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74 posts from September 2011


New competitor on Fort Worth's daily coupon scene: Amazon.com

It's getting more crowded on the local daily online coupon scene.

Earlier this week, Google announced it was offering its Google Offers program in Dallas. And today, Amazon.com, which on Sept. 15 launched its own Groupon-style competitor in Dallas, the North Dallas suburbs and the Mid-Cities, went live with AmazonLocal in Fort Worth. Here's the URL.

Amazon Local's deals are being sold by Living Social, which is part-owned by Amazon. The Star-Telegram also has a new competitor in this space, Dealsaver.

Facebook recently dropped its deals offerings, illustrating the brutal market in which the coupon rivals typically offer to let the retailer keep 50-60 percent of revenue from each sale and numerous competitors are vying for attention.

But an AmazonLocal spokeswoman says the space represents "a good opportunity."

AmazonLocal thinks it can generate room for itself with differentiating factors including the ability of customers to link their AmazonLocal accounts to their existing amazon.com accounts, the spokeswoman said.

Additionally, AmazonLocal customers can expect to see coupons from other Amazon entities, such as amazon.com, myhabit.com and endless.com.

"That’s a big differentiator," the spokeswoman said.

Fort Worth is the 57th national market that AmazonLocal has launched in the four months since starting the service. Fort Worth customers of Amazon received emails this morning letting them know of Amazon Local's first Fort Worth deal: $15 for $30 at Sushi Yoko on Camp Bowie Boulevard.

AmazonLocal customers who sign up will receive emails informing them of daily deal offerings. AmazonLocal's also spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter and its web site. The new Amazon Kindle tablet comes equipped with the AmazonLocal app.

- Scott Nishimura

Texas, U.S., gasoline prices continue to fall, AAA Texas says

Gasoline prices continued to drop in Texas this week, falling 11 cents on average this week to $3.27 for a gallon of self-serve regular, AAA Texas reports today in its Weekend Gas Watch.

The national average is $3.45, also off 11 cents, and the statewide average is 18 cents less than the national average.  Texas’ most expensive gas is in Amarillo, at $3.40.  Fort Worth is reporting the least expensive average in the state at $3.14, off 16 cents.

“Market analysts say the downward pressure on the market price of crude oil is the result of the same global economic weaknesses that have been weighing down the commodities markets for several weeks,” AAA Texas said.

“Growing concern that Greece will default on its debt and the impact this would have on an already struggling international economy, and the slowing pace of the U.S. economy is pressuring crude oil prices lower.  A sluggish global economy means less demand on crude oil. “

- Scott Nishimura


North Texas apartment rents on the rise, study says

Star-Telegram's Sandra Baker is reporting this today:

North Texas apartment dwellers can expect to pay higher rents in the coming months as occupancy begins to tighten, a new study finds.

Rents rose 2 percent between July and September, driving rents up 4 percent at the end of September compared to September 2010, said MPF Research, a division of RealPage Inc. Average monthly rent is now $802.

During the past year, rents rose 5.7 percent at communities built during the 1990s, where the average monthly rent is $959, and 4.9 percent at communities built since 2000, where average rents stand at $1,063, the study finds.

"Substantial rent growth at the top of the market reflects that vacancies in that product category are few and far between," said Greg Willett, MPF Research vice president.

Occupancy is at 96.1 percent in properties from the 1990s and 94.2 percent in the 2000s-generation stock, he said. Overall occupancy in Dallas-Fort Worth is 92.9 percent, up 0.2 percentage points since June and 1.4 points ahead of the year-ago rate.

Willett said Dallas-Fort Worth apartment rents could go up another 4.4 percent during the next 12 months.

"The substantial rent growth occurring in the North Texas apartment market looks sustainable over the near term," he said.


Best Buy planning to hire half as many seasonal workers this fall as last year

This, from The Associated Press today:

Best Buy Co. will hire about half as many seasonal staff as last year and increase the hours its regular staffers work as part of its plans for the crucial upcoming holiday season.

The largest U.S. electronics retailer also plans to expand services like free tech support and a longer window for product returns during the holidays. It will also promote under-$100 deals to coax shoppers into its stores.

"The consumer continues to be cautious," CEO Brian Dunn said in an interview at the company’s New York Union Square store. "That’s not just a blip, that’s the new normal."

Best Buy, based in Minneapolis, earlier this month reported its second-quarter net income fell 30 percent and revenue was nearly flat at $11.35 billion, falling short of analysts’ expectations, as the company continues to battle for market share with online retailers and discount stores.

Best Buy has beefed up its online presence and worked to reduce its square footage by 10 percent over the next three to five years. It has also promoted services like tech support and customer service to differentiate itself from other retailers.

For the holidays the company said it will hire 15,000 workers, 48 percent less than the 29,000 it hired last year. The total number of hours that employees work will remain the same, because regular staffers, trained in customer service, will work more hours. Dunn said that the aim is to have more "experienced and seasoned" workers on hand during the busiest time of year.

Other holiday plans include promoting new smartphones and tablets that are due out this fall, including the iPhone 5, which is expected to be announced next week.

One question mark is whether Best Buy will carry the new $250 tablet computer that Amazon.com will likely unveil on Wednesday.

Best Buy carries Amazon.com’s Kindle reader, but Dunn declined to say if Best Buy would carry the tablet, rumored to be called Kindle Fire, since Amazon hasn’t announced distribution plans yet.

Other holiday moves: Best Buy plans to promote more items under $100 and spend more advertising online and on mobile devices, while TV advertising spending will be flat. The company is also expanding its return policy, Geek Squad protection and technical advice services and same-day pickup.

Cities cutting staff, delaying projects, raising fees, national study says

This, from The Associated Press today:

More than half of U.S. cities have cut staff, canceled construction projects or raised fees this year, according to a report from the National League of Cities that catalogs the vast damage from shrunken property- and income-tax revenue.

Cities are struggling from the same problems that have left the national economy sputtering: high unemployment, a depressed housing market and weak consumer spending. Those factors have reduced the taxes that cities collect for a fifth straight year. Many have had to make up the gap by laying off employees, freezing pay, cutting services, raising fees or suspending building projects.

Two-thirds of city finance officers said they had delayed or canceled public-works projects this year. Two in five reported raising fees for city services. One in five had cut spending on public safety. Nearly one in three had laid off staffers.

"We hoped the worst would be over at this point, but given where the economic considerations are, that seems to be very unclear here in the fall of 2011," said Christopher Hoene, director of the league’s research arm and one of the report’s authors.


Dallas Fed chief says he doesn't think Federal Reserve's latest efforts will work

Here, from The Associated Press, is the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank chief, Richard Fisher, explaining today in a speech in Dallas why he opposed the Federal Reserve's latest effort to stimulate growth:

Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said he opposed the Fed’s latest attempt to boost economic growth because he fears it won’t work — and it could scare consumers and squeeze bank earnings.

In a speech in Dallas Tuesday, Fisher said the action taken last week and other recent Fed moves “are likely to prove ineffective and might well be working against job creation.”

At its September 20-21 meeting, the Fed’s policymaking committee voted 7-3 to lower mortgage and other long-term interest rates by reshuffling its $2.9 trillion investment portfolio. The Fed will shift $400 billion from short-term to longer-term Treasurys through next June.

Fisher was one of the three voting members to oppose the decision. So far, he’s the only one to publicly explain his vote. The other dissenters were Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser and Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota.

In August, the three also opposed the Fed’s plan to keep short-term interest rates near zero through mid-2013, as long as the economy stays weak. It was the highest level of dissent at the Fed in nearly two decades. The dissenters have expressed concern that the Fed’s easy money policies risk igniting inflation.

Like Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Fisher called on Congress and the White House to do more to stimulate economic growth. But where they disagree is over whether the Fed should be taking action, too.

Until Congress gets its “act together,” any policies adopted by the Fed “will represent nothing more than pushing on a string,” Fisher said.

Businesses and banks are already sitting on plenty of cash, Fisher said. They’re just too scared and cautious about the future to take risks. That suggests that cutting interest rates further from today’s near-record lows won’t do much to get banks to lend and businesses to invest, hire and expand.

Fisher said last week’s move, dubbed Operation Twist, could prove counterproductive. It might signal to consumers that the Fed believes the economy is “in worse shape than they thought” and prompt them to hoard money, Fisher said.

It could also narrow the profits banks earn from the spread between the short-term rates they pay depositors and the longer-term rates they collect on loans.

And lower rates could force pension funds to set aside extra money to meet their future obligations to retirees — diverting money that might otherwise have gone into investments that could generate jobs, Fisher said.

Investing more heavily in longer-term Treasurys also poses risks for the Fed. When the economy strengthens, longer-term interest rates will rise, reducing the value of the bonds in the central bank’s portfolio. As a result, the Fed might be tempted to keep rates low just when it should be raising them to control inflation.

Fisher didn’t specifically suggest that reshuffling the Fed’s portfolio would send consumer prices higher.

But the self-described “inflation hawk” rejected suggestions, by Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff and others, that a dose of higher prices might encourage consumers to spend money they’d otherwise save. He said he’s worried that the Fed would struggle to contain inflation, as it did in the 1970s, once consumers and businesses began to expect ever-higher prices.

Asked if he saw signs of hope for the economy, Fisher cited the example of Texas, where the economy has generally outperformed the nation. He called for limited government and pro-business policies, without offering specifics. Fisher said both major parties shared responsibility for the economy’s troubles. He’s hopeful that lawmakers are starting to take the challenges more seriously.

“Now we’re having a serious discussion, and it’s going to be crude and rough,” Fisher said. “I think we’re getting there, but it’s going to be tough, and we’re going to need leadership to get there.”

At the Fed, Fisher said, debates between policymakers are far more civil than they are between congressional Republicans and the White House. “When we meet,” he said, “each of us lays out our arguments calmly, with great respect for each other and without acrimony — an approach that is sadly rare elsewhere in government.”

He said the Fed has already done just about everything it can to help the struggling economy.

“I wouldn’t say we’re out of bullets,” he said, but whatever ammunition the central bank has left, “we need to deploy very, very carefully.”

Alcon looks to grow Fort Worth workforce by hundreds with high-wage jobs

Star-T's Sandra Baker is reporting this today:

Fort Worth-based Alcon Labs intends to grow its workforce to 4,000 employees in the next six years as it expands its facilities with the creation of Finance Service Center that will serve its North American operations.

Alcon is now owned by Switzerland-based Novartis. Alcon became the Novartis eye-care division, incorporating the company’s Ciba Vision and Novartis Ophthalmics units.

The company has asked the Fort Worth City Council to consider establishing their campus in the Carter Industrial Park off Interstate 35W as a reinvestment zone and grant a 10-year, 80 percent tax abatement on the incremental real and personal property taxes. Alcon says it will spend at least $11 million to expand the campus. Of that, at least $3 million will be on new facilities and the remainder in business personal property.

That could net the company about $490,000. The company is also asking the city to waive permit-related fees on the project.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on establishing the reinvestment zone on Oct. 18 and the incentive proposal Oct. 25.

Under the agreement, Alcon will add 400 new jobs by Dec. 31, 2013 and an additional 350 by Dec. 31, 2018 for a total of 750 jobs. The median wage will be about $90,000, Robert Sturns, the city’s economic development manager, told council members.

Sturns said the company has not yet determined where on its campus will build a new facility or other details regarding its size.

The company will be required to spend at least $1 million with Fort Worth construction companies and another $1 million minimum with Fort Worth women or minority-owned businesses.

In August, Alcon said it was moving 100 marketing and other administrative jobs from its Ciba Vision division in Atlanta to Fort Worth. These jobs are not included in the latest expansion. Ciba Vision manufactures contact lens and lens-care products.

Alcon was founded in Fort Worth in 1945. It has about 3,250 employees.

The "project represents a significant expansion in Fort Worth’s life sciences footprint," said David Berzina, executive vice president of economic development with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. "We applaud their achievement in the market and we can’t underscore how important this international firm’s decision to expand in Fort Worth means to us."

Mayor Betsy Price said the expansion is "a strong commitment" that Alcon will stay here.

- Scott Nishimura

Texas service sector activity increases, Dallas Fed Bank says

Activity in Texas’ service sector increased in September, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reports today in its monthly Texas Service Sector Outlook Survey.

Texas’ service sector represents 59 percent of the state economy and employs nealry 7 million workers.

The revenue index – a key measure – rose to 14.1 from 3.2, and a third of respondents said revenue increased in September from August.

Positive readings in the survey generally indicate expansion of service sector activity, while readings below zero generally indicate contraction.

“Labor market indicators remained positive and reflected some hiring, but little change in the workweek,” the Dallas Fed Bank said. “Perceptions of general business conditions were generally more pessimistic this month, although the pace of deterioration slowed.”

In the Texas Retail Outlook Survey component of the survey, which uses information from respondents in the retail and wholesale sectors, retail sales increased in September, according to respondents who answered the retail portion of the survey.

The volatile sales index rose to 18.6 from 9.2, for two straight months of sales increases. Inventories rose.

“Indexes of future retail sector activity remained in positive territory in September with the exception of part-time employment and workweeks,” the Dallas Fed Bank said.

- Scott Nishimura


Where the jobs are: a closer look at August's employment numbers

With Texas up 271,400 nonfarm jobs from August 2010 to August 2011, here's a closer look at August's employment numbers from economists at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, in their "Monthly Review of the Texas Economy:"

Mining and logging: No. 1 jobs gainer by percentage, up 17.4 percent to 247,300 in August from a year earlier. "Higher oil prices continue to help the state’s mining and logging industry," and the average number of active rotary rigs increased to 875.8 in August from 708.4.

Construction: Up 5.5 percent, or 31,500 jobs. Breaking that category down, construction of buildings generated 7,100 jobs; heavy and civil engineering construciton, 10,600; and specialty trade contractors, 13,800.

Professional and business services: Up 4.3 percent, or 54,800 jobs. Gains: 45,400 in administrative and support services; 9,200 in professional, scientific and technical services; and 200 in management of companies and enterprises.

Leisure and hospitality: Up 3.5 percent, or 36,100 jobs. Category includes arts, entertainment, recreation, accomodations and food services.

Other services: Up 3.2 percent, or 11,600 jobs. Category includes repair and maintenance, personal and laundry services, religious, civic, and professional organizations.

Education and health services: Up 2.8 percent, or 39,500 jobs. Health services gained 44,300 jobs, while education, which includes private but not public school teachers, lost 4,800 jobs.

Manufacturing: Up 2.7 percent, or 22,000 jobs. Durable manufacturing gained 19,400, and nondurable manufacturing, 2,600. Gainers in durables: fabricated metal product manufacturing, 9,600; machinery, 9,800; computer and electronic product, 1,800; transportation equipment, 2,100; and primary metal, 1,000. Losers in durables: nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing, 1,600; furniture and related product, 200; electric equipment, appliance, and component, 800, and wood product, 1,000.

Major job losses in nondurables: printing and related support, 1,300; petroleum and coal products, 400; plastic and rubber, 200; paper, 500; and chemical, 1,300.

Trade: Up 2.4 percent, or 38,700 jobs. Gainers included 13,700 in wholesale trade, and 25,000 jobs in retail trade. Trade, Texas’ largest industry after government, accounts for 15.9 percnet of nonfarm employment.

Transportation, warehousing and utilities: Up 2.2 percent, or 9,300 jobs.

Financial activities: Up 1.8 percent, or 11,400 jobs. Real estate, rental and leasing added 7,700 jobs, and finance and insurance, 3,700.

Government: Down 0.7 percent, or 12,800 jobs. That included 800 in state government, 8,700 in federal govfernment, and 3,300 in local government. Local government includes public school teachers.

Information: Down 3.8 percent, or 7,300 jobs. Category includes internet service providers, web search portals, publishing, broadcasting, and telecom.

- Scott Nishimura

ICSC expects "moderate gain" for shopping centers this holiday season

For this holiday season, the International Council of Shopping Centers is predicting “a moderate gain, though somewhat subdued relative to its prior year’s pace.”

“Shopping-center sales are expected to increase by 2.2 percent during November and December 2011” compared to the same months last year, the trade group said.

Shopping centers put up a 5 percent gain last holiday season, following two back-to-back declines, “which were a result of the severe 2007-09 recession,” the ICSC said.

Shopping center sales, the ICSC’s composite of major chains, and data for stores that specialize in department store-type merchandise “are all expected to increase in 2011 by a slower pace of between 0.3 and 2.8 percentage points” compared to the 2010 holidays, the ICSC said.

“The ICSC holiday sales forecast contains at least four messages: (1) no matter which metric of performance is used, ICSC projects 2011 U.S. holiday sales are likely to advance at a slower pace than in 2010 as strong economic headwinds continue to persist; (2) the 2011 holiday season forecast also envisions a pace of sales considerably slower than during the first half of 2011 since retail sales generally advanced at a faster pace in early 2011 than during the 2010 holiday season; (3) compared with the previous 10-year sales performance, 2011 is likely to be near-to-above average depending on the sales metric; (4) the economic and political risks are expected to be higher during the upcoming season than during 2010. But still, on balance, ICSC’s 2011 holiday sales forecast portrays a moderately healthy performance,” Michael Niemira, ICSC’s chief economist and vice president for research, said in a release.

- Scott Nishimura


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