Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.
December 12, 2013 at 10:22 AM
King and Snohomish counties are among the higher ranks of household income for 2012, according to new data from the Census Bureau. Even so, they’re below the richest counties, which are clustered around the other Washington. This map shows the stark differences nationwide with lower income prevailing.
October 1, 2013 at 10:19 AM
Amid continuing tepid growth in world trade in the Great Recession’s aftermath, the EU crisis and a slowdown in China, the Pacific Northwest saw an overall decline in its market share in the second quarter. A Journal of Commerce report said overall container traffic to North American West Coast ports fell by 2.3 percent compared with the same period in 2012 and overall market share also declined. But the pain was not uniformly felt.
In Los Angeles, container volume fell 9.9. percent, but this was offset by Long Beach’s 10.1 percent growth. This helped keep Southern California dominant in its share, up four tenths of a percentage point to 60.1 percent. Oakland was off 0.2 percent but its share grew slightly to 9.8 percent among the West Coast ports.
The story was different in the Northwest. The Port of Tacoma saw its container volume leap 34.3 percent, the best showing among the group surveyed. Unfortunately, most of this came as a result of the Grand Alliance and Hamburg Sud lines moving from the Port of Seattle, where traffic plummeted 28.8 percent, the biggest loss seen that quarter. Portland dropped 13.8 percent. Thus, the Northwest overall fell to 11.7 percent market share from 12.1 percent in the second quarter of 2012 and 12.4 percent in 2011. Share in Vancouver and Prince Rupert grew to 13.8 percent vs. 13.4 percent in 2012 and 12.6 percent in 2011.
September 26, 2013 at 12:01 PM
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue comes in with the 15th best performance among the 100 metros in the September update of the Brookings Institution’s Metro Monitor. The project tracks how metropolitan areas are recovering from the recession, using a variety of measures, including jobs, unemployment, housing and output. The No. 15 ranking tracks from the trough of the downturn to the most recent data, and is especially helped by a big rebound in output.
A somewhat different result comes from examining data from the previous peak until this year. Here, Seattle 20th overall and is very strong in reducing unemployment. House prices were still way down, at least as of the second quarter.
Portland comes in 9th overall and Boise 18th. The overall message of the data is a slow recovery almost everywhere. Many metros, especially in the Sun Belt outside of oil-rich Texas, remain significantly below their pre-recession peaks.
And Don’t Miss: Why are 47 million Americans on food stamps? It’s the recession — mostly | Wonkblog
Today’s Econ Haiku:
The deficit’s down
Why have a debt-ceiling fight?
Whose default is that?
August 27, 2013 at 10:23 AM
Washington’s unemployment rate in July was 6.9 percent but across the Columbia River the rate stood at 8 percent. Oregon continues to struggle out of the Panic of 2008. The economic indices compiled by the University of Oregon (the latest shows June) indicate that none of the state’s region’s have fully recovered. Metro Portland is doing the best, while the Rogue Valley and Salem are faring worst.
The recession was especially hard on the state for several reasons: Its heavy exposure in manufacturing, continued reliance on forest products and a real-estate bubble in Bend. As I wrote before, the ills in Portland risk being overstated. The Brookings Institution’s Metro Monitor shows Portland doing fairly well from the trough of the downturn to June — the exception is job creation. But the rest of the state faces a much harder slog. (To be sure, 14 other states have worse unemployment rates, including South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia and North Carolina).
One other telling metric: From 2010 through July 2012, Oregon’s population increased by only 1.8 percent. In Washington, the rate of increase was 2.6 percent.
July 16, 2013 at 10:39 AM
The most interesting story in today’s Seattle Times is Lynda V. Mapes look at a property owner trying to save a historic site along the Columbia River from a new power line proposed by the Bonneville Power Administration. A BPA contractor has already bulldozed a Yakima burial cairn — a “mistake” among “bumps in the road,” a spokeswoman for the agency conceded. Meanwhile, land owner Robert Zornes and his wife, “two uneducated, lower- middle-class people in Forks,” have marshaled resistance that has held up the new transmission line for more than a year.
This isn’t the only headache facing the federal agency. According to the Washington Post, the Energy Department has placed the top two officials of the BPA on administrative leave “after they retaliated against a half-dozen employees who were helping an inspector general inquiry about hiring practices.” You can read the Inspector General’s interim report here.
A quick primer for non-mossbacks: The Bonneville Power Administration was created during the New Deal to market power from Bonneville Dam on the Columbia and extend rural electrification throughout the Northwest. Although not as consequential or far reaching, BPA was a distant cousin of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Bonneville Dam and Grand Coulee Dam were among the signature projects that provided jobs during the Great Depression and built infrastructure that remains essential today (others, besides the TVA, included Hoover Dam on the Colorado River). In 1940, BPA snagged Alcoa as an industrial customer, with hydroelectric power providing for inexpensive aluminum production. Aluminum is used to built planes. The rest is history.
June 24, 2013 at 10:39 AM
The unemployment rate for the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett metropolitan area fell to 4.7 percent in May from 7.3 percent a year earlier, continuing the good news on the jobs front that began with data showing that King County’s jobless rate fell to 4.4 percent in April. But this must be tempered with the bigger picture and questions about the road ahead.
Washington gained 4,100 jobs in May and the unemployment rate fell to a preliminary seasonally adjusted 6.8 percent. A big help came from increased hiring in the public sector. Over the past year, the private sector added 59,500 jobs but the public sector gained only 1,300 jobs. In May, government accounted for 3,200 of the net new jobs. The labor force is also larger: Statewide 3.49 million people were working in May, 5,200 more than a year ago. In metro Seattle, the increase was 24,400. This is a good sign in an economy that has been plagued by low labor-force participation due to lack of jobs.
On the other hand, five industries added employment in May while eight contracted, including manufacturing. That doesn’t necessarily mean a trend. Most jobs are being added in lower-paying sectors. That’s a phenomenon seen nationwide. It’s too early to assume the Seattle boom will translate into strong employment growth statewide.
June 17, 2013 at 2:56 PM
On the way to becoming a real estate investment trust in 2010, Weyerhaeuser got out of the fine paper business, closed mills and factories, sold its containerboard, packaging and recycling business and shrank its workforce by 70 percent. There seemed to be little left to see from this one-time titan except the mandatory funneling of most of its earnings to investors and benefiting from the tax break for REITs. That changed over the weekend, when the company, headquartered in Federal Way, announced that it would buy Longview Timber for $2.65 billion. Not only that, but it said it might dump its house-building subsidiary.
The former is a blockbuster deal that adds to Weyerhaeuser’s timberlands at a time when timber demand is rebounding. The latter, if it comes to pass, would represent a major shift from Weyerhaeuser’s strategy. In the mid 2000s, facing years of underperforming the S&P 500, Weyerhaeuser placed special hope in residential real estate and its Wreco (Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co.) unit which includes Quadrant Homes and Pardee Homes. Also, one of the little-discussed appeals of focusing on holdings of timberlands, was the notion that exurban building would continue and some of the company’s land might become valuable subdivisions. Not for nothing did Wreco’s former chief, Dan Fulton, become chief executive of the new Weyerhaeuser. Then the housing crash hit, not only tanking demand for lumber but badly wounding Wreco like all house builders. As part of Sunday’s news, the company said Fulton, 63, will retire and Doyle Simons, former CEO of Temple-Inland, will become chief executive in August.
Simons, 48, came up through the executive ranks of Temple-Inland, a pulp and paper company which was purchased last year by International Paper. Even as it was converting to a REIT, Weyerhaeuser was saying “trees are our future.” This leadership reaffirms that mantra, and if the housing division is spun off the company will become even more of a pure play. Housing is recovering, but we’re not going back to a 2000s boom, nor is exurban mass building as appealing as it seemed before the crash.
June 6, 2013 at 10:28 AM
I find evidence of the Puget Sound economy’s long reach all over, including in the June issue of Trains magazine. An article highlights the 25-year survival of Montana Rail Link, with a 623-mile main line running from Sand Point, Idaho, to east of Billings, Mont. This is the former Northern Pacific, the first transcontinental to reach our region. But it became redundant with the 1970 merger involving the NP and the Great Northern and creating the forerunner to today’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe. BN did a lease-purchase agreement with MRL founder Dennis Washington in 1987; in 2047, MRL has the option to purchase the main line outright. BNSF uses the former Great Northern as its main rail route, although it sends trains over MRL, too. And MRL has been successful in keeping and growing its own traffic.
One big blow came during the recession when Seattle’s Plum Creek Timber sawmill in Pablo, Mont., was permanently shut down. As a result, MRL was forced to close an entire branch line. “Losing Plum Creek was like losing Sears and JCPenney out of a mall,” the article quotes MRL President Thomas Walsh. The company was hammered by the housing collapse. It had also become a real estate investment trust, a boon to investors who get most of the profits, but a situation that doesn’t allow executives to be patient.
Meanwhile, the magazine — and you have to buy it, this isn’t available on the “tubes” (what a concept) — has a fascinating map showing all the trains operating on Montana Rail Link at 10 a.m. on Feb. 25. Again, the Puget Sound is heavily represented.
June 5, 2013 at 1:03 PM
The new Beige Book from the Federal Reserve on economic conditions shows a continuation of the slow recovery. “Overall economic activity increased at a modest to moderate pace since the previous report across all Federal Reserve Districts except the Dallas District, which reported strong economic growth.” The Dallas Fed’s better showing is not surprising given the energy boom in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Real estate and construction showed continued moderate gains. Manufacturing expanded more unevenly.
For the San Francisco Fed’s district, which includes Washington and Oregon, the Beige Book noted a modest expansion from early April through late May:
Price inflation was subdued for most final goods and services, and upward wage pressures were limited overall. Retail sales were a bit soft, while demand for business and consumer services was mixed. District manufacturing activity rose on net. Production and sales of agricultural items increased modestly. Residential real estate activity expanded robustly, and commercial real estate activity trended up, although somewhat unevenly across geographic areas. Contacts from financial institutions reported slight increases in overall loan demand.
March 28, 2013 at 9:55 AM
Seattle’s skyline is growing, cranes are nesting, and the jobs situation here is much better than in the rest of the state. But by one widely watched barometer, the metropolitan area is only doing so-so. The Brookings Institution has been monitoring the 100 largest metros to see how they have bounced back from the recession in jobs, unemployment, gross domestic product, and housing prices. It ranks them by looking at where they stand in the most recent quarter compared with their pre-crash peak. And Seattle is…34th in employment, 42nd in unemployment, 71st in housing prices and 17th in output as measured by GDP.
In other words, jobs in the most recent quarter are still down 1.6 percent compared with the peak in the third quarter of 2008. Unemployment is 3 points higher than its best showing in the the second quarter of 2007. Housing prices peaked in the second quarter of 2007 — most recently, they were still off 32.6 percent. GDP is up 4.9 percent vs. the second quarter of 2008. This “most improved” measure is limited but still useful. Seattle’s overall performance still bettered its showing in the third quarter of last year, when it stood at 47th.
Metro Portland shows the limits of this metric: It came in 16th overall, but almost entirely because of a big boost in GDP. Austin was No. 1 in the list.
And Don’t Miss: ‘Trickle-down consumption’ — How rising inequality can leave everyone worse off | Washington Post
Today’s Econ Haiku:
If you bought stocks, yay!
Most are back from the crisis.
Did we take stock? No.