Economic Update (May 10, 2013)
Federal revenues signal a stronger economy
Federal government revenues are closely related to the strength of economic activity, because as workers’ incomes and business sales rise and fall, their tax payments follow suit. The U.S. Treasury Department reports revenues less than two weeks following the end of a month, making the trend in revenues a useful real-time indicator of the growth of the overall economy.
The chart below shows that revenues and GDP growth track each other closely over time. Revenues have accelerated strongly in early 2013, and rising more than 20 percent over year ago. This is the most rapid acceleration in almost a decade, suggesting that the economy continues to gain momentum.
The surge in Federal revenues supports our outlook of stronger GDP growth driving an improvement in commercial real estate in the second half of this year and in 2014. While we expect cuts in government spending due to the sequester to reduce GDP growth relative to the baseline, most other news indicates that the baseline has risen this year—perhaps by an even greater amount.
Commercial Property Update 2013:Q1 (May 9, 2013)
The pace of recovery in the property sector slowed a bit in the first quarter, and vacancy rates remain quite high in office and retail sectors. Economic fundamentals continue to firm, however, and the increasing momentum will likely more than offset the drag from spending cuts due to the sequester. Check the latest Commercial Property Update for more details.
Economic Update (April 30, 2013)
Strong Rental Demand Still Driving Fundamentals for Multifamily Housing
The demand for rental housing continued its strong growth in the first quarter, with total rental household growth accelerating to a 3.1 percent annualized rate. The number of owner-occupied housing units, in contrast, continued to decline.
Demand for rental housing shows no signs of slowing, even as the single-family home sales market shows signs of new life. In part this reflects investors who are buying homes to convert to rental use. In addition, however, the large pent-up demand of potential renters who are currently doubled-up with family and friends provides strong support for multifamily housing, and will likely continue to do so well into the future.
The state of household finances makes renting a more attractive option than home purchase, and it will take years for many of those currently sharing living space to save for a down payment and qualify for a mortgage to buy a home. In short, worries about the end of the renter era are premature.
The recent data on household formation also dispel concerns about a coming wave of supply across the nation. The number of occupied rental households rose 610,000 over the past four quarters. Even taking into consideration those single-family rentals mentioned above, the growing demand far exceeds new construction; multifamily housing starts rose in the first quarter to a 325,000 annual rate. Some markets face a burgeoning supply pipeline, but the overall balance between new construction and household formation across the country indicates a further firming of rental occupancy rates this year and next.
Economic Update (April 26, 2013)
Another disappointing GDP report
GDP growth in the first quarter fell short of expectations, with a 2.5 percent annualized increase (consensus had expected 3 percent growth or more). This is roughly in line with the economy’s potential growth rate, and not strong enough to “catch up” the ground that was lost during the recession, either in terms of reducing unemployment, or vacancies in offices, retail stores and other commercial buildings.
Economic growth was weighed down by continued cutbacks in federal defense spending, state and local government budgets, and paltry economic growth in Europe and other global trading partners. Private domestic demand—that is, spending and investment by U.S. households and businesses—posted a robust 3.8 percent rate of growth.
There are two important engines of growth that we expect to contribute to the economy’s momentum in the months ahead:
- The housing recovery is adding directly to GDP growth, with a 12.6 percent rise in residential investment. The indirect effects on the economy are likely even more important, including household purchases of appliances and furniture, rising home values helping heal household balance sheets, and bolstering consumer confidence.
- The job market provided good news in the GDP report. Yes, you read that correctly; rising wages and salaries are making a more positive contribution to household incomes. In particular, wages and salaries have risen at an annualized 3.7 percent growth rate over the past half-year, nearly twice the 1.9 percent increase over the prior six months. This stronger income growth provided critical support to the 3.2 percent growth in consumer spending, the best since 2010.
The Bottom line: GDP growth fell short of expectations due to further cuts in government spending and struggling growth in Europe and other trading partners. U.S. households and businesses, however, continue to gain ground. We expect the gathering momentum in private domestic demand will contribute to more consistent headline GDP growth later this year and next.
Economic Update (April 10, 2013)
Does the dismal employment report for March warn that the economy has stumbled again?
Nonfarm payrolls rose just 88,000 in March, a far cry from the 190,000 that analysts had expected, and the weakest monthly hiring since July 2012 [first chart below] . Is this a harbinger of a sharp slowdown in economic activity due to the sequester and the recent hike in payroll taxes? Let’s examine the details of the report, as well as other data, to look for signs of such a slowing.
Detail of the March job report
- Revisions. The March employment report showed an upward revision of 61,000 to employment growth in January and February, which offsets some of the weakness of the headline figure. Even so, the average monthly payroll growth slowed to 168,000 in the first quarter, from 209,000 in the fourth quarter of 2012. More worrisome is that the upward revision to January and February makes the slowdown in March look even more like the economy fell off a cliff.
- Industry details. Which industries accounted for the 180,000 deceleration in payroll employment between February and March? And what does other news have to say about those industries? Three industries accounted for more than half of the slowing in the growth of payroll employment:
- Construction net employment growth slowed by 29,000 in March. But all other indicators (housing starts, sales of new and existing homes, pending home sales, the index of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)) all show that the housing sector is gaining momentum, not slowing [second chart below].
- Manufacturing employment fell slightly after several months of strong gains. But the ISM manufacturing survey is still in positive territory, and strong auto sales are more consistent with rising output than a cutback in manufacturing.
- Retail trade employment fell 24,100. But consumer spending has surprised on the upside lately. For example, auto purchases, a good indicator of consumer discretionary spending, have continued to move up steadily [third chart below].
- Government payrolls fell 7,000, with the U.S. Postal Service cutting 11,700. Furloughs and other cutbacks resulting from the sequester will impact government employment in the months ahead, but this doesn’t explain any of the weakness in March.
- Other labor market news:
- Average workweek and index of weekly hours both continued to rise in March, which typically indicates stronger demand for labor;
- Average hourly earnings edged up.
- Initial claims for unemployment insurance have declined steadily, which is at odds with the March payroll report. (Claims jumped in the most recent week, but difficulties adjusting for seasonal patterns around the Easter holiday make this number suspect.)
Bottom line: the sharp slowing in payroll growth does have us concerned about the durability of the economic recovery, especially in light of the sequester and recent increases in payroll taxes.
All of the industry details and other labor market and macroeconomic news, however, suggest the economy continues to move forward, albeit in an uneven manner and at a disappointingly slow pace.
For more information on how the recent job market news affects the outlook for the overall economy and for commercial real estate, see the following REIT.com video.
Economic Update (February 28, 2013)
Budget issues are likely to slow economic growth relative to baseline... but what's happening to the baseline?
Two issues have dominated recent economic headlines: the impact on consumers of the increase in payroll taxes that took effect at the beginning of the year, and the likely effects of an $85 billion cut to federal spending due to sequestration, should the Administration and Congress fail to reach a last-minute budget deal.
The cumulative effect of these fiscal changes is likely to be important, reducing GDP growth by one to two percentage points relative to the baseline outlook. There has been little discussion, however, of how that baseline may be moving.
The recent economic news outside of federal budget issues has been marked by upside surprises, suggesting that the baseline in fact has been moving up:
- Housing market. Home sales have firmed, and pending home sales jumped in January, pointing to a further acceleration in sales in 2013; inventories of homes for sale are low, and many metro areas can be described as a “seller’s market” for the first time in years; home prices are recovering (Chart 1)
- Labor markets. Job growth accelerated late last year to a 200,000+ pace. While this is not yet strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate significantly, hiring regained momentum in the second half of 2012 (Chart 2). Initial jobless claims are trending down, and recently moved to the lowest level since before the financial crisis.
- GDP trends. Overall GDP growth stalled in 2012:Q4, to a 0.1 percent annualized pace, according to the most recent estimate. A drop in national defense spending subtracted 1.3 percentage points from GDP growth, however, and inventory investment took off another 1.5 ppts. Outside of these pieces, which are best viewed as transitory and not indicative of future prospects, private final sales growth firmed to nearly 3 percent in late 2012.
- Business investment. Real business spending on equipment and software rose at a double-digit pace in Q4, and construction of commercial buildings firmed as well. More recent data on orders for durable goods excluding the volatile transportation equipment sector rose nearly 2 percent in January. These reports indicate that the business sector is gaining momentum.
- Consumer confidence. There are several surveys of consumer confidence, all of which have been buffeted by concerns about the fiscal cliff and sequestration. Even so, confidence has been resilient, suggesting that improvements in job markets and the housing markets are offsetting some of the negative impact of the federal budget issues.
The take-away from these recent reports covering most of the economy — housing markets, labor markets, business investment, consumer confidence — is that the underlying momentum for economic growth has been moving up in recent months. The current federal spending issues are likely to restrain growth a bit, but there is an unmistakable sense that the economic baseline is gaining traction.
Commercial Property Update 2012:Q4 (February 7, 2013)
Commercial property markets improved in late 2012 despite uncertainty about the fiscal cliff. Apartment vacancies declined further while office rents posted the strongest gain in years. The retail sector is moving sideways. Economic growth was mixed. Inventories and defense spending were weak, but core GDP—private domestic final sales—posted moderate gains. Job growth was revised higher, to 200,000 per month for the fourth quarter, a significant move towards healthier labor markets. Check the Commercial Property Update for more details.