The number of new homes under construction was up in the first quarter compared to a year ago, the third straight quarter that new home builders have increased the number of homes they are building, the result of strong sales orders, Metrostudy said Wednesday.
"The increasing sales should lead to larger increases in starts over the next two quarters as backlogs are beginning to build for homebuilders," said David Brown, director of Metrostudy’s Dallas-Fort Worth office. Metrostudy tracks home-building activity in North Texas.
"The first three months of the year are reinforcing our forecast that 2012 will be the first year of recovery in the Dallas-Fort Worth housing market," he said.
Tarrant, Denton and Collin counties accounted for most of the increase in starts, Metrostudy said.
New home closings are also increasing from the second half of 2011, Brown said, and that is expected to continue as well.
Between January and March, 3,192 homes were started, compared to 2,975 homes in the first quarter of 2011. On an annual basis, which takes in the past four quarters, home starts in Dallas-Fort Worth totaled 14,277, down slightly from 14,524 annual starts totaled in the first quarter of 2011, figures show.
In the last three years, quarterly and annual home starts peaked in the second quarter of 2010, during the time the first-time homebuyers were offered a tax incentive.
Also in the first quarter, builders closed the sale of 3,327 homes, up from 3,179 closings in the first quarter of 2011.
Inventory declined significantly in the first quarter, to 7,370 homes built from 7,671 homes a year ago, and is now at its lowest point since 1993, Brown said.
Lot inventory also dropped, to 57,645 lots, or a 48-month supply, from 65,724 lots, a 54-month supply, a year ago.
With the improving new home market, prices could go up this year, particularly in stronger submarkets, Brown said.
"As lot supplies continue to shrink in the high demand submarkets, the cost of replacement lots is increasing," he said. "These higher costs will have to be passed on to the consumer resulting in increased new home prices during the second half of the year."
_ Sandra Baker
Activity in Texas’ service sector increased in March, although some indicators suggested growth slowed, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported today in its monthly Texas Service Sector Outlook Survey.
Services represent 59 percent of the Texas economy, employing nearly 7 million workers.
The survey’s revenue index fell to 16.5 from 22.8, which “suggests revenue growth slowed slightly,” the Dallas Fed said.
Positive readings in the survey indicate expansion.
Labor market: “Indicators also reflected slower growth,” the Fed said. The employment index fell to 7.7, lowest in four months. The hours-worked index “edged down but remained in positive territory.”
Broader economy: General business conditions “remained strong but declined slightly.” The general business activity index moved down to 18.9, its fifth consecutive positive reading.
Indexes of future service sector activity “remained in positive territory,” the Fed said.
The survey’s retail component indicated retail sales rose to 22 from 17.5, “marking 10 consecutive months of sales increases. Inventories rose.”
Texas employers added 67,200 nonfarm payroll jobs in January and the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 7.3 percent in January, down from 7.4 percent in December and down from 8.1 percent a year earlier. It's the state's lowest jobless rate since April 2009 and compares to the U.S. jobless rate of 8.3 percent. The Texas Workforce Commission said the state has added jobs 21 straight months when compared to the same month the previous year, and payroll jobs are up 258,200 in the past year. Private employers added 73,800 jobs in January, or 332,600 in the past year. TWC Chairman Tom Pauken noted that mining and logging, the category that includes oil and gas, added more than 38,000 jobs in the past year, including 5,700 in January, as crude oil prices have surged.
Nine of the 11 major industry groups added jobs in January, led by professional and business services, which added 18,100 jobs over the month and is up 69,500 jobs in the past year, or 5.3 percent, TWC said today. The report was released later than normal and coincided with the release of the U.S. jobless date for February, which showed the national unemployment rate unchanged at 8.3 percent.
-- Jim Fuquay
Ash Grove Cement Co. filed a permit with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality seeking to close two of three cement kilns in Midlothian and convert the third kiln to a less-polluting production method, according to a release issued Monday by Downwinders at Risk. Downwinders says it has worked about 20 years to reduce emissions from cement kilns in the area. It said Ash Grove's permit states that the conversion of the remaining kiln to a "dry" process will cut 105,000 tons of air pollution annually. The facility's capacity will drop from nearly 1.2 million tons of cement annually to 949,000 tons, according to Downwinders' release.
-- Jim Fuquay
BNSF Railway Co. said Wednesday it planned a 2012 capital commitment of about $3.9 billion, $400 million over what it spent in 2011.
About $2.1 billion of the plan will be BNSF's core network and related assets, the company said. BNSF also plans to spend about $1.1 billion on locomotive, freight car, and other equipment acquisitions; $300 million for federally-mandated "positive train control" technology to help reduce risk of accidents; and $400 million for terminal, line, and intermodal expansion and efficiency projects that will be focused on coal routes and the new BNSF intermodal center at Kansas City.
"Investment in BNSF's rail freight infrastructure is an investment in American jobs and competitiveness," Matt Rose, BNSF's CEO, said in a release. "It will ensure our infrastructure remains strong and improve the efficiency of our operations."
A BNSF spokesman said the company expected to have a breakdown by market in three to six weeks of the planned expenditures.
Texas service sector activity increased in January, the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank said Tuesday in its monthly Texas Service Sector Outlook Survey.
The Texas service sector represents 59 percent of the state economy and employs close to 7 million workers.
The revenue index--a key measure -- rose to 13.7 from 9.8, with 32 percent of respondents noting revenue increased from December.
Positive readings in the survey generally indicate expansion of service sector activity.
Labor market indicators reflected “stronger hiring and slightly longer workweeks,” the Dallas Fed said. The employment index moved up to 12.4 from 8.8, its best reading in 10 months.
Perceptions of general business conditions “improved markedly” in January, with the general business activity index jumping to 18.3, its best reading since December 2010.
Indexes of future service sector activity “generally improved” from last month, and expectations regarding future business conditions were “more optimistic,” the Dallas Fed said.
In the survey’s Texas Retail Outlook, retail sales increased in January, according to business executives responding to the retail portion of the survey. The sales index edged down to 12.1 from 13.7, eight consecutive months of sales increases.
“Indexes of future retail sector activity remained in solid positive territory in January,” the Dallas Fed said.
Retail sales of new cars and light trucks increased 14 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in 2011, according to registration data compiled and released Thursday by Freeman Publishers of Dallas. That compares to a 10.2 percent overall increase of the entire U.S. market.
December sales increased about 9 percent in each of the four counties, except Tarrant where sales gained less than 8 percent for the month.
For the full year sales increased 14.6 percent in Tarrant, 13.4 percent in Dallas, 12.6 percent in Collin and 16 percent in Denton, compared to 2010. The retail sales numbers exclude sales to rental car companies and other fleet buyers.
- Bob Cox
Local bankruptcy filings fell 14 percent last year, mirroring a national trend. There were 7,199 bankruptcy filings, both business and consumer, in 2011 at the Fort Worth federal bankruptcy court, which serves Tarrant and several nearby counties. That was down 14.3 percent from the 8,398 filings in 2010 and the lowest number since 2008.
The slide in filings tracks the rest of country, which saw nearly 1.4 million filings. The American Bankruptcy Institute said that was down 11.4 percent from 2010 and also the lowest since 2008, when the financial crisis took hold.
-- Jim Fuquay
More than 800 Irving employees of MetLife Inc.’s mortgage origination operation will lose their jobs when the country’s biggest life insurer closes the unit, which has 4,300 workers nationwide. “The majority will no longer have a position,” said John Calagna, a spokesman for New York-based MetLife, told Bloomberg News Tuesday. About 20 percent of the unit’s employees work in Irving, and the rest are scattered throughout the U.S., he said.
MetLife in October announced plans to sell its mortgage unit. Last month it sold $7.5 billion of bank deposits to General Electric Co. The Federal Reserve, which oversees MetLife because of its size and banking operations, rejected its plan last year to raise the dividend and resume share buybacks.
-- Jim Fuquay