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Applying the High-tech Wizardry of Sparklines to Economic Data

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

Yes, I’m an economist first, but in my secondary role as ‘tech whiz’ – my wife and kids would guffaw at that assertion – I’ve come across an exciting feature of standard Excel spreadsheets that I feel must be shared with you.

Of course, there’s always the danger that I’ve finally clued in to something everybody else has known about for years. However, I’ve asked around and it seems most people aren’t yet aware of a tool called ‘Sparklines’ that is highly worthwhile.

And neat and cool and easy to use.

Let’s suppose you have a ‘wall’ of data, such as appears in Table 1 that accompanies this Economy at a Glance. I’ve included the row numbers and column letters for ease of explanation.

The statistics in cells ‘C2’ diagonally to ‘O22’ are percent changes of U.S. put-in-place construction investment, latest 12-month averages versus previous 12-month averages.

Retail Sales Story in U.S. and Canada is a Twisty Narrative

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

Obtaining a proper read on retail sales in the U.S. and Canada these days has been made harder  by the sharp drop in gasoline prices, -20.7% year over year south of the border and -13.1% on the north side.

As a result, February’s cash register ‘take’ by gas station operators in the U.S. was -15.6% year over year, while in Canada, in January, it was -7.1%. (Retail sales data from Statistics Canada consistently lags results from the Census Bureau by a month.)

Therefore, U.S. retail sales in February that were +3.1% year over year in total including gas station billings, were a much better +4.8% without them.

Similarly in Canada, an already good jump in total retail sales in January of +6.8% improved to an outstanding +7.3% when sales at the pump were omitted.


U.S. Housing Starts Forecasts and Long-term Graphs

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

CMD’s latest U.S. housing starts forecasts appear in Table 1 of this Economy at a Glance and the patterns for ‘total’, ‘single-family’ and ‘multi-family’ are readily apparent from the three accompanying graphs.

Charts showing the long-term regional results for Northeast, Midwest, South and West can be found in the web version of this story (please provide link). All the graphs include a dotted trend line as provided by Excel.

Huge pent-up demand for U.S. new housing construction has been accumulating since 2007.

That’s ten years, or a decade, with residential groundbreakings in a crater that descended as steep as only about half a million units in 2009. (They pinnacled at 2.1 million in 2006.)


U.S. Economy Adds Nearly One-quarter of a Million Jobs in February

Monday, March 7th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

A significant milestone has just been reached in the U.S. labor market. For the latest week ending February 27th, America’s initial jobless claims figure was less than 300,000 for the 52nd week in a row.


That’s a whole year of strong success in keeping the number of people newly unemployed quite low. (In the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the number topped off at 670,000.)


Falling below their 300,000 benchmark level, rosy initial jobless claims automatically imply encouraging news from the Employment Situation Report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).


The BLS has just reported that in February, the total number of jobs in the U.S. rose by 242,000, where a gain of 200,000 or more is considered bullish.


The national unemployment rate stayed below 5.0% at 4.9%, the same as in January. A year ago, it had been 5.5%.


In another positive sign, the proportion of working-age people who actively sought employment in February moved a little higher, to 62.9%. This measure is called the ‘participation rate’ and it usually picks up when job prospects are good.


(On the flip side, when job prospects are abysmal, people stop looking for work and the result is a ‘discouraged worker’ effect.)


That’s Not How Things are Usually Done

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

Okay, I admit it, I’m flummoxed.

I’m supposed to be writing about the economy, but how can I stay focused in the midst of a U.S. presidential election campaign.

Voting day may still be eight months away, in November, but there are distractions galore in the surround-sound coverage of the primaries and caucuses.

The economy has become a side-show event compared with what is going on in the electoral center ring.

Over the past decade-plus, the differences between the Democrats and Republicans have become deeper and more firmly entrenched.

Positions on the left and right have turned inflexible. Celebrity commentators in the media have played roles in marshalling legions of strident supporters.

Policy stances have proven intractable, yielding gridlock in Washington.

The crop that’s now being harvested is a disdain for politics as normally practiced.

Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton has been hard pressed to establish a lead over her rival, Bernie Sanders, a man who doesn’t hesitate to label himself a socialist.

On the Republican side, the candidacy of Donald Trump was supposed to peter out by last September, according to almost all the pundits.


Latest Annual U.S. and Canadian City Housing Starts (Parts 3)

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

The multi-family market is where the excitement is to be found in the U.S. and Canadian city housing starts markets.

Table 6 shows some strikingly large percentage gains in multi-family starts from 2014 to 2015, with New York (+109.6%) – already busting at the seams with high-rise towers – more than doubling its annual volume of groundbreakings.

Miami (+60.4%) and Dallas-Fort Worth (+54.4%) recorded year-over-year multi-unit starts increases that were ahead by more than half. While Miami has staged a nice recovery (to 16,000 units in 2015) in multi-unit starts since its disastrous level (only 1,600 units) in the Great Recession year of 2009, it still remains considerably below its 15-year previous best figure of 23,300 units in 2005.

Dallas, on the other hand, in 2015 (28,000 multi-family units) shot well past its prior most stellar year (18,400 units in 2008).

Boston (+42.5%), Los Angeles (+34.2%) and San Francisco (+30.5%), in 2015, had multi-family starts levels that were close to or better than one-third higher than in 2014.

Latest Annual U.S. and Canadian City Housing Starts (Parts 2)

Friday, February 26th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

In the previous Economy at a Glance, there was an examination of ‘total’ housing starts in the largest urban centers in the U.S. and Canada.

2015 ‘actuals’ and year-over-year percent changes were laid out in two tables for 12 cities south of the border and six on the northern side.

The figures are being called ‘starts’, although for the U.S. centers they are actually derived from residential building permits.

The city definitions are based on broad boundaries that include downtown cores and nearby suburbs with close commuting ties.

In this current EAAG, the focus will be narrowed to the single-family market.

Nation-wide in the U.S., single-family starts are now accounting for about two-thirds of total starts, with multiples making up the other 33%. (In Canada last year, the proportions were the reverse, 35% for singles and 65% for multiples.)

The share in the U.S. taken by ‘singles’ has dropped dramatically over the past several years. A decade ago, it wasn’t uncommon for singles to be as much as 80% of total starts.


Latest Annual U.S. and Canadian City Housing Starts (Parts 1)

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

This Economy at a Glance (EAAG) will look at home starts in major U.S. and Canadian cities, according to ‘totals’ (Part 1), plus single-family (Part 2) and multi-family (Part 3) markets.

The accompanying tables rank the dozen American and half-dozen Canadian cities by actual start levels in 2015 and year-over-year percent changes.

For both the U.S. and Canada, the cities are the broad designations (MSAs and CMAs) which include downtown cores plus all suburbs with close live-work commuting ties.

The website versions of these three articles include a wealth of graphs, since it is often true that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Nevertheless, here’s commentary on total new home groundbreakings in the 18 major cities.

In the U.S., the monster-sized market for total housing starts in 2015, at 86,400 units, was New York.

Two cities in Texas, Houston (56,900) and Dallas-Fort Worth (56,400), were in second and third places respectively, but way back.

Los Angeles (33,700) and Atlanta (30,000) placed fourth and fifth.

The Greenback and Yuan are Ships Passing in the Night

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

The steep descent in the global price of oil began in early July 2014. It was rapidly accompanied by moderate to severe pullbacks in the posted charges for many other commodities.

Not by coincidence, late-summer 2014 was also the moment that launched many radical readjustments in currency values around the world.

Resource-supplying nations, suffering damage to their foreign trade balances, have been experiencing the most severe exchange rate declines ever since. Russia, Brazil, Australia and Canada are the prime examples.

The United States, viewed by international currency traders as a safe haven amidst all the turmoil, has seen its dollar move from strength to strength.

Nor has it hurt that as possibly the world’s most open economy, the U.S. marketplace has adjusted and recovered better than any other nation’s since the Great Recession. Indeed, U.S. employment and output have improved to such an extent that the Federal Reserve has moved out front among central banks in adopting a hawkish position on interest rates.

A Dozen Mid-February Economic Nuggets

Friday, February 12th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

Spending time in U.S. stock markets lately has not been a walk in the park. Drooping equity prices are a symptom of assorted maladies. The three that stand out most prominently are as follows. First, a great many people are worried about China’s economy and especially the state of its banking sector. There are thought to be way too many shaky loans in danger of crumbling if growth continues to decelerate. The subsequent drop in value of the yuan won’t be pretty.

Second, on account of a shockingly low international price for oil, investment in the U.S. energy sector has gone into a tailspin, affecting certain regions of the country more severely than others.

And third, the uplift in value of the U.S. dollar is limiting the ability of American manufacturers to win export sales. Some of the nation’s biggest firms are being negatively affected the most.


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