Thursday, May 19, 2011

A mixed bag: Unemployment "Down" in GA

I suppose any drop is a good thing, but since we're still at 9.9% unemployment, it's tough to get super excited! March numbers reported 10% so a .1% drop is small, but I doubt the 30,100 people who found jobs would complain at all! Most of the jobs were added in hospitality, services, trade, educational and health services and (so it is reported) construction (construction? really?). It's also important to note that we were sitting at 10.1% unemployment a year ago (April) so again, this is a good thing, but the last time it was below 10 was in June of 2009 when unemployment was reportedly 9.8%--and all the while we've been running above the national average. BUT, it's the third consecutive month of gains to "Way to go, Georgia!"

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday the 13--Feeling lucky today, punk?

In case you've been under a rock today, it's Friday the 13th! And yes, that's a "Dirty Harry" reference (for those of you who are too young to know the movie, Google it and see what Clint Eastwood looked like as a "youngster"). Yes, some people will be extra nervous today, expecting something horrible to happen (or some horror movie reject jumping out of a dark corner with a chainsaw or an axe). Me? I'm more worried about the economy and business to fear Friday the 13th (actually, I have always liked the number 13). So what's going on? Lots!

Are you more upbeat today? According to a recent poll, 2 of 5 people believe the US economy will get better. No, that's not a ringing endorsement but it's still better than last month's poll (each randomly sampled over 1,000 people). Believe it or not, the death of Osama was one factor for the positive outlook but other news items are also helping to fuel the positives--job creation and sales data among them. Current pricing for commodities are dropping (silver, sugar, natural gas, and even OIL) and the dollar is strengthening (which allows the US to spend less to buy more!). This may be a temporary dip as it seems everything costs more (have you been grocery shopping lately???) and many of those increases have been due to higher fuel costs. Still, I am amazed that gas prices are over a dollar more expensive than last year. So much unrest in oil producing countries as well as supply demands, factored in with the switch to expensive 'summer blends' of gas have pushed up prices BUT expect prices to drop a bit as people changed their habits (drove less, traded gas guzzlers) and now supplies are up/consumption down so we're hoping to see $3.50/gallon again soon.

Despite gasoline cutting into our wallets, April retail sales were up-the 10th straight month of increases! Why? Earnings are growing (more jobs, higher wages, more hours worked), and people stepped back and paid down debt during the crisis (so now there is more disposable wealth on the sidelines). Sales are expected to keep rising in the months to come!

Recent employment reports are a mixed bag. Claims for unemployment fell last week by 44K, dropping to a seasonally adjusted 434,000 average. While any drop is great, it must be mentioned that 375,000 is the level generally accepted as being consistent with sustainable job growth so we're not there yet. Again, employers added more than 200,000 jobs in April for the third straight month. Various sectors were represented--retailers, factories, financial companies, education and health care-even construction! One source noted that Fed/state/local governments actually cut jobs (which may not be a bad thing for taxpayers as there tends to be overlap and waste in that area). So if gas prices are so bad, looks like employers are ignoring that and hiring more people!

The Fed is not ignoring the fact that despite commodities taking a breather of late, their last official statement noted "inflation has picked up in recent months." For now, they will hold the Federal Funds rate near zero, as has been the case for the last year or so. However, if inflation continues to take hold, they will have no choice but to raise rates (which would in turn raise other short-term rates like the Prime Rate, which will hurt many equity line holders as well as anyone carrying a credit card balance). If you further dissect their comments, in March they said labor markets "appear" to be improving; in April they noted they "are" improving gradually. What a difference a few words can make, eh? With that being noted, they talked about a few positive gains (household spending, business purchases) but they noted "the housing sector continues to be depressed." Gee, ya think? So what's going on with housing?

My view from the frontlines notes that yes, we're seeing more activity. However, we are still seeing a LOT of foreclosures, short-sales and investor purchases. As I've said before, if you have some cash, it's a buyer's market, baby! In late March, it was reported that new home sales were up (great!) but there is SO much inventory out there of existing homes, many of which are 'almost new' and all seem to be selling at deep discounts due to foreclosures and short sales (bad!). ATL home prices dropped below 2000 levels and hit a 3rd monthly low per S&P/Case-Shiller index. We're not alone--the U.S. as a whole is back to 2003 price levels. BUT, the Atlanta Board of Realtors reported sales were up 5% in February and median sales prices were up over 7% in March and foreclosures dropped a bit. So pricing remains a problem as well as credit--but again, who knew that rates would remain under 5% so long? That's great, but if you can't get a loan due to stupid laws and incredible restrictions on credit, what good is that? Likewise, these underwriting conditions are hurting entry-level buyers quite a bit and 'move-up' buyers are underwater or cannot hit the down-payment requirements for a new mortgage so looks like we're going to see a lot more renters for the short-term (Boo!). I hope that some common sense underwriting will return to our industry soon (repeal Frank-Dodd act?); it's still a great time to purchase a home--if you can. Good luck to all of you; thanks for reading and keep in touch! Remember--if you need a closing attorney, choose us! I'll be in touch again soon!

Rent vs. Buy: The New York Times perspective

See this article from the New York Times to see what the fuss is all about. Also, read this from the Atlanta Business Chronicle for ATL specific info. Rates are great; go buy now : )