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About


The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.


October 30, 2014

Regional Housing Sales, Construction Slowing

The Atlanta Fed conducts a monthly poll of regional residential brokers and homebuilders to track emerging trends in housing markets. The latest results, which reflect activity in September 2014, suggest continued slow growth in sales and construction activity.

Many residential brokers and builders indicated that home sales were flat to slightly up from the year-earlier level. The report from brokers and builders on buyer traffic was mixed. Those who indicated a decline in traffic suggested that seasonal factors and a decline in buyer confidence were behind the decline. A growing share of residential brokers and builders reported that home inventory levels had increased slightly from the year-earlier level. Comments suggested that well-priced homes are moving quickly, but that many sellers are pricing their homes fairly optimistically, causing inventory to build until prices are adjusted.

Many builders reported that construction activity had increased from the year-earlier level. The drop depicted in the chart below reflects the fact that a growing share of builders reported construction activity as flat to down slightly.

September 2014 Southeast Construction Activity

Most builders indicated that they continue to experience upward pressure on materials prices. Builders’ reports ranged widely when we asked them to specify the materials experiencing the greatest pricing pressure, and their responses included concrete, drywall/sheetrock, and lumber. These reports are fairly consistent with year-over-year changes in the Engineering News Record’s cost indices: on a year-earlier basis, concrete prices are up 3–4 percent, drywall/sheetrock products are up 10 percent, and lumber products are up 7–9 percent.

Builders also continued to report upward pressure on labor costs and that they are having a tougher time filling positions compared to a year earlier. In addition to asking about builders’ difficulty filling positions, we posed a special question about labor shortages. Two-thirds of builders indicated that they were experiencing a labor shortage. Reports about the trades most affected by these shortages were also fairly wide-ranging, but there seemed to be a fair amount of consensus around the idea that framers, masons, carpenters, and drywall installers were the hardest tradespeople to come by on job sites. These results are fairly consistent with report released by the National Association of Home Builders earlier this year.

To explore these results in more detail, or to view other results that were not discussed in this post, please see our Construction and Real Estate Survey results.

Note: The latest poll results, which reflect activity in September 2014, are based on responses from 40 residential brokers and 25 homebuilders and were collected October 6–15. Please sign up if you would like to participate in this poll.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


August 27, 2014

Southeast Housing Update: Exploring the Recent Slowdown

Following several months of somewhat disappointing reports on home sales and housing starts, we decided that it was time to ask the residential brokers and builders who participate in our monthly housing market poll to revisit the factors that may be contributing to slower-than-hoped-for growth.

When housing’s momentum began slowing in mid-2013, many contacts pointed to rising mortgage rates as the reason. Then in early 2014, many attributed the continued sluggishness to inclement weather. Although it seemed that weather did, in fact, play a role, our business contacts reported that less affordable buying conditions (for example, higher rates and prices) and limited inventory were greater culprits.

So what is the reason now? Our latest poll results suggest that contacts continue to believe that less affordable buying conditions and limited inventory—plus tight credit conditions—are the main factors behind the slowing activity (see the table).

Factors Influencing the Slow Growth of the Housing Market

Although the results of this special question help us as we think through what might be contributing to the weak growth, it is important to acknowledge that the incoming data (and upwardly revised data from the past few months) suggest that housing activity might not actually be slowing to the degree we previously thought. And in fact, a quick look at the latest poll results (without considering the special question) might also lead one to conclude that regional housing market conditions remain fairly positive. To explore the latest results in more detail, please view our Construction and Real Estate Survey results.

Note: The latest poll results reflect activity in July 2014 and are based on responses from 44 residential brokers and 16 homebuilders and were collected August 4–13. If you would like to participate in this poll, please consider signing up.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


June 25, 2014

The Growing Gulf Coast: Good Signs despite Low Sales

The weather is not the only thing about to heat up along the Gulf Coast. The economy is warming up as well, according to the Regional Economic Information Network’s (REIN) contacts. The REIN team in the Atlanta Fed’s New Orleans Branch reaches out to leaders from large and small businesses from all sectors of the economy and to representatives from community groups along the Gulf Coast in order to gain a representative picture of regional economic conditions, which, by the way, appears to be markedly improving. Since mid-April, we’ve held 15 one-on-one interviews, one roundtable with a mix of business leaders, our branch board meeting, and we also attended several conferences.

According to our contacts, business sentiment has picked up. Most of them were optimistic about near-term (three to six months) and medium-term (two to three years) growth and were more confident in their outlook than in the recent past. Of contacts who indicated they were experiencing second quarter growth, approximately half believed the growth was a rebound from an unusually weak first quarter, with the other half attributing it to a modest increase in economic strength.

Burgeoning capital investment was a consistent recent theme. A lack of “visibility”—or a firm’s ability to confidently predict future business conditions—was not reported as a significant inhibitor of capital investment. Nearly every contact shared information about merger and acquisition (M&A) activity or capital expenditure projects under way or planned for 2014. Most projects involved expansion to meet growing demand, including constructing new facilities and upgrading existing ones, although several projects involved new product offerings. Consistent with the recent trend along the Gulf Coast, much of the increased investment stemmed from the energy sector. However, we noticed investment picked up in other industries, such as in education and medical services.

Business contacts also reported that spending on consulting services for leadership development and organizational culture training increased. The addition of new leaders, M&A activity that resulted in conflicting organizational cultures, and the recession-era deferral of discretionary spending generated a surge in demand for these services.

Residential real estate across the Gulf Coast picked up marginally since mid-April. The median residential home sale was around $200,000, though inventories were low. Homes in coastal Alabama’s high-end market (over $600,000) were slow to move, and a lack of high-end inventory in coastal Mississippi led to increased construction in that market. In past months, we heard reports of an increase in raw land deals along the Florida Panhandle, and similarly, a recent reemergence of raw land deals was reported in coastal Alabama, often 50 percent bank-financed with fully collateralized loans. Commercial construction also resurfaced in parts of the region.

Resting retail
Unfortunately, the general optimism was not shared by all sectors. Regional retail contacts shared dampened expectations for the second quarter. Some admitted to difficulty adjusting to a shopping landscape increasingly dominated by the internet, which forced big-box retail stores to rethink sales strategies and reevaluate store locations and sizes and in some cases led to resurgence in the redevelopment of shopping centers.

Bracing for the boom
The employment picture was heartening, with nearly all of our contacts implementing hiring plans. In fact, a few contacts who took steps to reduce employment to “lean and mean” levels during the recession and early recovery admitted they were not so sure the decision was advantageous, and recently they saw productivity increase significantly once they added workers. However, the continued shortage of skilled labor has many contacts worried that some project start dates may be pushed back as they struggle to find qualified people.

Most contacts continued to report isolated wage pressures for skilled labor, medical services, and professional jobs, though some expressed they are bracing themselves for significant wage pressure in the coming months as the economy picks up.

The chatter about plans to increase prices in recent months materialized into reports of price increases, yet contacts admitted the increases were challenging and required a great deal of negotiating.

Overall, the Gulf Coast economy appears to be rising out of the recessionary fog and shedding the winter frost. The picture across most industries was definitively positive, with reports of large investment projects, hiring plans, and price increases.

By Adrienne Slack, vice president and regional executive; Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist; and Harrison Grieb, economic intern, Regional Economic Information Network, all in the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed


May 30, 2014

Southeast Housing Update: Sales, Prices, Construction Activity Spring Forward

The Atlanta Fed conducts a monthly poll of Southeast broker and builder business contacts in an effort to detect emerging real estate trends prior to the release of official government and other statistics. According to the April 2014 Southeast Housing Market Poll results:

  • There was a rebound in the number of brokers and builders reporting that home sales had increased from the year-earlier level.
  • More brokers but fewer builders noted that buyer traffic had increased from a year earlier.
  • Most brokers continued to indicate that inventory levels were down from the year-earlier level. The report from builders was split down the middle—half of respondents said that new home inventories increased from the year-earlier level, the other half noted new home inventory levels had fallen.
  • The vast majority of brokers and builders continued to report that home prices increased from a year earlier.
  • There was a rebound in the number of builders reporting that construction activity had increased from the year-earlier level.

To explore the latest poll results in more detail, please visit our Construction and Real Estate Survey results.

Note: April poll results are based on responses from 35 residential brokers and 26 homebuilders and were collected May 5–14, 2014. The housing poll's diffusion indexes are calculated as the percentage of total respondents reporting increases minus the percentage reporting declines. Positive values in the index indicate increased activity; negative values indicate decreased activity.

If you would like to participate in this poll, you may sign up here.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


October 30, 2014

Regional Housing Sales, Construction Slowing

The Atlanta Fed conducts a monthly poll of regional residential brokers and homebuilders to track emerging trends in housing markets. The latest results, which reflect activity in September 2014, suggest continued slow growth in sales and construction activity.

Many residential brokers and builders indicated that home sales were flat to slightly up from the year-earlier level. The report from brokers and builders on buyer traffic was mixed. Those who indicated a decline in traffic suggested that seasonal factors and a decline in buyer confidence were behind the decline. A growing share of residential brokers and builders reported that home inventory levels had increased slightly from the year-earlier level. Comments suggested that well-priced homes are moving quickly, but that many sellers are pricing their homes fairly optimistically, causing inventory to build until prices are adjusted.

Many builders reported that construction activity had increased from the year-earlier level. The drop depicted in the chart below reflects the fact that a growing share of builders reported construction activity as flat to down slightly.

September 2014 Southeast Construction Activity

Most builders indicated that they continue to experience upward pressure on materials prices. Builders’ reports ranged widely when we asked them to specify the materials experiencing the greatest pricing pressure, and their responses included concrete, drywall/sheetrock, and lumber. These reports are fairly consistent with year-over-year changes in the Engineering News Record’s cost indices: on a year-earlier basis, concrete prices are up 3–4 percent, drywall/sheetrock products are up 10 percent, and lumber products are up 7–9 percent.

Builders also continued to report upward pressure on labor costs and that they are having a tougher time filling positions compared to a year earlier. In addition to asking about builders’ difficulty filling positions, we posed a special question about labor shortages. Two-thirds of builders indicated that they were experiencing a labor shortage. Reports about the trades most affected by these shortages were also fairly wide-ranging, but there seemed to be a fair amount of consensus around the idea that framers, masons, carpenters, and drywall installers were the hardest tradespeople to come by on job sites. These results are fairly consistent with report released by the National Association of Home Builders earlier this year.

To explore these results in more detail, or to view other results that were not discussed in this post, please see our Construction and Real Estate Survey results.

Note: The latest poll results, which reflect activity in September 2014, are based on responses from 40 residential brokers and 25 homebuilders and were collected October 6–15. Please sign up if you would like to participate in this poll.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


August 27, 2014

Southeast Housing Update: Exploring the Recent Slowdown

Following several months of somewhat disappointing reports on home sales and housing starts, we decided that it was time to ask the residential brokers and builders who participate in our monthly housing market poll to revisit the factors that may be contributing to slower-than-hoped-for growth.

When housing’s momentum began slowing in mid-2013, many contacts pointed to rising mortgage rates as the reason. Then in early 2014, many attributed the continued sluggishness to inclement weather. Although it seemed that weather did, in fact, play a role, our business contacts reported that less affordable buying conditions (for example, higher rates and prices) and limited inventory were greater culprits.

So what is the reason now? Our latest poll results suggest that contacts continue to believe that less affordable buying conditions and limited inventory—plus tight credit conditions—are the main factors behind the slowing activity (see the table).

Factors Influencing the Slow Growth of the Housing Market

Although the results of this special question help us as we think through what might be contributing to the weak growth, it is important to acknowledge that the incoming data (and upwardly revised data from the past few months) suggest that housing activity might not actually be slowing to the degree we previously thought. And in fact, a quick look at the latest poll results (without considering the special question) might also lead one to conclude that regional housing market conditions remain fairly positive. To explore the latest results in more detail, please view our Construction and Real Estate Survey results.

Note: The latest poll results reflect activity in July 2014 and are based on responses from 44 residential brokers and 16 homebuilders and were collected August 4–13. If you would like to participate in this poll, please consider signing up.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


June 25, 2014

The Growing Gulf Coast: Good Signs despite Low Sales

The weather is not the only thing about to heat up along the Gulf Coast. The economy is warming up as well, according to the Regional Economic Information Network’s (REIN) contacts. The REIN team in the Atlanta Fed’s New Orleans Branch reaches out to leaders from large and small businesses from all sectors of the economy and to representatives from community groups along the Gulf Coast in order to gain a representative picture of regional economic conditions, which, by the way, appears to be markedly improving. Since mid-April, we’ve held 15 one-on-one interviews, one roundtable with a mix of business leaders, our branch board meeting, and we also attended several conferences.

According to our contacts, business sentiment has picked up. Most of them were optimistic about near-term (three to six months) and medium-term (two to three years) growth and were more confident in their outlook than in the recent past. Of contacts who indicated they were experiencing second quarter growth, approximately half believed the growth was a rebound from an unusually weak first quarter, with the other half attributing it to a modest increase in economic strength.

Burgeoning capital investment was a consistent recent theme. A lack of “visibility”—or a firm’s ability to confidently predict future business conditions—was not reported as a significant inhibitor of capital investment. Nearly every contact shared information about merger and acquisition (M&A) activity or capital expenditure projects under way or planned for 2014. Most projects involved expansion to meet growing demand, including constructing new facilities and upgrading existing ones, although several projects involved new product offerings. Consistent with the recent trend along the Gulf Coast, much of the increased investment stemmed from the energy sector. However, we noticed investment picked up in other industries, such as in education and medical services.

Business contacts also reported that spending on consulting services for leadership development and organizational culture training increased. The addition of new leaders, M&A activity that resulted in conflicting organizational cultures, and the recession-era deferral of discretionary spending generated a surge in demand for these services.

Residential real estate across the Gulf Coast picked up marginally since mid-April. The median residential home sale was around $200,000, though inventories were low. Homes in coastal Alabama’s high-end market (over $600,000) were slow to move, and a lack of high-end inventory in coastal Mississippi led to increased construction in that market. In past months, we heard reports of an increase in raw land deals along the Florida Panhandle, and similarly, a recent reemergence of raw land deals was reported in coastal Alabama, often 50 percent bank-financed with fully collateralized loans. Commercial construction also resurfaced in parts of the region.

Resting retail
Unfortunately, the general optimism was not shared by all sectors. Regional retail contacts shared dampened expectations for the second quarter. Some admitted to difficulty adjusting to a shopping landscape increasingly dominated by the internet, which forced big-box retail stores to rethink sales strategies and reevaluate store locations and sizes and in some cases led to resurgence in the redevelopment of shopping centers.

Bracing for the boom
The employment picture was heartening, with nearly all of our contacts implementing hiring plans. In fact, a few contacts who took steps to reduce employment to “lean and mean” levels during the recession and early recovery admitted they were not so sure the decision was advantageous, and recently they saw productivity increase significantly once they added workers. However, the continued shortage of skilled labor has many contacts worried that some project start dates may be pushed back as they struggle to find qualified people.

Most contacts continued to report isolated wage pressures for skilled labor, medical services, and professional jobs, though some expressed they are bracing themselves for significant wage pressure in the coming months as the economy picks up.

The chatter about plans to increase prices in recent months materialized into reports of price increases, yet contacts admitted the increases were challenging and required a great deal of negotiating.

Overall, the Gulf Coast economy appears to be rising out of the recessionary fog and shedding the winter frost. The picture across most industries was definitively positive, with reports of large investment projects, hiring plans, and price increases.

By Adrienne Slack, vice president and regional executive; Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist; and Harrison Grieb, economic intern, Regional Economic Information Network, all in the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed


May 30, 2014

Southeast Housing Update: Sales, Prices, Construction Activity Spring Forward

The Atlanta Fed conducts a monthly poll of Southeast broker and builder business contacts in an effort to detect emerging real estate trends prior to the release of official government and other statistics. According to the April 2014 Southeast Housing Market Poll results:

  • There was a rebound in the number of brokers and builders reporting that home sales had increased from the year-earlier level.
  • More brokers but fewer builders noted that buyer traffic had increased from a year earlier.
  • Most brokers continued to indicate that inventory levels were down from the year-earlier level. The report from builders was split down the middle—half of respondents said that new home inventories increased from the year-earlier level, the other half noted new home inventory levels had fallen.
  • The vast majority of brokers and builders continued to report that home prices increased from a year earlier.
  • There was a rebound in the number of builders reporting that construction activity had increased from the year-earlier level.

To explore the latest poll results in more detail, please visit our Construction and Real Estate Survey results.

Note: April poll results are based on responses from 35 residential brokers and 26 homebuilders and were collected May 5–14, 2014. The housing poll's diffusion indexes are calculated as the percentage of total respondents reporting increases minus the percentage reporting declines. Positive values in the index indicate increased activity; negative values indicate decreased activity.

If you would like to participate in this poll, you may sign up here.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department