Thursday, April 23, 2015

Update on sales, housing, and employment: February was weather, March was the OIl patch

 - by New Deal democrat

(First of all, sorry for the lack of posting.  Real life has been busy, the economy not so much.)

As we all know, there has been a run of weak data for the last several months.  In previous posts, I've suggested that February's poor retail sales were due to weather, while March's poor employment report was due to Oil patch weakness.  Since some new state-level data has been published, I can update these notes.

Let me take the last first.  The state-by-state breakdown of employment and unemployment for March was reported the other day. So, how did the northeast, and in particular Massachusetts fare, vs. the Oil patch states of Texas and Oklahoma?  The following charts cut to the chase.

Here's employment:

Note that Massachusetts was one of the big winners for employment growth in March.  And the Oil patch states of Texas and Oklahoma among the big losers.

Here is employment changes by region:

Note that the Northeast was the big winner in March, with growth of 44,900. The Midwest, especially the eastern part, where there has been a big growth in fracking,  and the Pacific portion of the West were the big losers, down -50,300 and -13,700, respectively. 

Now, here's the unemployment rate:

While none of our big states made the list, the new Oil patch states of North Dakota and West Virginia did.

Next, let's take a look at housing starts by region.  Here's what happened in the Northeast:

Let's contrast that with housing starts in the Western region:

Housing starts cratered in February in the snow-slammed Northeast, and almost completely recovered. Meanwhile starts in the West fell in February, and cliff-dived in March.

Finally, let's update some state sales tax reports.  These are a reasonable proxy for retail spending.  Keep in mind that March collections frequently represent sales that actually took place in February.

Massachusetts was the epicenter of horrible winter weather.  In February Massachusetts reported a paltry +0.2% YoY increase.  In March it reported an actual decline of -0.4% YoY!  Texas had YoY increases of over 11% in January and February.  In March, that fell to +1.5% YoY.

In my post several weeks ago, I concluded:

To summarize:
  • retail sales through January into February appear to have suffered primarily due to the unusually poor winter weather. 
  • hiring in February was also primarily affected by the weather, although Oil patch weakness played a contributing role.
  • jobs in March so far look like they were primarily affected by Oil patch weakness.

The new data supports that view.  We know that retail sales rebounded somewhat in March.  As I noted last week, Gallup's report of Daily Consumer Spending indicates that in the last several weeks, consumer spending has taken off.  On the other hand, temporary staffing has stalled and is now barely positive YoY, suggesting that the Oil patch weakness continues to hit the economy.