San Antonio 2018 Economic Forecast

I had the pleasure and honor of being on a panel at an event this past Friday hosted by Texas CEO Magazine in partnership with the Bill Greehey School of Business at St. Mary’s University in which I presented my economic forecast for the San Antonio economy in 2018.

The presentation can be found here.

Employment growth in San Antonio remains healthy but has been slowing a bit over the past twelve months, which follows a similar pattern to the other major metropolitan economies across the state through August. Given the length of the economic expansion, growth rates have regressed toward the long-term average. The unemployment rate in San Antonio is still quite low at 4.1% in August, but it has started to tick up over the past year.

Again, a similar pattern is occurring across the other major metropolitan areas, too. We are at the point in this phase of expansion where the economy is at or very near full employment, so growth is going to be driven by population growth and/or growth in productivity, so it is difficult to see that growth will be much greater than average, if it is at all in 2018. For next year, I believe we continue to see growth in San Antonio with employment increasing in the range 2.25-2.50%, which is around the historical average growth rate of 2.43%. I project that the unemployment rate in 2018 will probably be in the range of 4.00-4.25% in San Antonio in 2018.

You will also see in the slides that I think we need to consider the possibility of the U.S. economy going into recession in the next two to three years. This is simply due to the fact that the current expansion is already 100 months old, which makes it the third longest in history. If growth continues over the next two to three years, it will become the longest expansion in history.

If we learned anything in the last recession, it is that growth does not go on forever. The expansion is long in the tooth. As already mentioned, growth in the foreseeable future is going to come from population growth and/or higher levels of productivity. Given the trends in demographics with the aging baby boomer generation and limitations being put on immigration, it is difficult to see where the population growth is going to come from in the next few years. Boosts in productivity are, in part, going to be driven by technological change, and while that is exceedingly difficult to forecast, it is hard to envision from where the boost in productivity will come in the near future. With this in mind, it seems that the odds are pretty high that the economy will run out of steam within the next two to three years.

Of course, all of this is contingent on various risks, and the biggest risk I see at this point is political risk. The national and global political situation has injected a massive amount of uncertainty into the business and economic environment. This, in and of itself, can be a deterrent to economic growth, but it certainly makes economic forecasts more difficult.

Steve

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Broad-Based Growth Continues in San Antonio

With the exception of the information sector, growth continues across all other sectors of the San Antonio economy through June of this year. The growth is lead by large increases in the construction, mining, and natural resources sector (just indicated as construction/mining in the chart) and the education and health sector. I suspect most of the employment gains in the former sector has probably come from the construction industry, but with the recovery of oil prices and activity beginning to pick-up in the Eagle Ford Shale area, the mining and natural resources industries have likely contributed their parts as well.

Growth in the education and health sector is probably driven by the continued strong expansion in the healthcare industry in San Antonio. Professional and business services (indicated as prof. services in the chart) has also shown some nice increases in employment growth this year.

The question is whether or not these sectors will continue to show strong growth.

As long as the economy keeps humming along, the construction industry is probably going to continue to grow, but there are indications that the economy is reaching capacity (as noted in my previous post) and housing prices are starting to move beyond the level of affordability for many folks.

Regarding the mining and natural resources industry growth, this is going to be driven, in part, by what oil prices do. I do not think anybody really knows where oil prices are headed over the next few years, but I think the experts feel like there will be some increase.

It seems to be a safe bet that the healthcare industry will continue to grow. However, many of the healthcare organizations in San Antonio receive a large portion of their revenues from federal government sources, so the wild card is what ultimately happens with healthcare policy and the federal budget. That may be more difficult to predict than oil prices.

Employment Growth by Industry San Antonio June 2017

NOTE: TTU is the trade, transportation, and utilities sector.

 

Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Steve

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Texas Metropolitan Economies Growing but Reaching Capacity

In June employment in the San Antonio metropolitan economy grew 2.22% compared to June of last year. The growth in the region trailed the growth in Dallas, the fastest growing region in June, Fort Worth, Austin, and Texas. All of the metro areas with the exception of Houston and the state continue to see growth rates that exceed the national rate of growth in employment.

Employment Growth June 2017

The trend in growth rates is shown in the following chart and provides some insights into what is happening in these economies. The year-over-year growth rates cover the period since June 2009 (the trough of the Great Recession) to June 2017. It is very clear that while Houston’s employment growth has not quite yet recovered to the level of the other major metro areas in the state, the economy is well into a recovery driven, at least in part, by the increase in oil prices. Fort Worth has also seen nice increases in growth rates, also probably in response to rising oil prices. These increase have also pushed up the growth rate in the state. However, growth rates in San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, and Dallas appear to be on a downward trend. Since January of this year, employment growth in the San Antonio economy dipped below its historical average growth rate of 2.42%. All of these economies are probably seeing slower growth because they have reached, or are very close to, their full-employment levels. I suspect we also see similar trends in Houston, Fort Worth, and across the state over the next year or two. This means that growth is going to be driven by increases in population (more specifically, the labor force) and gains in productivity. While projections are for increasing population of approximately 2% across the state into the foreseeable future (more on this in a future post), overall demographic trends will likely constrain labor force growth. This leaves productivity gains as possibly the main driver of economic growth over the next few years.

Employment Growth Trends June 2017

Steve

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Growth Slowing in Texas and Its Major Metropolitan Economies

I recently gave a speech to the Rotary Club of Seguin titled, “Past, Present, and Future of the Central Texas Economy,” in which I discussed the current economic situation in Texas and across the major metropolitan economies in the state. Growth across the state and in these metropolitan economies has been slowing this year, as expected, but over the past few months, the rates of growth have dipped below long-term trends for San Antonio and below growth rates for the U.S. and even below 1% growth year-over-year in some of the other areas (See chart below). With employment growth of 2.55% in August, Dallas leads the way.

august-2016-employment-growth

There are several factors that play into this. Houston has seen its economy fall into recession since the decline in oil prices, and as the state’s largest metropolitan economy, this downturn ripples through other local economies. Another big factor is that labor markets in these economies are very tight, and there just might not be enough labor to fuel the continued growth we have seen over the past few years. I believe this is especially acute in Austin but could also be playing an important role in San Antonio and other areas.

Additionally, slowing growth around the globe and the continued strength of the dollar have certainly negatively impacted exports, and I can’t help but wonder if uncertainty around the U.S. presidential election has caused at least a bit of the slowdown. I still need to assess the prospects for 2017, but I want to see the results of the presidential election. Regardless of that result, though, it seems likely that some of these headwinds will continue into next year.

If you’d like to see the presentation, it can be downloaded here.

Steve

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San Antonio Economic Forecast Update

I recently presented an update to my 2016 forecast for the San Antonio economy.

Please find the full presentation slides here.

In short, the growth in the San Antonio economy has slowed this year as anticipated. As shown in the following two graphs, through July, employment had grown 2.15% compared to July of 2015 and unemployment was at 2.8% (seasonally adjusted). My forecast for San Antonio this year was for employment growth between 2.25-2.75% and an unemployment rate in the range of 3.5-3.7%. While the July figures are slightly outside these ranges, I am leaving my forecast as is with the recognition that employment growth may end the year a bit lower than 2.25% and unemployment may come in at a rate slightly above 3.7%.

Unemployment rate as of July 2016Employment growth through July 2016

Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding the report.

Steve

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Brexit’s Potential Impact on the San Antonio Economy

With the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union, it is worth considering the impact it might have on the San Antonio economy. This basically translates to how it might affect the U.S. and Texas economies because I don’t think it will have any direct effects on the San Antonio economy since there is not a very strong connection between the San Antonio and United Kingdom economies. However, there is a reasonable chance that the uncertainty and chaos caused by Brexit throws the United Kingdom and European Union economies into recession. The best I think we can hope for it that it has no effect. I can’t envision a scenario where Brexit increases economic growth in the U.K or the E.U.

While the United Kingdom’s economy is not big enough to throw the U.S.into recession, according to The Economist, “…Britain is big enough for a recession there to have a meaningful effect on Europe’s economy. As a rule of thumb, whatever the reduction in Britain’s GDP growth, Europe’s economy will suffer a drop of about half as much.”

If a recession in Britain does drag Europe into a recession, the ripples across the pond could drag the U.S. economy into a period of slower growth possibly leading to a recession because the European Union taken together is the largest economy in the world. GDP in the European Union was $18.51 trillion in 2014 compared to GDP in the United States of $17.42 trillion in 2014.

In 2015, U.S. exports to the European Union amounted to $272 billion which equated to 13.36% of all exports (See Trade data). This makes the European Union the second largest export market for the U.S. behind Canada at $281 billion. Mexico is the third largest export market receiving $236 billion in exports from U.S. companies. Exports to the United Kingdom were $56 billion in 2015 (2.76% of all exports). While Texas has the largest volume of exports among all states (See Exports by state 2015), the United Kingdom accounted for 1.8% of total exports from Texas in 2015. This relatively low volume of trade does not mean Texas and the San Antonio economies will be immune from the effects of Brexit. If growth in the U.S. economy slows, it is likely that growth in the Texas and San Antonio economies will follow suit.

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Speech to the American Home Furnishings Alliance

I was asked to speak to the American Home Furnishings Alliance’s annual meeting in San Antonio last week. The topic of discussion was the national and global economy.

I have attached the entire slide presentation for your enjoyment!

It was great meeting such a well respected group of manufacturers.

Steve.

Presentation to American Home Furnishings Alliance 11-13-15

Update on San Antonio and Texas Metro-regional Economies

This past Tuesday, June 23, I gave a speech to a gathering of bankSNB directors and clients on the San Antonio regional economy. I provided an update on how the San Antonio economy is doing through April and compared it to the U.S., Texas, and other major metropolitan economies in the state. In short, San Antonio’s economy continues to grow at a healthy clip, and I expect the growth to continue through the rest of the year. One graphic that really jumped out to me was the rapid rate of increase in single-family housing prices, especially in Dallas and Fort Worth. This is certainly something worth watching going forward. If you are interested in looking at the presentation, it can be found here.

Forecast for Texas and San Antonio Economies in 2015

I released my 2015 economic forecast for the San Antonio economy yesterday. I am projecting employment growth in the range 2.25-3.0% and a reduction in the unemployment rate to 3.4-3.8%. The employment growth forecast is down a bit from the growth San Antonio experienced in 2014 at 3.26%, but it is still a healthy growth rate for San Antonio and will continue to push unemployment down from its December rate at 3.9%. Keith Phillips, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, projects employment growth for Texas to be in the range of 1.0-2.0% in 2015. Employment across the state grew at a rate of 3.23% in 2014, so while it is projected that the state will continue to see growth, it is a fairly sizable reduction.

The reductions in projected growth rates for 2015 are mainly due to the impacts on the Texas and San Antonio economies, but the divergence in the size of the decreases in the growth rates between Texas and San Antonio is due to the differing impacts on the respective economies. The energy industry is a big (and increasing) part of the Texas economy, so while there will likely be a boost in consumer spending due to lower fuel prices, areas like Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Midland/Odessa, Corpus Christi, and Longview are still likely to be hit pretty hard, since the energy industry is a large part of their regional economies.

However, while the San Antonio economy will be negatively affected by the downward pressure from slowing growth across the state, it has some unique characteristics that will minimize the impact. One key characteristic is that the mining industry is only about 3% of the San Antonio economy. Additionally, much of that industry in San Antonio is focused on refining, so it will actually benefit from the low oil prices. There has also been some concern that the slowing activity in the Eagle Ford shale area will have a big impact on San Antonio. There will certainly be a negative impact, but the vast majority of the activity in the Eagle Ford area is south of San Antonio. Thus, while the San Antonio economy certainly benefited from the Eagle Ford shale play, the impact on growth was not substantial, and as such, I don’t think the negative impact will be very large, either. Another unique characteristic is that the reduction in employment that will continue as Eagle Ford drilling activity decreases will likely be absorbed by the construction industry in San Antonio. It is not unique to San Antonio that the housing market is very strong, as the housing market is tight across the state. As the Eagle Ford hiring activity increased a few years ago, we saw workers leave the construction industry in San Antonio to work in the Eagle Ford area for much higher wages, but that flow of labor will most likely reverse itself this year. With the tight housing market, construction activity is likely to increase this year, so as employment in Eagle Ford continues to decline, many of these workers but the close proximity of San Antonio to Eagle Ford means that many of these workers will possibly be able to find employment in the construction industry. Lastly, much of the tourism business in San Antonio comes from visitors who drive to the area, so the lower gas prices making it cheaper to drive and providing additional disposable income could cause a boost in tourism in San Antonio.

Other risks to the forecast include slowing growth around the world and the strong dollar. The impact of the strong dollar is already starting to show its effects on the San Antonio economy, but I do not think this will be a large negative impact. It does contribute some to the slowing growth as indicated in the forecast.

If the forecasts come to fruition, growth in Texas will likely fall below that of the U.S., but San Antonio will at least see growth at its historical average rate. However you look at it, 2015 will still be a year of growth.