November 23rd , 2020 Happy Thanksgiving! Hard to believe that the holiday season is upon us. Also hard to believe what a strange season it is likely to be. Most of us will adjust to the new and, fortunately, temporary reality. It now appears that the cavalry is about to come over the hill at a full charge. It can’t happen soon enough.
If you are expecting substantial improvements before summer, that might be a little optimistic. Either way, hang in there. Help is on the way.
In that regard, to me the economy is performing much better than I would have expected given the long parade of horribles it presently faces. And that makes forecasting for the short term difficult. When things do settle down, the longer term seems promising as described last week despite the troubles of the “have nots”.
The parade of unusual uncertainties at the present time includes: 1. The remaining issues with the November 3rd election (though these seem to be less of an issue now and the election results will probably be resolved soon). 2. The uncertainty due to the January 5th Georgia senate run-off election that will determine the control of the senate and how much of the Democratic platform becomes law over the next few years. 3. The current surge in the number of cases of COVID-19 and the resultant hospitalization issues. Fortunately, the number of cases in this new wave has so far resulted in a smaller proportion of deaths (for many reasons). But “caution” should be your word of the day. 4. The potential for another dip in the economy due to a second round of shutdowns in many states. 5. The still missing but necessary follow-up to the CARES Act. 6. The uncertainty of what the follow-up will look like. 7. How quickly new vaccines will be approved and how quickly they will become available and accepted by the general population. 8. How the inevitably strong catch up recovery once Covid-19 is brought under control will affect market driven interest rates (as opposed to short term rates controlled by the FED).
Despite all those known unknowns and a probably equally long list of unknown unknowns, the economy continues to move forward. Housing, both new and resale, is booming. Consumer confidence is modestly up as is industrial production. E-commerce sales are still on fire although retail sales as a whole were up at a slow pace in October. But, even this was good given all the headwinds listed above. Manufacturing is up. And despite all of the above, the U.S. economy has regained 54.5% of the jobs lost during the COVID-19 closure of the economy.
These things all point to the underlying strength of the economy. In addition, virtually all of the uncertainties listed above (except number 8) should be resolved in the next one to six months. In fact, most will be resolved within the next three months. There will inevitably be new issues. But, at least for the economy, the outlook will be much clearer. And we now know that in the relatively near future COVID-19 will become a bad memory.
In Arizona, initial claims were about flat. Employment was up in October. The unemployment rate was 7.9%. Arizona has regained just short of two-thirds of all the jobs lost and is the third most rapidly growing state in the country through October. Greater Phoenix remains the best performing major employment market in the country and has regained 66.6% of all the jobs lost during the shutdown. New housing permits in both Greater Phoenix and Greater Tucson continue to boom. And all of this occurred even though hotel occupancy nationally is down 37.4% from a year ago, Arizona hotel occupancy is down 21.6% from a year ago, TSA traveler throughput is down 61.1% from a year ago and seated diners at restaurants is down 53.3% from a year ago. So, there is quite a bit or room for improvement when this ends.
So, again, hang in there.
Help is on the way.
• Leading indicators grew at 0.7% for the second month in a row. The index is down 2.9% compared to a year ago.
• Industrial production bounced back with a 1.1% increase in October up from a 0.4% decrease in September.
• Retail sales increased in October prior to the holiday shopping season. Retail sales had a 0.3% monthly increase and were up 5.7% from a year ago.
• The week ending November 19th saw the lowest mortgage rates on record at 2.72%. That’s a whopping 25.7% dropped from a year ago.
• NAHB’s Housing Market Index reached a record high level of 90. This is up from 85 in October and 71 from a year ago.
• The housing market stayed red hot. Single family starts and permits were up 29.4% and 20.6% from a year ago according the U.S. Census Bureau. NAR’s existing single family sales were up 26.7%. Arizona
• On a seasonally adjusted basis, Arizona has recovered 65.8% of the jobs lost compared to only 54.5% in the U.S. as whole. The Greater Phoenix area recovered 66.6%, Greater Tucson 54.1% and the balance of the state 71.5%. This bodes well for the state.
• Arizona gained 43,100 jobs for the month of October. The majority of gains were in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and trade, transportation and utilities. Year-to-date, Arizona employment is down -1.9% for the same time period last year.
• Greater Phoenix increased 34,700 jobs (1.6%) up from a year ago. Year-to-date, Greater Phoenix is down -1.9% from a year ago. The metro is still the best performing major employment market nationally.
• Greater Tucson increased 4,600 jobs or 1.2% for the month of October. Year-to-date Greater Tucson is down 2.8%.
• According to RL Brown, permits in Greater Phoenix increased 27.3% and Greater Tucson increased by 32.1% from a year ago. Year-to-date, Greater Phoenix is up 17.6% and Greater Tucson is up 13.5%.