Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Regional Outlook is Mixed

If there are strengths in any regional economies, they are largely in two areas emanating from Texas. The first extends to the north all the way to North Dakota. The mid-section of the country is supported by high prices for a broad array of commodities—oil, wheat, corn, and industrial metals, to name a few. There is barely any weakness in any of the large or small metropolitan areas of this region. The second is to the east, extending from Texas to Georgia and the Carolinas. The stability of this area arises from the lack of a housing bubble during past years, which left house prices rather stable and the market less exposed to subprime lending. But in this region, the strength is less uniform. Where considerable investment is taking place, such as in Mobile or Huntsville, AL, or Raleigh, NC, the economies are doing well. Where there is considerable exposure to the manufacture of housing and construction-related materials or to import competition, then it is hard to avoid some weakness. And where there was some overbuilding of housing, as in Atlanta, the economy is more susceptible to a slowdown.

Cracks are widening in some regional labor markets of the West and South. Through February, new claims for unemployment insurance—a proxy measure for layoffs—were rising fastest in those two regions. The rise in new claims in each was about as fast as it was as when the economy entered the 2001 recession. Much of this has to do with both areas' high exposure to housing-related industries and their weak housing markets. However, with a 20% rise in each region, it seems to be approaching a scale that reaches beyond housing and closely related industries.

Downside risks are prevalent in most regions as consumer spending weakens. This is particularly evident on the West Coast and in Florida, Washington, D.C., and the Northeast, where strong borrowing against home equity in 2005 and 2006 had bolstered spending. The Northeast’s risk is compounded by impending layoffs and weaker income generated by investment banking. Risks will rise more broadly across the country as consumer credit quality falters and other sources of cash for spending disappear. Additionally, if business confidence remains as weak as it is, a falloff in investment spending will hurt the industrial Midwest and centers of tech-producing industries on the coasts and in Texas.

As I have stated in earlier posts, some regions of the country are faring well considering the circumstances. Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, maintain your marketing strategy (or even expand it). Stay the course.

Graphs sources: Moody's.com

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