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.
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.