October 2017 Summary1
The Texas economy advanced as Houston’s recovery continued, and the price of oil reached an eight-month high. Rebounds in leisure-hospitality and accommodation-food services pushed monthly employment growth above 71,000 new jobs. The statewide unemployment rate fell to a record low 3.9 percent but failed to significantly boost wages. Gulf Coast rebuilding efforts supported the construction industry, generating rapid job creation and increased construction values. A combination of higher oil prices and declines in the Texas trade-weighted value of the dollar boosted crude oil exports to record levels. Potential headwinds to the Texas economy include energy price volatility and trade uncertainty, especially with Mexico.
Recently released 2Q17 gross state product data for Texas indicated 6.2 percent quarterly annualized growth amid accelerated activity in mining, manufacturing, and real estate. The economic expansion continued through the third quarter as the Texas Business Cycle Index (a measure of current economic activity in the state) posted over 5 percent quarterly annualized growth in each of the past three months. The Austin and San Antonio indices surpassed the state level at 7.2 and 5.7 percent quarterly annualized, respectively, after solid job gains and falling unemployment. Similarly, the Dallas index accelerated above 5 percent for the first time this year, while Fort Worth slowed slightly to 3.6 percent growth. Hurricane recovery efforts stabilized the Houston index after contracting 5.5 percent in the previous month.
The Texas Leading Economic Index (a measure of future directional changes in the business cycle) inched forward as growth in the U.S. leading index and higher oil prices outweighed a slowdown in monthly well permits issued. The Texas Consumer Confidence Index flattened after taking a double digit hit from Hurricane Harvey in the previous month but should trend upward as the economic expansion advances.
Interest rates elevated after the U.S. Senate approved a budget resolution, opening the door for tax reform. The potential deficit increase resulting from tax breaks would expand the number of bonds issued, weighing on the price of existing debt. If tax cuts sufficiently stimulate economic activity, it could attract investors away from bonds in favor of riskier assets. Yields received an extra boost after the release of the Federal Reserve Board minutes, indicating a high likelihood of raising the federal funds rate in December. As a result, the ten-year U.S. Treasury bond yield rebounded from a year-to-date (YTD) low last month, reaching 2.36 percent. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation 30-year fixed-ratealso reversed its downward trend, reaching 3.9 percent after slipping in the third quarter.
Texas housing sales expanded across the state despite shortages of homes priced under $300,000. Current residential construction activity, measured by the Residential Construction Cycle (Coincident) Index, flattened as industry employment gains offset falling construction values. However, rebounds in weighted building permits and housing starts accelerated the Texas Residential Construction Leading Index for the first time since March, signaling increased activity in upcoming months. (For additional housing commentary and statistics, see Texas Housing Insight at recenter.tamu.edu.)
The average West Texas intermediate crude oil spot price increased to $51.582, the highest since February, driven by geopolitical tension in the Middle East and hopes of extended OPEC production cuts. Despite the number of active rigsin Texas falling to 4422, crude oil production rebounded 6.0 percent amid rising well completions. Increased shale activity could counter OPEC supply cuts, thereby hindering upward oil price momentum. The Henry Hub natural gas spot price fell to $2.88 per million BTU2 (British thermal unit) despite decreased global supply, a trend that could continue amid predictions of a colder-than-average winter in the northern United States.
Texas monthly nonfarm employment added 71,500 jobs as Houston landed back on its feet after two months of hurricane-related payroll declines. The Texas unemployment rate dipped to a record low 3.9 percent as labor markets tightened across the state. In Austin, the unemployment rate fell to 2.7 percent, the lowest since 1999. Unemployment fell to 3.2 percent in both Dallas and Fort Worth, while settling at 3.0 percent in San Antonio. Houston unemployment persisted above the state level at 4.4 percent, still well below its historical average. Revised data revealed a surge in initial unemployment insurance claims in Texas through September, rather than the large drop reported last month. However, the series shifted to more typical levels, falling 29.6 percent this month and should decline even further as the Houston economy recovers. Despite the tightening labor market, the Texas labor force participation rate remained at a historically low 63.0 percent.
This month’s payroll expansion occurred primarily in Houston, where recoveries in the leisure and hospitality industry as well as retail trade led to 27,300 total new jobs. Dallas added jobs in both goods-producing and service-providing sectors, elevating its 2017 job creation total to 41,500. San Antonio maintained the largest YTD job growth rate at 2.3 percent, adding over 2,300 jobs in each of the past five months. Austin and Fort Worth added 3,000 and 2,500 jobs, respectively, as growth in leisure and hospitality offset goods-producing employment contractions.
Statewide, the service-providing sector more than recovered the 15,800 jobs lost in August and September. The leisure and hospitality subsector led the charge with 34,700 jobs created, followed by accommodation and food services with 30,000. The Texas Service Sector Outlook Survey corroborated these trends as the wages and benefits, hours worked, and employment indices elevated. Increases in the revenue and service sector outlook indices reflected improved conditions after the hurricane.
The retail industry fared similarly well, recovering nearly a third of the 25,100 jobs lost between February and September. The Texas Retail Outlook Survey employment indices indicated job growth but slightly lower wage pressures. Despite approaching the holiday season, retailer optimism and future outlook decelerated.
The goods-producing sector maintained its steady expansion, adding 6,800 jobs and pushing the YTD total above 84,000. Supported by higher oil prices, Texas ranked second nationally in year-over year (YOY) employment growth in mining and logging at 16.9 percent, adding 3,200 in October. The construction industry created 4,500 jobs amid rebuilding efforts around the Gulf Coast, pushing annualized growth to 3.1 percent, nearly twice the national rate. The total value of Texas construction increased for the first time on a three-month moving average since May, led by investment in stores, restaurants, offices, and bank buildings. Residential construction values remained negative, but single-family home building ticked upward.
Texas manufacturing employment growth slowed from 5.4 to 4.1 percent annualized quarterly, shedding 900 jobs this month. Dallas posted the highest manufacturing growth rate at 8.0 percent, reaching a 20-year high after lackluster performance over the past two years. Fort Worth maintained 7.7 percent growth, thereby contributing to the robustness of the manufacturing industry in North Texas. Austin’s manufacturing growth rate accelerated to 4.8 percent after stagnating late this summer, while growth in San Antonio decelerated to 2.6 percent. The Houston annualized employment growth rate fell to -2.3 percent, a drastic slide from double-digit positive readings between April and July. Houston has lost over 4,000 durable-goods manufacturing jobs since August, all of which should recover as economic conditions normalize.
The Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey confirmed the overall industry expansion, indicating increased activity and demand. The production index extended its positive trend to 16 months, and over 30 percent of respondents reported improved business activity. The hours worked and wage indices slowed, supporting recent labor market adjustments in manufacturing, particularly along the Gulf Coast. Respondents mentioned prolonged supply chain disruptions from the hurricane and subsequent flooding but remained optimistic for the fourth quarter.
Despite low unemployment levels, employee compensation remained relatively mute throughout the state. Real Texas private hourly earnings hovered around 1.9 percent YTD after sliding in August and September. Wages fell 1.1 and 2.2 percent YOY in Fort Worth and Houston, respectively. Hourly earnings rose 0.8 percent in Austin—barely above last year’s level. Wage growth was more favorable in Dallas and San Antonio, rising 2.4 and 2.1 YOY, respectively.
While Texas wages lagged the national level by $0.40, Texas manufacturing jobs paid an 11.3 percent premium in hourly earnings relative to U.S. average. Fort Worth had the highest manufacturing wages, paying 48.2 percent more than the statewide average but were flat on the year. Manufacturing earnings fell 1.2 percent in Houston amid production process disruptions. San Antonio remained the outlier for wage growth, rising 14.7 percent YTD while remaining 19.5 percent below the Texas average.
The U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell to 2.0 percent YOY after hurricane-related energy price spikes calmed. The core inflation rate, which excludes the often-volatile energy and food sectors, increased 1.8 percent YOY, indicating upward price pressure. Prices remained elevated in Houston as the local CPI rose 2.3 percent YOY, the highest since 2014. Gasoline and medical care expenses rose over 4.5 YOY, accounting for most of the Houston inflation.
The U.S. real goods trade deficit increased by $3.1 billion to $65.3 billion as commodity imports rose and exports flattened. Total Texas commodity and manufacturing exports surged 11.2 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively, as petroleum exports returned to pre-Harvey levels. Texas crude oil exports continued to hit record highs, rising 15.8 percent amid higher oil prices. Furthermore, the Texas trade-weighted value of the dollar3 fell 10.3 percent YTD, thereby increasing the attractiveness of Texas goods and services to foreign consumers.
Strong global economic growth and the falling value of the dollar will likely support upward trending export growth throughout the next two quarters. Mexico, Texas’ largest trade partner, received more than a third of September exports but slowed economically in recent months. NAFTA renegotiations and the potential of a Mexican recession remained potential headwinds to Texas-Mexico trade activity.
1 All monthly measurements are calculated using seasonally adjusted data, and percentage changes are calculated month-over-month, unless stated otherwise.
2 Nonseasonally adjusted.
3 The Texas trade-weighted value of the dollar is generated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Its release typically lags the Outlook for the Texas Economy by one month.