are dwindling, as they are in many other Southeast markets, and there still is not much appetite for lending on land acquisition and new development. Unlike in many other Southeast markets (particularly in Florida and Georgia), community banks in this region tended to fare better throughout the financial crisis, according to contacts. As a result, they have been able to continue lending to small, local builders for vertical construction on existing lots based largely on relationships and track records.

So to wrap up, while there are still some aspects that are unique to the region, residential real estate conditions in southeast Louisiana for the most part seem to be in line with those of the Southeast and the nation. Contacts expect the energy renaissance to persist and predict that housing demand will remain strong as businesses continue to move executives and staff into the region. They expressed some concern about local regulations governing the development process and financial regulation governing lending, but their overall outlook for the regional housing market was fairly optimistic.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s Research Department and

Photo of Rebekah DurhamRebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed’s New Orleans Branch

July 22, 2013 in Gulf Coast, Katrina, Louisiana, Real Estate | Permalink


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