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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.


August 20, 2015

It's Mostly Sunny in Florida

20130910-0498-jacksonville
Jacksonville, Florida. Photo by Kendrick Disch

In a February SouthPoint post about economic conditions in north and central Florida, we reported that our contacts' optimism in late 2014 had carried into the new year. Since then, the Regional Economic Information Network team at the Jacksonville Branch has noted an overall improvement in activity and continued positive sentiment.

General business conditions continue firming
Feedback throughout the winter months was quite upbeat. Most contacts felt that an improving economy and labor market were driving growth. In early spring, although feedback remained positive, the messages became more mixed, with some contacts indicating a plateau in growth—most notably, transportation and retail contacts cited challenges from severe weather in various markets. However, bankers noted reasonable momentum with consumers and businesses; real estate contacts saw robust activity with increasing sales and prices at all price points; and homebuilders and commercial construction firms noted much stronger levels of activity. Tourism remained vibrant. Though the consumer inched along, restaurants reported revenue increases that they believe were the result of lower gas prices influencing discretionary spending. As spring progressed, activity continued along an upward, albeit slow, trajectory.

By midsummer, a small number of contacts reported demand was flat, and transportation contacts reported that activity—especially related to the movement of energy-related materials—declined notably since the first quarter. However, a majority of other contacts noted improved activity. Some began to add to capacity to meet increased demand—and, more importantly, anticipated future demand.

Employment largely stable
Throughout the first part of 2015, contacts continued to indicate no major problems in filling jobs outside of information technology (IT), accounting, compliance, and truck drivers. Staffing levels across firms generally remained steady, with some adding to headcount. Those hesitant to add staff turned to contingent labor (such as contract staff or temps) to meet demand. In late spring, we began to hear about increased turnover at many levels, and recruiting and retention appeared to be getting tougher. In central Florida, tourism contacts cited concerns of potential worker shortages as a result of a very low regional unemployment rate and increased construction attracting available labor.

Labor, nonlabor costs and price pressure surfacing
By March, mentions of mounting wage pressures at all job levels surfaced. Though not universally reported, numerous contacts said they were beginning to increase starting salaries, which they noted will eventually ripple through higher levels of staff to maintain internal pay equity and retain talent. Wages increased for engineers, truckers and technicians, and IT specialists. Into the summer, stories of referral and signing bonuses, customized perks, and other benefits enhancements for both recruitment and retention became more common.

Feedback on health care costs continued to be mixed. Health care costs for most increased at a pace greater than overall inflation, though companies continued to try to minimize the increases by changing plan designs or by sharing more of the cost with employees.

Overall, concerns about nonlabor costs were muted. Some mentioned lower energy and fuel costs have offset increases in other input costs.

The ability to raise prices varied among industries. However, a number of contacts indicated pricing power had improved, though the magnitude of price increases was limited. Generally, though, margins were edging up.

Credit, investment remain available
Throughout the first half of the year, credit was readily available and banking contacts reported increased activity. Many companies, especially small businesses, continued to deleverage even in the low interest rate environment, and many larger firms reported funding investments internally. Lenders reported increases in mortgage refinances as rates dipped, and they noted improved home equity levels. Auto lending was described as extremely strong.

Almost without exception, retail contacts noted expansion activity and further growth plans, all the result of expectations for stronger consumer spending. Real estate agents indicated that appraisal issues improved, and buyers, even the self-employed, generally faced little trouble financing home purchases. Stories regarding business investment were mixed between outlays for deferred projects and spending for new demand. This year, it's become clear that there is less hesitation about investment.

Business outlook mostly bright
Though we heard a couple of references to a cloudier outlook during the next two to three years as we approach another presidential election, collectively—and as recently as July—most REIN contacts and board members were as positive about current activity and future expectations as we have seen since the recession.

What's is in store for Florida in the second half of the year? Stay tuned.

By Chris Oakley, regional executive, and Sarah Arteaga, REIN director, both of the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch

March 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.


November 13, 2014

Signs Point Up for Regional Manufacturing

Have you ever noticed all the signs in the world around you? They are everywhere. Many of them can prompt some deep thought. For instance, I was recently driving to work one morning, and three deer ran out in the road in front of me. Luckily, I didn't hit them, but it made me wonder: Who decides where to put deer crossing signs? How do they know a deer wants to cross the road right there?

Speaking of signs worth your attention, the signs for southeastern manufacturing are pointing up, according to the latest Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), which was released on November 6. The report suggests that things look pretty strong, and digging into the report, one could conclude that things are even stronger than they initially appear.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI (produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University) to track manufacturing activity in the Southeast. The survey analyzes current conditions in the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The Southeast PMI is based on a survey of representatives from manufacturing companies in those states and analyzes trends in 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 PMI increased to 56.5 in October, which was a 1.5 point increase over September (see the chart). Some notable highlights:

  • The new orders subindex remained especially strong in October, registering 64.4, which is a 3.4 point increase over September's 61.0. New orders have averaged a solid 60.7 for the year.
  • The production subindex increased significantly to 67.3 during October, 8.3 points higher than September's reading of 59.0.
  • The employment subindex fell 2.2 points from the previous month. October's reading of 54.8 still indicates that manufacturing payrolls are increasing.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex rose 3.8 points during October, indicating that delivery of inputs is slowing as a result of high demand.
  • The finished inventories subindex fell 5.7 points compared with September and sits at 41.3. The fall in finished inventories suggests that inventory levels are lower than the previous month and could lead to higher orders in the near future.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell to 51.0, a 2.0 point decrease from September.
Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

When asked for their production expectations over the next three to six months, only 21 percent of survey participants expect production to be higher, down from 50 percent in September. According to the survey, 19 percent of survey respondents expect production to be lower than their current production levels. Those responses imply that 60 percent expect production to stay at current levels.

So to recap: The PMI indicates that regional manufacturing has seen strong new orders and production, employments levels are expanding, demand for inputs could be slowing deliveries, inventory levels are falling, commodity prices are essentially flat, and most purchasing managers are expecting to remain at their current levels of production. Although the low production expectations for the next three to six months prevent it from being a perfect set of conditions, they collectively indicate strong manufacturing activity in the near future. Just as with the deer crossing signs, I'll be paying close attention.

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

November 4, 2014

Heading into Fall, Florida's Recovery Continues

In an August SouthPoint post about economic conditions in north and central Florida, we stated that the sentiment of our contacts during the summer had been the most upbeat since before the recession. Since then, the Jacksonville REIN team has met with more than 50 business contacts, and it was very clear that the optimism was ongoing.

Contacts were upbeat as revenues and volumes increased. Demand for residential purchase mortgages met expectations, and residential lot development had made a comeback since the recession. Activity in multifamily real estate was robust, commercial loan activity improved, and office space absorption increased.

Employment and labor markets
Employment levels remained relatively flat for most, but some larger firms added to headcount. Complaints about difficult-to-fill positions persisted, though there was little evidence of contacts aggressively raising pay to attract talent. For some financial institutions, the increased availability of full-time positions in the marketplace has created turnover of part-time staff such as tellers. In addition to the usual difficult-to-fill positions (information technology, accounting, and compliance and risk), we heard stories of challenges filling lower level, low-skill positions in industries such as hospitality. In the Space Coast region, there were reports of overall shortages of workers.

Costs, wages, and prices
Most contacts indicated that nonlabor inputs have increased at about the rate of inflation. However, commodities like resins, plastics, and aluminum are expected to remain fairly flat for the foreseeable future. Construction costs in our area have reportedly stabilized, and fuel prices have lowered considerably. Food costs, particularly proteins, are up compared with last year.

Anecdotes about 2015 health care premiums were mixed, as increases ranged from less than 1 percent to as high as 20 percent. Many companies indicated that they plan to change benefit structures, raise deductibles, alter prescription plans, and eliminate dependent coverage (and so on) in an effort to avoid significantly increasing the proportion that employees pay as a result of worries about talent acquisition and retention. Others are moving ahead with shifting some measure of any increases to employees.

Most contacts reported moderate wage pressures for technically skilled positions. Some reported increased starting salaries for some lower-level jobs such as call center positions, and some are forced to offer more to attract those with internet or digital media skills. Most contacts continued to budget merit increases in the range of 2.5 to 3 percent.

Availability of credit and investment
Access to capital and availability of credit continued to be a nonissue for the majority of our contacts, but some small organizations continued to struggle for funds. Banking contacts reported strong loan demand for purchase mortgages in addition to new construction loans, refinances, home improvement loans, consumer loans, and increases in commercial loans. Reports of capital expenditures including major port expansions, health care facility construction projects, and merger and acquisition activity were widespread across the region.

Business outlook
Some contacts mentioned downside risks to the outlook, including the outcome of today's election, increased government regulations, and—most recently—worries about weakness internationally and the resulting market volatility that crept up in mid-October. Generally, however, contacts reported an expectation for higher growth in the short and medium term.

Tell us: What's your outlook for growth for the rest of 2014 and into the next year?

By Chris Oakley, regional executive, and Sarah Arteaga, REIN director, both at the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch

August 20, 2015

It's Mostly Sunny in Florida

20130910-0498-jacksonville
Jacksonville, Florida. Photo by Kendrick Disch

In a February SouthPoint post about economic conditions in north and central Florida, we reported that our contacts' optimism in late 2014 had carried into the new year. Since then, the Regional Economic Information Network team at the Jacksonville Branch has noted an overall improvement in activity and continued positive sentiment.

General business conditions continue firming
Feedback throughout the winter months was quite upbeat. Most contacts felt that an improving economy and labor market were driving growth. In early spring, although feedback remained positive, the messages became more mixed, with some contacts indicating a plateau in growth—most notably, transportation and retail contacts cited challenges from severe weather in various markets. However, bankers noted reasonable momentum with consumers and businesses; real estate contacts saw robust activity with increasing sales and prices at all price points; and homebuilders and commercial construction firms noted much stronger levels of activity. Tourism remained vibrant. Though the consumer inched along, restaurants reported revenue increases that they believe were the result of lower gas prices influencing discretionary spending. As spring progressed, activity continued along an upward, albeit slow, trajectory.

By midsummer, a small number of contacts reported demand was flat, and transportation contacts reported that activity—especially related to the movement of energy-related materials—declined notably since the first quarter. However, a majority of other contacts noted improved activity. Some began to add to capacity to meet increased demand—and, more importantly, anticipated future demand.

Employment largely stable
Throughout the first part of 2015, contacts continued to indicate no major problems in filling jobs outside of information technology (IT), accounting, compliance, and truck drivers. Staffing levels across firms generally remained steady, with some adding to headcount. Those hesitant to add staff turned to contingent labor (such as contract staff or temps) to meet demand. In late spring, we began to hear about increased turnover at many levels, and recruiting and retention appeared to be getting tougher. In central Florida, tourism contacts cited concerns of potential worker shortages as a result of a very low regional unemployment rate and increased construction attracting available labor.

Labor, nonlabor costs and price pressure surfacing
By March, mentions of mounting wage pressures at all job levels surfaced. Though not universally reported, numerous contacts said they were beginning to increase starting salaries, which they noted will eventually ripple through higher levels of staff to maintain internal pay equity and retain talent. Wages increased for engineers, truckers and technicians, and IT specialists. Into the summer, stories of referral and signing bonuses, customized perks, and other benefits enhancements for both recruitment and retention became more common.

Feedback on health care costs continued to be mixed. Health care costs for most increased at a pace greater than overall inflation, though companies continued to try to minimize the increases by changing plan designs or by sharing more of the cost with employees.

Overall, concerns about nonlabor costs were muted. Some mentioned lower energy and fuel costs have offset increases in other input costs.

The ability to raise prices varied among industries. However, a number of contacts indicated pricing power had improved, though the magnitude of price increases was limited. Generally, though, margins were edging up.

Credit, investment remain available
Throughout the first half of the year, credit was readily available and banking contacts reported increased activity. Many companies, especially small businesses, continued to deleverage even in the low interest rate environment, and many larger firms reported funding investments internally. Lenders reported increases in mortgage refinances as rates dipped, and they noted improved home equity levels. Auto lending was described as extremely strong.

Almost without exception, retail contacts noted expansion activity and further growth plans, all the result of expectations for stronger consumer spending. Real estate agents indicated that appraisal issues improved, and buyers, even the self-employed, generally faced little trouble financing home purchases. Stories regarding business investment were mixed between outlays for deferred projects and spending for new demand. This year, it's become clear that there is less hesitation about investment.

Business outlook mostly bright
Though we heard a couple of references to a cloudier outlook during the next two to three years as we approach another presidential election, collectively—and as recently as July—most REIN contacts and board members were as positive about current activity and future expectations as we have seen since the recession.

What's is in store for Florida in the second half of the year? Stay tuned.

By Chris Oakley, regional executive, and Sarah Arteaga, REIN director, both of the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch

March 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.


November 13, 2014

Signs Point Up for Regional Manufacturing

Have you ever noticed all the signs in the world around you? They are everywhere. Many of them can prompt some deep thought. For instance, I was recently driving to work one morning, and three deer ran out in the road in front of me. Luckily, I didn't hit them, but it made me wonder: Who decides where to put deer crossing signs? How do they know a deer wants to cross the road right there?

Speaking of signs worth your attention, the signs for southeastern manufacturing are pointing up, according to the latest Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), which was released on November 6. The report suggests that things look pretty strong, and digging into the report, one could conclude that things are even stronger than they initially appear.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI (produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University) to track manufacturing activity in the Southeast. The survey analyzes current conditions in the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The Southeast PMI is based on a survey of representatives from manufacturing companies in those states and analyzes trends in 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 PMI increased to 56.5 in October, which was a 1.5 point increase over September (see the chart). Some notable highlights:

  • The new orders subindex remained especially strong in October, registering 64.4, which is a 3.4 point increase over September's 61.0. New orders have averaged a solid 60.7 for the year.
  • The production subindex increased significantly to 67.3 during October, 8.3 points higher than September's reading of 59.0.
  • The employment subindex fell 2.2 points from the previous month. October's reading of 54.8 still indicates that manufacturing payrolls are increasing.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex rose 3.8 points during October, indicating that delivery of inputs is slowing as a result of high demand.
  • The finished inventories subindex fell 5.7 points compared with September and sits at 41.3. The fall in finished inventories suggests that inventory levels are lower than the previous month and could lead to higher orders in the near future.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell to 51.0, a 2.0 point decrease from September.
Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

When asked for their production expectations over the next three to six months, only 21 percent of survey participants expect production to be higher, down from 50 percent in September. According to the survey, 19 percent of survey respondents expect production to be lower than their current production levels. Those responses imply that 60 percent expect production to stay at current levels.

So to recap: The PMI indicates that regional manufacturing has seen strong new orders and production, employments levels are expanding, demand for inputs could be slowing deliveries, inventory levels are falling, commodity prices are essentially flat, and most purchasing managers are expecting to remain at their current levels of production. Although the low production expectations for the next three to six months prevent it from being a perfect set of conditions, they collectively indicate strong manufacturing activity in the near future. Just as with the deer crossing signs, I'll be paying close attention.

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

November 4, 2014

Heading into Fall, Florida's Recovery Continues

In an August SouthPoint post about economic conditions in north and central Florida, we stated that the sentiment of our contacts during the summer had been the most upbeat since before the recession. Since then, the Jacksonville REIN team has met with more than 50 business contacts, and it was very clear that the optimism was ongoing.

Contacts were upbeat as revenues and volumes increased. Demand for residential purchase mortgages met expectations, and residential lot development had made a comeback since the recession. Activity in multifamily real estate was robust, commercial loan activity improved, and office space absorption increased.

Employment and labor markets
Employment levels remained relatively flat for most, but some larger firms added to headcount. Complaints about difficult-to-fill positions persisted, though there was little evidence of contacts aggressively raising pay to attract talent. For some financial institutions, the increased availability of full-time positions in the marketplace has created turnover of part-time staff such as tellers. In addition to the usual difficult-to-fill positions (information technology, accounting, and compliance and risk), we heard stories of challenges filling lower level, low-skill positions in industries such as hospitality. In the Space Coast region, there were reports of overall shortages of workers.

Costs, wages, and prices
Most contacts indicated that nonlabor inputs have increased at about the rate of inflation. However, commodities like resins, plastics, and aluminum are expected to remain fairly flat for the foreseeable future. Construction costs in our area have reportedly stabilized, and fuel prices have lowered considerably. Food costs, particularly proteins, are up compared with last year.

Anecdotes about 2015 health care premiums were mixed, as increases ranged from less than 1 percent to as high as 20 percent. Many companies indicated that they plan to change benefit structures, raise deductibles, alter prescription plans, and eliminate dependent coverage (and so on) in an effort to avoid significantly increasing the proportion that employees pay as a result of worries about talent acquisition and retention. Others are moving ahead with shifting some measure of any increases to employees.

Most contacts reported moderate wage pressures for technically skilled positions. Some reported increased starting salaries for some lower-level jobs such as call center positions, and some are forced to offer more to attract those with internet or digital media skills. Most contacts continued to budget merit increases in the range of 2.5 to 3 percent.

Availability of credit and investment
Access to capital and availability of credit continued to be a nonissue for the majority of our contacts, but some small organizations continued to struggle for funds. Banking contacts reported strong loan demand for purchase mortgages in addition to new construction loans, refinances, home improvement loans, consumer loans, and increases in commercial loans. Reports of capital expenditures including major port expansions, health care facility construction projects, and merger and acquisition activity were widespread across the region.

Business outlook
Some contacts mentioned downside risks to the outlook, including the outcome of today's election, increased government regulations, and—most recently—worries about weakness internationally and the resulting market volatility that crept up in mid-October. Generally, however, contacts reported an expectation for higher growth in the short and medium term.

Tell us: What's your outlook for growth for the rest of 2014 and into the next year?

By Chris Oakley, regional executive, and Sarah Arteaga, REIN director, both at the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch