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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

September 27, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Fourth-quarter watch: Big items for Seattle

Signed, sealed, delivered — it’s yours. The first Dreamliner took off from Everett this morning to begin service for ANA in Japan. It’s a milestone for the Puget Sound. A “finally” for Boeing. And a time to check out some other things to watch as the last quarter of the year unfolds in Seattle:

1. The 737. Although 787 work will keep aerospace employment in the region strong for the next few years, Boeing is under heavy pressure in the narrow-body market. With plans for a 737 replacement shelved, at least for now, in favor of upgrading the venerable 737, the competition is on for where it will be built. Washington state can’t take anything for granted, even if Boeing can count on proven efficiencies and an existing plant in Renton. The next few months should give an idea of how the state and regional strategy is shaping up, or not. Meanwhile, the case before the NLRB over Boeing setting up a factory in North Charleston will play out, with much political strum und drang.

2. The holidays. Traditionally, this is the time for retailers to make most of their money and add jobs. Both seem at risk as consumer confidence is shaky and the unemployment crisis drags on. If things don’t improve in this quarter, expect more declines in tax revenue, which will result in more of a drag on the economy as the public sector continues to contract. Small businesses on the edge may be done for (even some big chains have cut back, e.g. the Rochester Big and Tall store closing in downtown Seattle). On the other hand, strong retailers such as Nordstrom, Costco and Amazon.com will likely profit from their existing market positions. This is a two-track economy and the “haves” will still shop with abandon. The likelihood of retailers adding large numbers of seasonal workers seems dim.

3. Real estate and construction. The old housing boom isn’t coming back, and expect no bold moves out of the other Washington to help struggling homeowners. With the structure of the national economy so tilted to residential real estate in recent years, this will continue to hold back recovery. The situation is less dire here, but overall construction unemployment is the biggest part of Washington’s jobless problem. Commercial has somewhat recovered. Whether that continues this quarter will determine whether one bright spot endures.

4. Trade. The Eurozone crisis gets all the attention, but there’s also signs of slowing in Asia. One big reason: U.S. consumers can’t spend as they once did. That could make for a challenging quarter for the Puget Sound ports. Journal of Commerce Economist Mario Moreno predicts that trans-Pacific imports will fall 2.4 percent in the third quarter; in June, he had called for growth of 2 percent. This quarter, he sees growth of only 0.9 percent, instead of the earlier forecast of 5.7 percent.

5. T-Mobile. Although the Justice Department has sued to stop the $39 billion merger with AT&T, Ma Bell (they hate it when you call them that) shows no signs of going away. The merger will cost another local corporate headquarters: bad. It has distracted both companies for months: bad. Yet as long as the system is gamed to reward consolidation, T-Mobile won’t have a chance to stand alone: worse.

All this assumes a global holding pattern. If Europe falls apart or another piece of discontinuity falls on us…nevermind.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Hooray, Europe’s fixed

That’s why stocks are higher, right?

No, herd on the Street

Comments | More in Aerospace/Boeing, Amazon.com, Northwest companies, Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, T-Mobile, Trade

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