Posts Tagged ‘job growth’

Retail Sales Are on the Rise

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

February retail sales climbed the fastest in five months. Even rising gas prices didn’t dampen demand for cars, clothing and other goods.  According to the Commerce Department, retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent to $407.8 billion in February; January retail sales were revised upwards to show a 0.6 percent rise instead of the initially reported 0.4 percent.  If you don’t count cars, sales climbed 0.9 percent.  Economists queried by MarketWatch had anticipated a 1.2 percent gain for the headline index and a 0.7 percent advance for retail sales, not counting autos.

Consumers are “unfazed by higher gas prices,” said Jonathan Basile, an economist at Credit Suisse, who accurately forecast the increase in spending.  “This is a pleasant surprise on the overall picture for the economy.  For the Federal Reserve, it’s steady as she goes.  They will be encouraged, but there is still a long way to go.”

Gourmet-cookware chain Williams-Sonoma Inc., said demand improved at the start of the year following the holiday shopping season.  “Post holiday, we saw a progressively stronger retail environment,” said Laura Alber, the company’s chief executive officer, which reported record earnings for 2011.  Sales increased 1.6 percent at automobile dealers, reversing the previous month’s decline.  The results fell short of what the industry expected.  Cars in February sold at the fastest pace in four years, led by Chrysler and a surprise gain from General Motors. Light-vehicle sales accelerated 6.4 percent from January to a 15 million annual rate, the strongest since February 2008, according to Ward’s Automotive Group.

“There are a number of factors that are helping release this pent-up demand,” said Don Johnson, vice president of GM’s U.S. sales.  “They include stronger employment, good credit availability, and both of those are leading to improving consumer sentiment.”

Clothing store purchases rose 1.8 percent, the most since November 2010.  Furniture and general merchandise stores were the only categories to show a decrease in sales.  An improved employment and income picture are giving consumers the confidence to spend more. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to an almost four-year high in the week ended March 4.

Employers boosted payrolls more than forecast in February.

Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital Inc. and a former Fed researcher who specialized in consumer spending, projects Americans will boost purchases at a three percent yearly rate in the 2nd half of the year after a 2.5 percent gain in the first six months.

Federal Reserve policymakers are likely to retain their plan to keep interest rates low at least through late 2014.  Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said maintaining monetary stimulus is warranted even with employment gains and a lower jobless rate.  While there are “some positive developments in the labor market,” Bernanke said, “the pace of expansion has been uneven.” The rise in gas prices “is likely to push up inflation temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power,” he said.

“We believe that the consumer is in better shape than recent downbeat commentary from Fed Chairman Bernanke,” said John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros, analysts with RDQ Economics. Another Commerce Department report showed U.S. companies restocked at a faster rate in January, a sign that businesses expect stronger job growth to fuel more sales.  Business stockpiles rose 0.7 percent in January, while sales grew 0.4 percent.  For the remainder of 2012, JPMorgan Chase analysts forecast growth of 2.2 percent, an improvement from the 1.7 percent growth seen in 2011.

The rise in sales “signals that the improving economic fundamentals, particularly strong employment growth, are being translated into higher spending activity,” said Millan Mulraine, senior macro strategist at TD Securities. “This building momentum is especially encouraging for the recovery as it suggests that the self-reinforcing positive dynamics between jobs growth and spending activity could foster a more robust economic recovery in the coming months.”

Home Delinquencies Fall; Foreclosures Rise

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Fewer borrowers currently are delinquent on their home loans, a Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) report shows.  Curiously, new foreclosures are rising in states like California.  This is evidence that the nation still must endure significant pain before the housing crisis finally comes to an end.  According to some analysts, the nation is only halfway through the wrenching grip of the foreclosure epidemic.  That’s reflected in the housing market, where sales and prices continue to sag despite record low interest rates.  Five years after the crisis began, 7.99 percent of all mortgages were behind by at least one payment in the 3rd quarter but not yet in foreclosure.  Nevertheless, that’s down by nearly half a percentage point from the 2nd quarter and more than one percent when compared with last year.

The percentage of American mortgages that were somewhere in the foreclosure process at the end of the 3rd quarter was 4.43 percent, a slight increase over last year.  The rate of homes in foreclosure was highest in the East and Midwest that route residential repossessions through the courts, with Florida at more than 14 percent and New Jersey at eight percent.

Rather surprisingly, new foreclosures rose to 1.08 percent of all loans from 0.96 percent in the prior three months, according to the MBA. The rate had been declining since the 3rd quarter of 2010, when regulators began investigating robo-signing.  Some of the nation’s largest banks temporarily halted foreclosures while they addressed claims of flaws in their court documents.  The moratoriums clogged the entire foreclosure pipeline as banks investigated their procedures, said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight.  “Banks are starting to speed up the process now that they’ve cleaned up their paperwork,” Newport said.  “We’re seeing the backlog begin to move.”

Unfortunately, the improvement may be short lived.  For the 4th quarter, the pace probably will slow to 2.3 percent, according to the median estimate among 86 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.  The pace likely will slow to two percent in the first three months of 2012, according to the estimates.  “While the delinquency picture changed for the better in the 3rd quarter, the foreclosure data indicated that we are not out of the woods yet and that the issues continue to vary by geography,” Michael Fratantoni, the Mortgage Bankers Association’s vice president of research and economics, said.

“That’s really just reflecting the modest improvement we’ve seen in the economy broadly and the job market in particular,” Fratantoni said. “Job growth is not what we want it to be, but it’s been good enough to keep the unemployment rate at least level and that’s been beneficial here with fewer people falling behind.”

“While foreclosure activity in September and the 3rd quarter continued to register well below levels from a year ago, there is evidence that this temporary downward trend is about to change direction, with foreclosure activity slowly beginning to ramp back up,” said James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.  “Third quarter foreclosure activity increased marginally from the previous quarter, breaking a trend of three consecutive quarterly decreases that started in the fourth quarter of 2010,” according to Saccacio.  “This marginal increase in overall foreclosure activity was fueled by a 14 percent jump in new default notices, indicating that lenders are cautiously throwing more wood into the foreclosure fireplace after spending months trying to clear the chimney of sloppily filed foreclosures.”

Foreclosure were filed on 214,855 U.S. properties in September, a six percent decrease from August and a 38 percent decrease when compared with September of 2010.  September marked the 12th consecutive month where foreclosure activity decreased on a year-over-year basis.

A report issued by the Center for Responsible Lending found that 6.4 percent of mortgages created between 2004 and 2008 ended in foreclosure.  Another 8.3 percent of mortgages are at “immediate, serious risk.”  According to Fratantoni, “Given the pace of foreclosure sales — about one million foreclosure sales a year — it’s a three- or four-year process to get it back to a more typical level of foreclosed properties.”

The refinance share of mortgage activity fell to 77.3 percent of total applications from 78.6 percent the previous week.  The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.1 percent from 5.8 percent of all applications.  In October, 50.6 percent of refinancing applications opted for fixed-rate 30-year loans, 28.8 percent opted for 15-year fixed loans and six percent went with ARMs.  In terms of applications for home purchase mortgages, 85.5 percent were for fixed-rate 30-year loans, 6.9 percent for 15-year fixed loans and 5.9 percent for ARMs, the lowest share of that vehicle for purchases since January.

Where’s Our Recovery? Job Growth and Productivity Falter

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Sluggish job growth in May could be a sign that the economic recovery is losing momentum.According to the ADP May Employment Report, a mere 38,000 jobs were added in the private sector on a seasonally adjusted basis.  That was well below consensus estimates of 170,000 new jobs.  The report also revised downwards the estimated change from March to April from 179,000 to 177,000. “A deceleration in employment, while disappointing, is not entirely surprising,” the report said.  “In the 1st quarter, GDP grew at only a 1.8 percent rate and only about 2¼ percent over the last four quarters.  This is below most economists’ estimate of the economy’s potential growth rate and normally would be associated with very weak growth of employment.”

Patrick O’Keefe, director of economic research at J.H. Cohn, said that although some seasonal factors may have been at work in the recent claims data and in the ADP estimates, the report still disappointed.  “We can put away our balloons and party hats today,” he said.  “We expected a pull back in the rate of acceleration, instead we got deceleration.  It appears that the general expansion has lost a bit of momentum and employment numbers, which were already lethargic, are slowing further.”

“This only adds fuel to the argument that the slowdown story is here in the U.S.,” said Tom Porcelli, chief economist at RBC Capital Markets.  “I am fairly confident that people are going to be scaling back their estimates for nonfarm payrolls.  While it is a good thing that small and medium-sized companies are adding payrolls, there is no doubt that the pace has slowed.  This is exactly what we do not want when other significant data shows things are slowing down as well.  Having said that, I still do not believe the Fed will initiate QE3.”

Writing in the National Journal, Jim Tankersley takes a more optimistic viewpoint. According to Tankersley, “Reality is a little more positive and a lot more complicated than that.  Wall Street analysts are fairly united in their view that the recovery has entered a “soft patch,” just like it did last year, and that sooner or later, growth and job-creation are on track to pick up again.  Several analysts and columnists have been reminding Americans that recoveries from financial crises can often feel like stop-and-go traffic on the freeway.  For now, the economic brakes seem to be pumping.  The 2010 slowdown flowed from worries over Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.  This one is likely a combination of several factors.  The spike in oil and food prices has spooked confidence — though consumers are still spending apace, dipping into their savings to keep up — and may be driving businesses to scale back hiring.”

On the MarketWatch website, Rex Nutting says that “If you recall that government employment is declining by almost that much every month, the ADP report implies only a very small increase in total employment.  This is no way to get the unemployment rate down from nine percent.  The economy has been buffeted by both natural and man-made forces.  Extremely bad weather earlier in the year depressed activity, as did the surge in commodity prices, especially for energy and food.  Then the Japanese earthquake and tsunami knocked out vital supply chains.  Global economic growth, which had given a big boost to U.S. exporters, is slowing. Europe is dead in the water, so is Japan.  The fast-growing developing nations such as China, India and Brazil are downshifting to avoid overheating.  The strongest sector of the U.S. economy — manufacturing — is still growing, but the momentum is fading.  The Institute for Supply Management’s closely watched diffusion index (Defined by Investopedia as “A measure of the breadth of a move in any of the Conference Boards Business Cycle Indicators (BCI), showing how many of an indicators components are moving together with the overall indicator index) plunged by 6.9 points to 53.5 percent in May, the largest one-month decline since 1984.

Companies may need to start hiring again as a new report from the Department of Labor is showing that the productivity of American workers slowed in the 1st quarter and labor costs rose as companies boosted employment to meet rising demand.  The measure of employee output per hour increased at a 1.8 percent annual rate after a 2.9 percent gain in the prior three months, revised figures from the Labor Department showed today in Washington, D.C.  Employee expenses climbed at a 0.7 percent rate after dropping 2.8 percent the prior quarter.

Productivity measures the amount of output per hour of work.  A slowdown in growth is bad for the economy if it persists.  But it can be good in the short term when unemployment is high because it can mean that companies are reaching the limits on how much extra output they can get from their existing work forces.  Output grew 3.9 percent in 2010, the biggest increase since 2002.  But many economists believe it will slow to 50 percent of that rate this year.  The expectation is that companies will hire new workers to further boost output.

Suburban Office Vacancies Rise

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

According to a recent Crain’s Chicago Business article, suburban office vacancy rates shot up to 13.1 percent during the second quarter of 2008.  That is the highest level in more than two years. According to the commercial real estate services firm, Transwestern Commercial Real Estate, the vacancy rate is at its highest level since the first quarter of 2006, when it rose to 13.7 percent.  There’s no doubt that demand for suburban office space is in lockstep with job growth or loss; we’re not seeing any job growth in the suburbs right now.

Class A landlords are more likely to accept lower rent deals right now than was true in the last year, but this can be risky.  This has the effect of also reducing the building’s value, because this is a function of the in-place income stream.  Sometimes, it is better to pass on a low rent deal and simply “assume” accepting a higher rent to protect the building’s value.

The sales market has been robust over the past several years, so protecting value has been a priority.  With credit now being largely unavailable, building owners are no longer in the sale market because buyers are unwilling or unable to pay top dollar.  Because we don’t know when the office market will stabilize and since selling isn’t viable at present, landlords may take that lower rent to boost occupancy.

A respectable number of transactions will be completed this year, but only because there is so much low-cost sublease space available.  Additionally, some industries are likely to make positive contributions to the suburban office scene.  Companies providing goods or services to hospitals, physician practices and the senior-housing market are experiencing growth, as are data-center operations and some engineering firms, especially those working with energy production or conservation.