Potential Seventh District Contenders for Amazon’s HQ2

By Martin Lavelle

In September 2017, Amazon announced its search for a second North American headquarters location. Ultimately, 238 North American metropolitan areas submitted bids within the six-week allotted period, including several in the Seventh District (1). In this blog, I examine the potential Seventh District contenders based on some important criteria relating to logistics, business environment, and labor force.

Amazon’s request for proposals laid out its location preferences:
• Metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people
• A stable and business-friendly environment
• Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
• Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options

In the Seventh District, the metropolitan areas with a population of greater than 1 million are Chicago, Detroit (2), Grand Rapids, MI, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee.

Logistics

The table below shows that each of the Seventh District’s metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents fulfills most or all of Amazon’s other logistical preferences, though to varying extents.

Table 1: Seventh District MSAs and Amazon’s Logistical Requirements (3).

Chicago possesses the flexibility for Amazon to locate anywhere in its metro area because of the various modes of mass transit available to Chicagoland commuters. Milwaukee’s bus rapid transit lines offer some flexibility as well as to potential HQ2 locations. Chicago and Detroit provide an adequate number of air connections to Amazon’s most important North American metropolitan areas. In addition, O’Hare and Detroit Metro Airports are large enough to potentially adjust operations and increase connections.
Logistics also include freeway networks and the ability of employees to navigate freeways. The work/life balance is disrupted the longer one spends stuck in traffic. The table below shows how the Seventh District metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people rank relative to other major North American metropolitan areas with regard to how many hours one
spends in congested traffic annually.

Table 2: Select North American Metro Areas by Traffic Congestion (4)

While it may not seem like it, especially during road construction season, Seventh District metropolitan areas rank favorably on congestion, relative to population size. What Detroit and Indianapolis lack in mass transit, they compensate for with the number of freeway connections. However, according to the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS), Chicago and Detroit have higher drive and total commute times than the national average in each category. Per the ACS, the percentage of Chicago commuters that utilize some mode of mass transit is slightly above 10%, similar to that of Seattle.

Business Environment

Amazon’s second location requirements include a stable and business-friendly environment. States with more business-friendly tax climates tend to use their corporate tax structure as an incentive to attract new business. The table below shows how Seventh District states rank in the 2017 Overall and Corporate Business Tax Climate Index.

Table 3: Ranking of Select U.S. States in the 2018 Overall and Corporate Business Tax Climate Index (5)

Source: https://statetaxindex.org.

The overall rankings of the Seventh District states compare favorably relative to some states with sites that are considered top contenders for Amazon HQ2 such as Minneapolis, MN and Washington D.C., which are included in the above and remaining tables. Indiana and Michigan rate in the top half, helped by the fact they have the lowest flat individual income and corporate income tax rates among the Seventh District states (6). Illinois fell out of the top half in the most recent annual update to the rankings. Meanwhile, Michigan has moved into the top 10 overall.

Theoretically, business activity levels should increase if the state is relatively friendlier to business. One could surmise that a greater number of businesses would place their corporate headquarters in a state that ranks as more accommodating to business. The chart below plots a state’s corporate tax climate ranking versus the number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in that particular state.

Chart 1: Corporate Business Tax Climate Index Ranking vs. Actual and Predicted Fortune 500 Headquarters

Sources: https://www.ceo.com/entrepreneurial_ceo/two-charts-showing-states-with-the-most-fortune-500-companies and https://statetaxindex.org.

As shown by the green trend line on the chart, there’s actually a slight positive relationship between a state’s corporate tax climate index ranking and the number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered there. The lower the state is ranked, the greater the number of corporate headquarters located in that particular state. That’s the opposite of what one would expect, which is the red dotted line on the chart above.

So if a state’s overall business tax climate doesn’t impact where a corporation will locate its head offices, what variable does influence those decisions? Another example of a state with a business-friendly environment is one that offers incentives to help influence companies’ location decisions. The table below displays how the Seventh District states with eligible metropolitan areas compare with others in that dimension.

Table 4: Annual Business Incentives Per Employee

Source: Moody’s Analytics

By this measure, Michigan ranks highly relative to sites in states that many analysts think have major contenders to land Amazon’s HQ2 such as Austin, TX; Philadelphia, PA; Boston, MA; Portland, OR; Denver, CO; Atlanta, GA, San Francisco, CA; Raleigh, NC; and Salt Lake City, UT. Michigan is noticeably more generous with incentives than other Seventh District states. A major reason companies seek incentives is to offset tax liabilities. The Upjohn Institute created a database with national tax and incentive data, as well as state tax and incentive data for 33 states across 45 industries over the past 26 years. From the database, one can determine the magnitude of a state’s tax liability and incentive for a given industry as a percentage of that industry’s economic value-added. Then, by taking the incentive percentage (of its value-added) for a given state and dividing that by its tax percentage (of its value-added), one can determine to what extent a state’s incentives offset an industry’s tax liabilities in that specific state. The table below compares state tax liabilities and incentive offerings as a percentage of their respective value-added, along with the percentage of state tax liabilities covered by incentive offerings for some of the Amazon HQ2 contenders and the U.S. overall.

Table 5: Incentives and Taxes by U.S. and Select State, 2015 (7).

Source: Tables 10, 13, and 15 of http://research.upjohn.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1228&context=reports.

Except for Illinois, the Seventh District states rank favorably relative to other states when looking at incentives as a percentage of state’s value-added and as a percentage of a state’s gross taxes. Having a greater percentage of its gross tax liabilities offset by incentive offerings would likely make a state more attractive to a business. Another takeaway from the table is that it doesn’t follow the previous table that showed incentives per job. Texas may have the highest incentive per job, but its incentive offerings constitute a relatively low percentage of its value-added. Conversely, Indiana possesses a relatively low incentive amount per job, but incentives offset almost 60% of its gross taxes. Lastly, Washington stands out for being a relatively high tax, low incentive state that lags significantly behind the other contending states.

Talent

Amazon has stated that it “will hire as many as 50,000 new full-time employees with an average annual total compensation exceeding $100,000 over the next 10-15 years, following the commencement of operations.” (8) In order to fill that many positions, Amazon will need to attract and retain highly skilled workers. That requires access to a college-educated population, including a substantial number with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) fields. The table below compares the Seventh District candidate metropolitan areas with other contenders on the relative education level of the adult population, as well as the percentage with a science or engineering background.

Table 6: College-educated Population in Select U.S. Metropolitan Areas

Source: 2016 American Community Survey, Seventh District locations are highlighted.

Among the group above, the Seventh District metropolitan areas don’t match up well. The Michigan metros don’t rank well when looking at the percentage of the population that possesses a bachelor’s degree. Grand Rapids ranks last when looking at the percentage of population with an advanced degree. Some of the areas known for their ability to retain and attract talent stand out in the table above. Washington D.C., San Francisco-Oakland, Raleigh, and Boston have world-class universities and globally renowned employers that require and need the best and the brightest.

Of course, not all STEM fields require a bachelor’s degree. Certain occupations in manufacturing and information technology only require a two-year degrees or specific certification. The table below shows the Seventh District candidate cities’ STEM employment relative the same group of U.S. cities listed in the previous table.

Table 7: Percentage of Employees in STEM (9) Occupations; Seventh District and Select U.S. Metropolitan Areas

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics database, available at www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm. Seventh District locations are highlighted.

By this broader measure, the Seventh District metropolitan areas compare more favorably with their peers. Detroit, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee have higher percentages of employees in STEM occupations than the U.S. average. Of the group of metro areas listed above, Detroit ranks behind just five of them.

An important factor in attracting talent is a relatively low cost of living. The next table examines the gross median rent in the Seventh District metro areas and select U.S. metros. Also, the table lists the gross median rent as a percentage of median household income in each metro area.

Table 10: Median Rent and its Percentage of Median Household Income

Source: Author’s Calculations Using Data from the 2016 American Community Survey. Seventh District locations are highlighted.

While there’s a noticeable disparity in the monthly rents among the metro areas, the range considerably tightens when looking at the percentage of household income that is devoted to rent. Detroit has one of the lowest monthly rents, but it comprises a relatively high percentage of household income because of Detroit’s relatively low median household income. Meanwhile, the Washington D.C. metro area, known for its relatively high housing costs, has a median rent almost twice that of Detroit, but it comprises a lower percentage of the metro’s median household income because the metro area has a higher median household income. Among the Seventh District metro areas, rents in Grand Rapids make up the lowest percentage of household income.

Potential Amazon Sites in the Seventh District Cities

Do you have an eight million square foot piece of land to spare in your metro area? That’s what Amazon is asking for their HQ2 site. Amazon requires an initial space of 500,000 square feet that can expand to as large as eight million square feet in order to accommodate the number of employees they plan to have working at their HQ2. Where would Amazon place their HQ2 in each of the Seventh District’s large metro areas? Potential Seventh District contenders have suggested particular sites that could accommodate Amazon’s HQ2.

Chicago

Chicago proposed ten sites that could accommodate Amazon’s new headquarters. They were revealed to the public and can be viewed here. A couple of the sites stand out for different reasons. The Downtown Gateway District site, which includes the old Post Office building, contains move-in-ready buildings, but would also allow Amazon to design its own headquarters. Outside of Downtown, the River District site would also give Amazon some autonomy in designing its headquarters without having to undertake the kind of massive redevelopment effort that some of the other proposed sites would require.

Detroit

The executive summary of Detroit’s Amazon proposal offers few surprises. Dan Gilbert, Chairman and Founder of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans, was appointed to lead Detroit’s bid for Amazon, which includes Windsor, Ontario, Canada, just across the Detroit River. Gilbert owns 95 Downtown Detroit buildings, giving Downtown Detroit flexibility to move things around if it were to be chosen by Amazon. One potential complex is the now open space that was supposed to have Wayne County’s new jail, and then was bought by Gilbert with much talk surrounding a soccer stadium. With the old jail site on one end and Gilbert’s proposed skyscraper on the old Hudson’s department store site on the other, this location could be attractive. Of course, Detroit doesn’t have a shortage of vacant space that Amazon could build to use. However, Detroit doesn’t have the extensive mass transit system that would allow relatively easy access to some of the larger vacant sites.

Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids hasn’t given any clues publicly as to where it has proposed Amazon would locate within the area. However, the relatively small size of the metro area means it only takes 15-20 minutes to drive from any corner of Greater Grand Rapids into downtown. The metro area includes plenty of space around Holland, only a 35 minute drive from Downtown Grand Rapids, and Grand Valley State University in between.

Indianapolis

Indianapolis didn’t make their Amazon bid public either. Indianapolis may arguably have the most shovel-ready location that would not just fulfill Amazon’s initial 500,000 square foot requirement, but go a long way toward hitting the eight million square foot target. The site used to have a General Motors stamping plant, which it was demolished in 2013. It is located in Downtown Indianapolis on the White River, just across from the central business district and IUPUI, and has relatively easy access to the city’s freeway system. The old GM site has been talked about publicly by city stakeholders. (10) As with Detroit, in Indianapolis, a less extensive mass transit system limits where Amazon could go.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s bidding group didn’t reveal its Amazon bid publicly. However, according to the local press, two sites in Walkers Point were included.(11) Walkers Point lies immediately south of Milwaukee’s central business district, contains old industrial sites, and provides access to freeways and Milwaukee’s bus rapid transit system. In addition, one would expect potential locations to be identified in the vicinity of Milwaukee’s airport, which is south of the central business district.

Conclusion

If Amazon were to choose a Seventh District location for HQ2, where would it be? Looking at all of the variables, the most likely Seventh District metro area to attract Amazon would seem to be Chicago. However, if Amazon wanted to transform a community, then Detroit or Milwaukee might be more appealing. If Amazon preferred the most shovel-ready site, then Indianapolis could merit greater consideration. Grand Rapids could emerge as a candidate if Amazon were to place greater weight on its ability to work with local stakeholders, as well as having their employees enjoy a relatively low cost of living. Amazon plans to make an announcement sometime in 2018. (12)

Foot Notes

1 – The Seventh Federal Reserve District serves a five-state region, comprising all of Iowa and most of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.
2 – Although Detroit submitted a joint regional bid with Windsor, Ontario, Canada, the statistics I cite here are for the Detroit MSA.
3 – See Information on Airport Hub Size Type from the FAA, number of Direct Flights from October 24, 2017 using the By Route tab at http://www.panynj.gov/airports/flight-status.html?view=DEPARTURE&apt=EWR. Airport data includes all commercial metropolitan airports, i.e., New York consists of Kennedy, La Guardia, and Newark airports. Seventh District locations are highlighted.
4 – Population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Traffic data from inrix.com/scorecard. Seventh District locations are highlighted.
5 – The overall ranking of the State Business Tax Climate Index is derived from five components: state income tax, sales tax, corporate tax, property tax, and unemployment insurance tax. The corporate tax has the third heaviest weight of the five components at 19%. The corporate tax subindex is divided into three of its own subindexes. The first subindex revolves around the structure of a state’s corporate tax rate, its level, and how many brackets and how quickly does a corporation’s tax liability reach the highest bracket. The second subindex examines variables related to the corporate tax base, such as the caps and number of years allowed for carryback and carryforward, gross receipts tax deductions, and whether or not the state has an alternative minimum tax. The final subindex studies the size and effectiveness of tax credits. Seventh District locations are highlighted.
6 – See p. 59 and p. 64 of https://files.taxfoundation.org/20171016171625/SBTCI_2018.pdf.
7 – Table reports present value of incentives, gross state and local business taxes, and net business taxes after incentives, all calculated as percent of present value of value-added. All incentive and taxes are weighted average, using value-added weights, across all 31 export-base industries, for a new facility starting up in 2015. Table also reports the state’s share of private value-added, which is used to create national averages across these states. Incentives as a percent of gross taxes are simply ratio of the two other columns. All present value calculations use 12 percent real discount rate, and consider facility with life of 20 years. The U.S. incentive percentage is weighted by a state’s gross state product. Seventh District locations are highlighted.
8 – See p. 2 of https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/G/01/Anything/test/images/usa/RFP_3._V516043504_.pdf.
9 – The criteria to define STEM- and non-STEM-related occupations were taken from the U.S. Census Bureau. See www.census.gov/people/io/files/STEM-Census-2010-occ-code-list.xls.
10 – See https://www.indystar.com/story/money/2017/09/28/if-amazon-chooses-indianapolis-heres-where-h-2-q-should-go/685599001/.
11 – See http://www.tmj4.com/news/local-news/making-a-pitch-possible-locations-for-amazons-hq2-site.
12 – See p.1 of https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/G/01/Anything/test/images/usa/RFP_3._V516043504_.pdf.

Agriculture and the Economy: A View from the Chicago Fed

written by: Paul Traub

On Thursday, May 12, 2016, members of the Detroit Association for Business Economics (DABE) attended a presentation entitled “Agriculture and the Economy: A View from the Chicago Fed” by David Oppedahl, senior business economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Oppedahl highlighted key trends in agriculture and their relationship to the broader economy. Farming and manufacturing of food and bioproducts comprise around 4% of the Seventh District’s economic activity in 2013. And this share has been growing in the past decade.

However, over the past century, agriculture has seen dramatic declines in terms of the number of farms and their workers. These trends have been mirrored more recently in the loss of manufacturing jobs. These changes have been difficult for the Midwest, which has a higher than average concentration in these sectors. Still, there also have been some economic advantages to the region as a result of booming productivity. For instance, corn and soybean yields per acre have about doubled in the past half century.

Productivity improvements have generated more than a doubling of agricultural output (given similar level inputs) since around 1950, meaning U.S. consumers have had to spend less and less on food—from 28% of spending in 1950 to 13% in 2015. At the same time, however, spending on health care has been rising, such that the total consumption of food and health care has remained fairly steady at roughly one-third of consumer spending. An argument can be made that as eating habits became less healthy in the second half of the twentieth century, there was a substitution into spending more on health care than food. So, today’s efforts to promote healthier eating in the U.S. and to grow farm income from local and organic foods in essence aim to turn back the clock on personal consumption patterns.

Another key aspect of agriculture is the role of exports as a vital boost to the income of U.S. producers. In 2015, 13% of the District states’ exports were of food and agricultural products (versus 8.5% for the nation). Until 2014, U.S. agricultural exports had been growing rapidly, in large part due to the expansion of markets in Asia. But in 2015 there was a decline in agricultural exports as the strength of the U.S. dollar and slower economic growth abroad contributed to a narrowing of the nation’s trade surplus in agricultural trade.

Not only has the slowdown in exports affected the profitability of agriculture, but there also has been a compression of profit margins as many prices for agricultural products have fallen more than input costs in the last two years. The USDA projects that net farm income for the sector will fall for a second consecutive year in 2016. This downturn has hit the Midwest hard, as seen in lower farmland values and cash rental rates (see latest issue of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s quarterly AgLetter). On November 29, 2016, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago will hold a conference to examine the agricultural downturn in the Midwest and discuss future directions for farming. Additional information about the conference will be released in the coming months on chicagofed.org.

To view Oppedahl’s slides from his Detroit presentation, please click here.

Recap of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s 29th Annual Economic Outlook Symposium

By Martin Lavelle

On December 4, 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago hosted its 29th annual Economic Outlook Symposium (EOS). The EOS allows economists, business leaders, financial analysts, and other experts to gather and share their respective views on the U.S. economy and individual sectors especially important to the Midwest economy. Also, EOS participants are given the chance to submit their respective projections for the year ahead. These projections are subsequently used to come up with a consensus (median) forecast for real gross domestic product (GDP) and related items.
This blog entry is a summary of what was presented at the latest EOS. For a more in-depth look into what was presented, please click here to read the Chicago Fed Letter for the event. Most of the presentations that were delivered during the EOS can be found here.

• 2015 forecast review: Real GDP growth in 2015 was slightly weaker than expected in the consensus outlook from the previous EOS held in December 2014. Growth in real personal consumption expenditures was slightly higher than anticipated, partly because of stronger than expected growth in light vehicle sales. However, real business fixed investment grew at a significantly slower rate than predicted. New home construction just missed forecasted activity levels. The unemployment rate was lower than originally projected, while inflation (as measured by the Consumer Price Index) came in well below the predicted rate.

• Outlook for consumer spending: According to Scott Brown (Raymond James & Associates), consumer spending is forecasted to slightly decelerate in 2016 in part because of headwinds from rising energy prices (he expected oil prices to average around $50 per barrel by year-end). The pace of job growth has been strong, but is expected to moderate this year.

• Outlook for financial services: Brown also noted that credit conditions are fairly tight, but they should ease. The (then-anticipated) interest rate hike in December by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)—the Federal Reserve’s monetary policymaking arm—shouldn’t dampen lending for a while, Brown said.

• Auto industry outlook: According to Yen Chen (Center for Automotive Research), U.S. light vehicle sales and production are expected to peak in 2018 (at around 18.6 million units and 12.2 million units, respectively) before falling slightly. Auto loan debt is expected to surpass student loan debt as the highest form of household debt, excluding mortgage and home equity debt, over the coming years. Meanwhile, Mexican light vehicle production capacity is expected to increase by over 2 million units in the next seven years largely because of lower labor costs (thereby reducing the U.S. share of North American production).

• Steel industry outlook: Robert DiCianni (ArcelorMittal USA) indicated that U.S. steel consumption is projected to modestly increase in 2016, based on his analysis of several steel-intensive sectors of the economy. For instance, the pace of growth in residential construction is expected to accelerate, while year-over-year growth in nonresidential construction is anticipated to level off. Moreover, both U.S. auto sales and North American auto production in 2016 should be similar to their respective levels in 2015. Global steel consumption is expected to increase slightly in 2016 after decreasing last year. The slowdown in Chinese steel consumption has been a major factor in the decelerating rate of global steel consumption in the past few years.

• Heavy machinery outlook: Glenn Zetek (Komatsu America Corp.) stated that U.S. demand for earth-moving equipment is at healthy levels, though demand has slowed significantly in states where energy production had been intense over the past few years. Equipment demand for single-family residential and transportation projects is expected to increase in 2016. But heavy machinery demand for nonresidential projects should moderate this year; the prospects for equipment demand to complete such projects look more promising over the next couple of years, as nonresidential fixed investment is expected to move up moderately and equipment usage is near its mid-2000s peak. Equipment usage for mining, energy, and rental needs are predicted to decrease.

• State and local government debt outlook: According to John Mousseau (Cumberland Advisors), municipal bond yields for the highest-rated securities with maturities greater than ten years are higher than comparable U.S. Treasury bonds—the opposite of what’s normal. Even with Detroit’s bankruptcy and other cities’ and states’ latest financial struggles, municipal bond quality generally remains higher than corporate bond quality. Interest rate increases won’t be terrible for issuers of municipal bonds because historically, municipal bond yield increases failed to match the size of federal funds rate increases.

Conclusion: 2016 economic outlook

According to the latest EOS consensus outlook, U.S. real GDP growth in 2016 is expected to increase slightly above its historical trend. Inventory levels are expected to rise at a slower pace. Residential investment is projected to rise at a strong pace, with slow and steady improvement predicted in new home construction. Growth in business fixed investment should continue at a decent pace, with moderate growth anticipated in industrial output. The dollar is estimated to slightly appreciate versus major currencies, which should increase the U.S. trade deficit to levels not seen in the past decade. Forecasters expect interest rates to rise, but remain at relatively historical lows. The unemployment rate is predicted to edge slightly below current levels. Inflation is expected to move up (closer to the FOMC’s inflation target) as oil prices strengthen slightly.

Michigan’s contribution to the Midwest economy remains positive

By Paul Traub

According to the September Midwest Economy Index (MEI), the pace of economic growth in the five Seventh District states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin) as a whole remained below its long-run average. The MEI remained unchanged in September at -0.15, after declining the previous eight months. In addition, at +0.04, Michigan’s contribution to the MEI in September fell to its lowest level since October 2014. According to the index, the strongest contributor to the MEI from Michigan in September was its manufacturing sector followed by its service sector (0.01) and consumer sector (0.01). The contribution its construction sector was slightly negative (-0.03).

The Midwest economy was growing more slowly relative to the national economy in September. The relative Midwest Economy Index fell to –0.29 in September, which was its lowest level since June 2010. (A zero value for the relative MEI indicates that the Midwest economy is growing at a rate consistent with the growth rate of the national economy; positive values indicate above-average relative growth; and negative values indicate below-average relative growth.) Only the consumer sector managed to make a positive contribution to the relative MEI in September. The largest negative swing was in the contribution from the manufacturing sector—which went from a positive at 0.04 in August to –0.05 in September. At +0.02, Michigan’s contribution to the relative MEI remained positive in September almost entirely because of its contribution from manufacturing. Even after falling for three consecutive months, Michigan’s year-to-date average monthly contribution to the relative MEI (of +0.19) remained well above that for 2014. Michigan is the only state in the Seventh District that has positively contributed to the relative index throughout 2015.

Income in Michigan still significantly lags the national average, but is slowly catching up. Real per capita income in Michigan continued to improve—to $38,454 in 2015:Q2, up 3.4% on a year-over-year basis. The nation’s real per capita income was $43,303 in 2015:Q2, up 3.1% on a year-over-year basis. Michigan has seen its real per capita income growth exceed that of the nation for the past six consecutive quarters. Since 2010:Q1, real per capita income growth averaged about 2.0% for Michigan, compared with 1.6% for the nation.

U.S. light vehicle (car and light truck) sales remain a bright spot for Michigan manufacturing. Light vehicle sales for September 2015 were reported to be 18.1 million units at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR). This was the best month for light vehicle sales since July 2005, when the U.S. light vehicle sales at a SAAR reached 20.6 million units. Year-to-date sales have averaged 17.2 million units on a SAAR basis. According to the forecast from the October 2015 Blue Chip Economic Indicators, light vehicle sales for the United States are expected to reach 17.2 million in 2015, with an additional increase in 2016 to 17.3 million units. According to data from Ward’s Automotive, Michigan’s light vehicle production for 2015 is expected to reach slightly over 2.4 million units. This would be an increase of 8.5% from 2014.

Michigan’s housing market has recently experienced some modest improvement. Although construction of privately owned homes in Michigan was negatively affected by the past two winters, housing permits and starts have continued to modestly improve since bottoming out in 2009. Housing starts in the state through August averaged 1,454 per month in 2015—a 16.5% improvement compared to the same period last year. However, even with that improvement, privately owned housing starts are still only about 40.0% of what they were at their peak in 2005. Home prices in Michigan were reported to be up 3.4% on a year-over-year basis in 2015:Q2. While home prices for the state are above their 2000 level, they are still well below their 2005 peak. In addition, home prices for the Detroit metropolitan area, which was harder hit than the state as a whole, were up 3.9% in 2015:Q2 compared with a year ago. While some areas within the Detroit metro region have seen significant improvements in home prices, prices for residential real estate in the region remain 22.1% below their 2006:Q1 peak.

Michigan’s unemployment rate is now lower than the nation’s: Michigan’s unemployment rate of 5.0% in September compares somewhat favorably to the national unemployment rate of 5.1%. Michigan’s unemployment rate declined from 5.1% in August, while the labor force participation rate of 60.0% was unchanged for the third consecutive month. While September’s unemployment rate reflects an increase in civilian employment of 54,583 for January through September of this year, it was also aided by a declining labor force (down by 16,172 participants) over the same period.

Payroll employment growth for Michigan has slowed in recent months. Nonfarm payroll employment, which is based on a survey of businesses, fell by 9,800 jobs in September following an increase of 3,700 in August. So far in 2015 (through September), nonfarm employment has increased by 53,900, which is equal to an average monthly job growth of about 6,000 per month. Michigan has added 443,000 jobs since its recessionary trough in March 2010, but total nonfarm employment is still about 400,000 jobs below its peak, which was reached in 2000. Michigan’s dependence on manufacturing remains strong, as approximately 21.2% of the Michigan’s gross state product and 14.1% of its payroll jobs are directly associated with the manufacturing sector. Sectors that experienced losses in jobs this year include information, mining and logging, and government. The government subsector that experienced the biggest decline in employment was local government: 4,200 local government jobs were lost in Michigan this year. However, these losses were offset by gains of 200 federal and 3,100 state government jobs.

Michigan GSP

Based on the first nine months of available data, Michigan’s economy is estimated to be growing at 2.2% on an annualized basis. This estimate is down slightly from the Q2 forecast mostly because of slower employment growth in recent months. However, total nonfarm employment is still on a path to grow by 2.0% in 2015 if the current monthly average pace of employment growth continues. Because Michigan’s economy remains highly dependent on the manufacturing sector and because almost half of Michigan’s manufacturing output is related to the auto industry, the projected (continued) growth in Michigan’s auto production for 2015 should help the economy sustain its positive momentum through the rest of this year and into 2016.

For a detailed copy of the report, please click Michigan Economic Update – 2015 Q3.

Michigan’s Economy is the Fastest Growing in the Midwest

Written by Paul Traub

According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Michigan economy grew by 1.9% in 2014 when compared with 2013 to an inflation-adjusted level of $417.3 billion. The sectors that realized the biggest gains on a percentage basis were private-service-related industries, including professional and business services, which saw the biggest real dollar increase of $2.3 billion, or 4.3%. However, manufacturing saw the second largest gain in real dollar value, increasing by $2.0 billion in 2014 from 2013. Other industry sectors that realized significant gains were information (3.6%), trade, transportation, and utilities (2.4%), and education and health services (2.0%).

It also looks as if Michigan’s economic expansion is poised to continue through 2015. Based on the most recent release of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Midwest Economy Index (MEI), Michigan’s contribution to the economic growth of the Seventh Federal Reserve District decreased only slightly in June to 0.19; moreover, the June 2015 annual year-to-date average of 0.18 exceeds every annual average dating back to 1994. The MEI is a weighted average of 129 state and regional indicators for the five states of the Seventh District (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin). The index is designed to measure nonfarm business activity by tracking four broad sectors of economic activity: manufacturing, construction and mining, services, and consumer spending. A value of zero for the MEI indicates the Midwest economy is growing at its long-term trend rate of growth, while a positive number indicates above-average expansion and a negative number suggests below-average growth. Michigan’s contribution to the MEI of 0.19 for June would suggest that Michigan’s economy is performing better than its long-run average.

Chart 1

A quick look at the four components for the MEI show Michigan’s strong contribution for June was driven mostly by strength in manufacturing and positive contributions from the service sector and consumer spending. Although construction did not add to Michigan’s contribution, a value of zero still implies long-run average growth in the sector. Another indication of strength in manufacturing is the Institute for Supply Management (ISM)–Southeast Michigan Purchasing Managers Index, which was reported to be 66.1 for June (helping to keep the 12-month moving average above 50 for the 64th consecutive month). For this index, a value above 50 indicates that those surveyed are anticipating continued growth in manufacturing activity in the coming months. On the residential investment front, although the 12-month moving averages for housing starts and permits for Michigan remain well below their peak levels that were reached in 2005, both of them continued their slow upward trend in June, rising to 1,439 and 1,343, respectively. Strength in the service sector was supported by continued growth is service-related jobs, which have averaged annual growth of over 1.4% for the past five years. And finally, personal consumption is being supported by recent improvements in real per capita income, which was reported to be up 3.7% in 2015:Q1 on a year-over-year basis.

Chart 2

Based on the first six months of 2015 data used to generate the MEI, Michigan’s economy looks to be currently growing by an estimated 2.3% rate on an annualized basis. This estimate is supported by the fact that total nonfarm employment is up 1.9% year to date in 2015 compared with 2014; and as chart 2 indicates, there is a strong relationship between economic activity and changes in employment. The relationship between employment and economic activity can be explained in this manner. A firm can increase output in one of two ways. One way is to increase labor input—either by having its existing staff work more hours or by adding more employees. A second method would be to seek improvements in productivity—through investment in either physical or human capital. In essence, output growth or decline is a function of changes in labor inputs and productivity. More labor or higher productivity will result in increased output. The overall economy works in a similar manner, though tracking economic output is somewhat more complicated than this simple analysis for a firm would imply. This is because the outputs of different sectors of the economy provide different contributions. Nevertheless, the basic premise is the same for an individual firm and the economy as a whole.

The data also suggest that Michigan’s economy still remains highly dependent on the manufacturing sector, which accounted for 21.2% of Michigan’s gross state product (GSP) in 2014. Because almost half of Michigan’s manufacturing output is related to the auto industry, the projected (continued) growth in light vehicles sales and production for the foreseeable future suggests that Michigan’s economy should sustain its positive momentum, at least through the rest of this year.
While Michigan never relied solely on the auto industry for employment and economic growth, this industry’s importance to the state should not be overlooked. While Michigan has seen a significant shift away from its reliance on manufacturing jobs to more service-related employment, the auto industry’s contribution to the state’s economy remains significant. As chart 3 shows, in 2000, manufacturing accounted for 19.2% of all nonfarm employment in Michigan, or the equivalent of 896,900 jobs. Since 2000, manufacturing’s share of total nonfarm employment has shrunk: Today it stands at 13.8%, or 575,700 jobs. Granted, while manufacturing’s contribution to Michigan’s GSP has fallen somewhat over the past decade and a half (decreasing from 24.5% in 2000 to 20.1% in 2014), it is still a large part of the overall Michigan economy.

It is also important to note that within Michigan the employment share of the private service sector has gone up from 61.5% in 2000 to 68.4% in 2015. However, during the past 15 years, private service sector employment in Michigan has remained relatively flat, moving up somewhat from 2,879,400 in 2000 to 2,902,850 jobs today. The increase in service sector employment share without a significant addition to payroll employment can be explained by the fact that total nonfarm employment in Michigan is down over 400,000 jobs from its peak in April 2000. Despite the modest gains in payroll employment, the private service sector’s contribution to Michigan’s GSP increased from 59.6% in 2000 to 64.5% in 2014.

Chart 3

While some of the overall service sector growth has been in more high-skilled, high-paying industries, such as professional and business services, there has also been significant growth in low-skilled, low-paying industries, such as education and health services and leisure and hospitality. It could be argued that the increase in the share of low-paying service-related jobs in Michigan has had a slightly negative impact on average annual wage growth in the state. A sector-weighted calculation of annual average nonfarm payroll using wages by sector for 2013 would suggest that if the state still had the same employment by industry distribution today as it did in 2000 the all-sector annual average wage would be approximately $51,100 today versus $50,100 in 2000, or roughly 2% higher.

For a more detailed look into the numbers behind Michigan’s economic performance, follow this link to the Michigan Blog’s Michigan Economic Update – 2015:Q2.

Detroit Association of Business Economists – Economic Update

By Paul Traub

On February 19, 2015, the Detroit Association of Business Economists met at the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago to hear Chicago Fed senior economist and economic advisor William Strauss discuss the U.S. and Midwest economy. It has now been over seven years since the U.S. plunged into its worst recession in decades and there has been some debate recently as to how well the economy is currently performing. Some economic indicators that suggest the recovery is strengthening, but others imply there is still a lot of room for improvement. Following the January 28, 2015, meeting of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC), the Committee released a statement indicating that between December 2014 and January 2015:

1. Economic activity looked to have expanded at a solid pace.
2. Labor market conditions continued to improve with strong job growth and diminishing underutilization of the labor force.
3. Household spending rose moderately with purchasing power being boosted by falling energy prices.
4. Business fixed investment continued to advance.

However, the FOMC also noted the following less favorable indicators:

1. The recovery of the housing market remains very slow.
2. Inflation continues to be below the Committee’s long-run objective of 2%, a level of inflation that is consistent with sustainable positive economic performance.
3. The share of those unemployed more than six months remains at 31.2%, well above the pre-recession long-run average of 12.8%.
4. The number of employees working part-time for economic reasons still remains elevated.
5. And about 1.4% of the fall in the unemployment rate can be explained by workers that have left the labor force because they can’t find work or have become discouraged looking for a job.

Even in the face of this less than positive news, Strauss said that recently he has been hearing concern from some economic analysts that given the current length of this recovery, 68 months and counting, the U.S. economy could be close to heading into its next cyclical slowdown. Strauss went on to explain that even though the average economic expansion since the 1960s has been roughly 72 months, it is not the length of the recovery as much as other unexpected circumstances that predict the end of an economic expansion. For example, the 2008 recession didn’t start because the economy had been expanding for 73 months and just ran out of momentum; rather it was the result of a financial crisis that was preceded by the bursting of a housing bubble. So even though the most recent economic expansion looks to be very close to the average of past expansions, there is no reason to believe the U.S. economy will suddenly just run out of steam. Strauss went on to say that the manufacturing sector continues to expand nicely, business investment continues to advance, and the consumer looks to be benefiting from lower energy prices. He also pointed to forecasts from the consensus of the Blue Chip Economic Indicators and the FOMC for the U.S. economy to continue to grow at about 2.8% to 2.9% over the next two years, a pace slightly better than its long-run potential. For more detailed information and to see Strauss’s entire presentation, click here: Presentation to the Detroit Association of Business Economists.

Is the buzz surrounding STEM justified?

By Martin Lavelle

STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. It is associated with education and is often mentioned in tandem with policymakers’ desire to increase the number of graduates in STEM-related occupations and fields. In recent years, the campaign to increase the number of STEM graduates has become more aggressive—even the White House has shown deep interest in producing more of them /1.

STEM education has received such attention because many contend that the U.S. economy will need more STEM experts as time progresses and the economy evolves /2. Moreover, STEM has received greater notice of late because it is believed that the analytical and technical skills required to work in a STEM-related field provide opportunities for workers to merit higher wages and salaries than those who work in non-STEM-related fields.

In this blog entry, I will compare STEM-related versus non-STEM-related employment and wages in Michigan, the neighboring states of Indiana and Ohio, and the U.S. as a whole over the period 2003–13. This period was chosen because it captures Michigan’s one-state recession that lasted from 2003 through 2009, the nation’s Great Recession (which lasted from the end of 2007 through mid-2009), and the subsequent recovery from them /3. The data come from the U.S. the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) database /4. The criteria to define STEM- and non-STEM-related occupations were taken from the U.S. Census Bureau /5. All calculations were done using the annual May releases of the OES data by state /6.

Employment

Over the period 2003–13, Michigan’s total employment fell by 7.8%, according to the state’s OES data. After splitting up the period into recessionary (2003–09) and post-recessionary (2009–13) periods, one can see that employment decreased by 10.2% during Michigan’s one-state recession but rebounded afterward, going up by 2.7%. By separating STEM- and non-STEM-related employment growth, one will note that STEM employment grew at a faster pace. Figure 1 shows employment in STEM-related fields increased (on net) by 9.7% in Michigan during the 2003–13 period. In sharp contrast, employment in non-STEM-related fields decreased (on net) by 10.1% in Michigan over that span.

Figure 1: STEM- versus non-STEM-related employment growth in Michigan, 2003–13
Figure 1Note: 2003=100.
Source: Author’s calculations based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics database, available at www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm.

Michigan’s STEM employment growth is striking when compared with the STEM employment growth of its neighbors Indiana and Ohio, as well as the nation as a whole. Figure 2 compares STEM employment growth in these three Midwest states and the U.S. In 2003–09, STEM employment (on net) increased just under or moderately above 10% in Indiana, Ohio, and the U.S., while Michigan STEM employment decreased slightly. Since 2009, Michigan’s STEM employment growth increased at a faster rate than that of Ohio and the U.S., but at a slower rate than that of Indiana.

Figure 2: STEM employment growth in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and U.S., 2003–13
Figure 2Note: 2003=100.
Sources: Author’s calculations based on data from Haver Analytics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics database, available at www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm.

During 2003–13, the percentage of workers in STEM-related fields as a share of total Michigan employment increased from 11.4% to 13.6%. Remarkably, STEM-related employment grew as a share of total employment in Michigan during a period when the state’s overall employment decreased. Similar increases in the proportion of STEM employment were seen in Indiana, Ohio, and the U.S. The areas listed in table 1 experienced a 1.5 to 2 percentage point increase in their respective shares of STEM-related employment.

Table 1: STEM-related employment as a share of total nonfarm employment in U.S., Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio
Table 1Sources: Author’s calculations based on data from Haver Analytics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics database, available at www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm.

Using 2013 data from the final column of table 1, I determine that Michigan’s total work force is 13% more concentrated in STEM occupations than the nation’s by calculating Michigan’s STEM location quotient (see third column, last row of table 2). Comparing the composition of Michigan’s STEM workers with that of the nation’s helps explain this difference in concentration. To a large degree, the higher concentration in STEM employment among Michigan’s work force is due to the state’s much higher concentration of jobs in architectural and engineering occupations relative to the nation’s: The state’s STEM work force is 48% more concentrated in this occupational category than that of the nation when calculating the category’s STEM location quotient /7. In contrast, Michigan’s concentrations of employment in life, physical, and social sciences occupations and computer and mathematical occupations are moderately lower than the nation’s.

Table 2: Distribution and concentration of STEM workers by occupational category in Michigan and U.S., 2013
Table 2Notes: For all but the last row, Michigan Location Quotient = ((MI STEM category employment/MI Total STEM employment)/(U.S. STEM category employment/U.S. Total STEM employment)). For the last row, Michigan Location Quotient = ((MI Total STEM employment/MI Total nonfarm employment)/(U.S. Total STEM employment/U.S. Total nonfarm employment)).
Sources: Author’s calculations based on data from Haver Analytics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics database, available at www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm.

Wages and income

In order to compare the wages of STEM- and non-STEM-related occupations, I divided each occupation’s STEM (or non-STEM) employment level by the total STEM (or non-STEM) employment level, calculating each occupational category’s weight. I took that weight, multiplied it by the occupation’s annual median income, and then deflated that with the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis /8. Using the weighted averages, I determine the average real annual median wage for a STEM-related occupation in Michigan barely increased during 2003–13. Meanwhile, the average annual median wage for a non-STEM-related occupation decreased 5.5% over that span. Figure 4 below depicts two noteworthy trends. First, the average annual median wage of a worker in a STEM-related field increased at a faster rate during Michigan’s one-state recession (2003 through 2009) than during the Great Recession (end of 2007 through mid-2009). After 2009, annual median wages of all workers, in STEM or non-STEM occupations, remained below 2009 levels.

Figure 3: STEM- versus non-STEM- related real average annual median wage growth in Michigan, 2003–13
Figure 3Note: 2003=100.
Source: Author’s calculations based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics database, available at www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm.

Annual median incomes for STEM-related occupations in Michigan increased at a slower rate relative to those for STEM-related occupations across the entire U.S. during 2003–13, as figure 4 shows. The nation’s STEM-related occupational incomes continued to grow through the end of the national recession, while Michigan’s STEM-related occupational incomes fell during 2007–12 but then rebounded slightly in 2013. Michigan’s STEM-related real income growth performed similarly to Ohio’s, especially from mid-2009 onward; however, it performed worse than Indiana’s STEM-related real income growth over the period of study.

Figure 4: STEM real annual median income growth in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and U.S., 2003–13
Figure 4Note: 2003=100.
Source: Author’s calculations based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics database, available at www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm.

Conclusion

Most of Michigan’s employment gains since the end of the Great Recession have come in STEM-related occupations. However, real wage growth for STEM jobs has not rebounded very quickly since mid-2009. Meanwhile, non-STEM-related employment only started rebounding in 2012. Notable decreases in employment for specific occupations (chosen based on size) over the 2003–13 period include those in production (–20.0%), transportation and material moving (–21.8%), and construction and extraction (–38.6%), all of these being non-STEM-related fields.

The data on real wages by occupation, especially for those in STEM-related fields, are quite surprising when viewed more closely. Over the period 2003–13, annual real wages fell for computer and mathematical occupations, veterinarians, electrical engineers, and general pediatricians. But significant real wage gains were made in occupations such as chemical engineers, survey researchers, family and general medical practitioners, and physicists.

If forecasts for STEM job growth come to fruition, STEM-related fields will make up an increasingly larger percentage of total employment /9. Most likely this will not be the result of just higher employment levels for STEM-related occupations as currently defined. Rather, a greater number of occupations that are not presently regarded as being affiliated with STEM may adopt STEM-based applications over time, also boosting the share of STEM-related employment. Regardless of what may happen in the future, it’s clear that Michigan workers with expertise in a STEM-related field were well served by it during 2003–13—a period that saw great volatility in Michigan’s economy.

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1. See www.ed.gov/stem
2. See www.stemdcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/fact-Sheet-STEM-Education-Good-Jobs-and-American-Competitiveness-June-2013.pdf.
3. For more on the Great Recession, see www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3252.
4. See www.bls.gov/oes/.
5. See www.census.gov/people/io/files/STEM-Census-2010-occ-code-list-xls.
6. See www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm.
7. By inference, this sharp engineering concentration is not surprising given that much of the state’s research and development strengths can be found in the automotive industries (see http://michiganeconomy.chicagofedblogs.org/?p=561).
8. See www.stlouisfed.org/publications/re/articles/?id=2390.
9. See Posted in Employment, Michigan's Economy, Midwest Economy

Michigan Home Price Update

By Martin Lavelle

A recently released home price index(1 suggests that the trend of climbing Michigan home prices continues. According to the latest FHFA Home Price Index (HPI) release looking at updated home transactions through the third quarter of 2014, home prices continued to grow at a faster rate in Michigan than in the U.S. and Seventh District(2.

Chart 1: Year-over-year Percentage Change in FHFA All-Transaction HPI: Michigan, U.S., Seventh District(3, 2007-present
Michigan HPI - Chart 1 Source: Author’s calculations using data from Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

Chart 1 shows that Michigan home values are about 8% higher than last year. Home values also appear to have appreciated at a slightly faster rate in 2014 than last year. The same holds true in the U.S., with home values about 6% higher than last year. However, as was the case in Michigan, the national rate of home value appreciation appears to have slowed slightly between the second and third quarters of this year. In the Seventh District, home values are about 4% higher than last year and have continued to appreciate at a faster rate than last year.

As chart 1 shows, home values in the U.S., Seventh District, and Michigan have increased year-over-year since 2012. However, not all regions have attained pre-recession HPI levels. Based on the most recent HPI data, U.S. home values overall are 8.5% below their pre-recession HPI peak, while prices in the Seventh District are 7.0% below their pre-recession HPI peak. Michigan’s gap between current and pre-recession HPI levels is 15.2%(4. Chart 2 shows the larger gap Michigan faces relative to the U.S. and Seventh District. On the positive side, those who have purchased homes in Michigan following the financial crisis could stand to realize significant gains in home value if Michigan home prices ever return to their previous peak.

Chart 2: Annual FHFA All-Transaction HPI Index levels, 2003=100: Michigan, U.S., Seventh District(5 , 2003-present(6
Michigan HPI - Chart 2 Source: Author’s calculations using data from Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

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1) The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) publishes an all-transaction House Price Index (HPI), based on transactions involving conforming, conventional mortgages purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The HPI is a weighted sales index that tracks average price changes on sales or refinancing of mortgages purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac since January 1975. The all-transaction HPI, published quarterly, includes prices from appraisal data obtained from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. It examines national, state, and metropolitan statistical area (MSA) data that is not seasonally adjusted.
2) The Seventh Federal Reserve District comprises all of Iowa and most of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
3) The Seventh District HPI was calculated by averaging each member state’s respective HPI.
4) Michigan’s all-transaction HPI peak came in the third quarter of 2005, while the U.S. and Midwest both hit their peak levels in the first quarter of 2007.
5) The Seventh District HPI was calculated by averaging the member states’ HPIs.
6) The annual averages were calculated by averaging the regions’ quarterly levels.

The Chicago Fed’s New Survey of Business Conditions

By Rebecca Friedman

In a recent Chicago Fed Letter, Scott Brave and Thomas Walstrum discuss a business conditions survey that the Chicago Fed has been conducting in conjunction with the Beige Book since March 2013. To measure economic activity in the Seventh District, they construct a set of diffusion indexes based on survey responses (which are explained in greater detail in the article itself). Brave and Walstrum then compare their diffusion indexes with the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs) and the Chicago Fed’s Midwest Economy Index (MEI), and demonstrate how the anecdotal evidence collected for the Beige Book can often be helpful in understanding pivotal or special economic events .

Survey respondents come from all of the major industries in the Seventh Federal Reserve District, with manufacturing contacts composing the largest subset. Respondents come from everywhere in the Seventh District, including our Southeast and Western Michigan business roundtables that meet at designated times throughout the year in Detroit and Grand Rapids, respectively. Respondents are asked to rate the performance of their respective businesses on a seven-point scale in a series of questions covering the demand for their products or services over the past four to six weeks relative to the previous four to six weeks. A series of diffusion indexes are then calculated from the survey responses that are intended to capture changes in the prevailing direction of regional business conditions.

The figure below compares Brave and Walstrum’s Beige Book indexes against similar measures produced by the ISM. The ISM’s indexes are also calculated using a survey-based methodology allowing the authors to compare their survey responses for manufacturers and nonmanufacturers with the ISM’s national manufacturing and nonmanufacturing PMIs, as well as with a Midwest PMI (taken by averaging the ISM’s PMIs for Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee). Brave and Walstrum cite the strong correlation observed between their Beige Book diffusion indexes and the ISM’s national PMIs in the figure, suggesting that their indexes are capturing very similar business conditions. They also note that there may be some evidence that their Beige Book index leads the Midwest PMI.

Beige Book Indexes

The authors next examine the ability of their main Beige Book index (covering both manufacturers and nonmanufacturers) to predict non-survey-based measures of economic activity by comparing them with the MEI—a monthly weighted average of Midwest economic indicators measured relative to a trend rate of Midwest economic growth. To compare the Beige Book index with the MEI, the authors adjust their Beige Book index to be relative to survey respondents’ trend (or average) responses. Their analysis comparing the two indexes suggests that their Beige Book index may slightly lead the MEI in capturing changes in the direction of regional economic activity. Brave and Walstrum also describe two recent instances where anecdotal information collected for the Beige Book was useful in this regard: 1) discerning whether the slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter of 2014 was likely to be a temporary setback and 2) capturing the recent pickup in activity in regional labor markets.

The authors note that they continue to study the potential applications of their survey and diffusion indexes, with the intention to make their results publicly available in the future.