109 posts categorized "North Dakota"

Made in (but not owned by) the USA

Investment is typically seen as a sign of economic strength, as people and financial entities put their money where they believe it can be most productive and profitable. Foreign direct investment (FDI) tracks the amount of money international firms invest in the United States, and a recent report on the matter by the Brookings Institution shows that it’s growing in the Ninth District, but not as fast as it is elsewhere in the country.

In 2013, for example, companies invested $1.46 trillion in locations outside their home country, and the United States is the single largest destination of that capital, receiving $193 billion, according to the report. This investment manifests itself in many forms: spreading technology, facilitating the exchange of knowledge and inducing new trade.

It also employs millions of people, which the Brookings report investigated more closely. Among Ninth District states, the trends are somewhat diverging. In five Ninth District states (cumulative), total employment at foreign-owned establishments (FOEs) grew by about 50 percent from 1991 to 2011, and the share of total private employment at FOEs increased as well (see Chart 1). The growth in this share of employment tended to be modest—about one-half of a percentage point—with the exception of North Dakota, whose share of FOE employment tripled over this period, most likely as a result of foreign firms investing resources in (and hiring workers for) the Bakken oil patch.

However, across the board, district states have a lower share of FOE employment than the national average and (with the exception of North Dakota) saw less growth in the share of FOE employment. As a result, most distrct states fell in ranking among their peers in FOE’s share of total private employment (see table embedded in Chart 1).

One caveat to FDI trends: Much of this investment is the result of acquisitions or mergers of U.S. companies by international firms. So a considerable amount of the resulting “growth” in FOE employment is a methodological quirk—namely, a shift in the nationality of the parent company. This was particularly the case in North Dakota. Among district states, only Wisconsin was close to the national average in the share of FOE employment growth coming from new openings (see Chart 2).

FDI Ch1-2

Coal producers fire up exports

District coal producers are fighting to retain market share in a national power generation industry that derives an increasing share of its energy input from alternative sources. One survival strategy that has gained traction recently is exporting to Asian countries with a large and growing appetite for coal.

Over the past half-decade, coal’s position as the dominant feedstock for power plants has been eroded by cheap natural gas, increasingly competitive renewables and stringent federal air quality regulations that have rendered many coal-burning plants too costly to operate. In 2008, 48 percent of U.S. power generation was coal-fired, according to the Energy Information Administration; in 2013, coal’s share was 37 percent.

Many coal producers have turned to foreign markets to offset an overall drop in domestic coal consumption. In Montana, the go-to export destinations are South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. “There’s huge demand for coal in southeastern Asian countries for power generation,” said Bud Clinch, executive director of the Montana Coal Council, an industry trade association.

Subbituminous coal from southeastern Montana is cheaper than coal from many other parts of the country, and its high energy content makes it economical to ship overseas via rail and cargo ship. (No coal is exported from North Dakota; the total output of the state’s lignite mines goes to local power plants.)

Since 2009, Montana coal exports have increased sharply, mostly due to shipments from the Spring Creek mine outside Decker, near the Wyoming border (see chart). Over 40 percent of Montana coal comes from this mine, owned by Cloud Peak Energy of Wyoming. In 2013, Spring Creek exported 4.7 million tons to East Asian customers—triple the amount from 2009—mainly through a coal terminal in the Canadian port of Vancouver.

Signal Peak Energy’s Bull Mountain mine near Roundup, Mont., also exports coal, and developers of the proposed Otter Creek coal mine southeast of Ashland, Mont., plan to ship coal to Asia via a new rail link to BNSF’s Colstrip terminal.

But limited port capacity on the Pacific Coast constrains coal exports from Montana and other western states. Ramping up shipments depends on the opening of new coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington state—projects that face opposition from environmental groups concerned about global warming and the impact of coal handling on local air and water quality.

For more on other mining activity in the district, look for the upcoming July issue of the fedgazette

Coal exports -- 7-3-14

 

 

Personal income weak across Ninth District in first quarter

Personal income in all Ninth District states grew less than the national average in the first quarter of 2014, according to just-released figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Quarterly personal income in North Dakota fell at an annualized rate of 2.9 percent, the worst of any state (see chart). Personal income in both North Dakota and South Dakota fell two quarters in a row.

Personal income chart -- 6-25-14

The subpar economic performance is almost wholly due to huge reductions in farm earnings, which were steepest in North Dakota (see table). Crop prices for most of the district crop commodities fell, while many input costs rose. This put downward pressures on farm earnings. However, Wisconsin saw gains in farm earnings, possibly attributable to dairy, whose output prices remained firm as feed input costs decreased.

In that light, economic conditions are not as dire as they might seem. Almost all the industry groups experienced some gains in income in the first quarter. Oil production is still growing in North Dakota, as the mining industry (which includes oil production) grew by an annualized 8 percent in the first quarter after rising over 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Personal income table -- 6-25-14

More big farms, but not everywhere

The United States has been losing farms for the better part of 90 years, the result of slow, steady consolidation of farms into bigger operations thanks to increased mechanization and other productivity enhancements that bring increasing returns to scale. The most recent agricultural census shows that this consolidation is still ongoing, but comes with some interesting caveats.

The census, done every five years and most recently in 2012 (with data just now coming available), shows that the overall number of farms declined by almost 5 percent nationwide, or about 95,000 farms, since 2007. However, total farm acreage dropped by less than 1 percent.

The drop in farm numbers was even more accelerated in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where farms declined by about 9 percent and 13 percent, respectively. The two states also lost a combined 3.5 percent of farmland acreage. Farms were lost in virtually all categories of size, from very small to quite large. However, there is growth among the very largest farms—those over 2,000 acres—both in the United States and in Minnesota and Wisconsin (see Chart 1).

The Dakotas and Montana, on the other hand, are seeing very different farm trends; overall loss of farms is much smaller, ranging from 5.4 percent in Montana to a 3.3 percent drop in North Dakota. South Dakota actually saw total farms increase by 2.6 percent. Total farm acreage in these states dropped by 1.6 percent—more than the national average, but less than half the rate in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Dakotas and Montana are also seeing growth in very small farms—those under 100 acres—and a decline in large farms (with a small exception of South Dakota’s largest farms; see Chart 2).

Farms by size & revenue Ch1-2 -- 6-20-14

It’s difficult to say exactly what’s behind this trend. While organic and other small-farm operations are growing, this is also likely a function of more small hobby-farm residences, as well as an increase in hunting properties being bought with growing income in the region, but kept (and rented out) as farm property.

While the number of small farms grew in Montana and the Dakotas, all three states are nonetheless dominated by large-revenue farms, where between 32 percent (Montana) and 42 percent (South Dakota) of farms have revenues exceeding $1 million. That compares with about 20 percent nationwide, and just 18 percent in Wisconsin and 29 percent in Minnesota (see Chart 3).

Farms by size & revenue Ch3 -- 6-20-14

Head of the 2013 class (again): North Dakota

North Dakota is like the kid at school who gets all the awards. She can’t help it. Everyone else tries hard, but she’s just that good.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis came out with its most recent estimates on state gross domestic product for 2013. Several Ninth District states were well above average, with Montana and South Dakota both cracking 3 percent and Minnesota not far behind at 2.8 percent.

But North Dakota was running laps around most states at 9.7 percent growth last year. It beat the next closest state (Wyoming) by two full percentage points (see Chart 1).

Those following economic activity in the Ninth District know that North Dakota’s performance is no fluke, the result of a sustained oil boom that started in the early part of the last decade. Since 2003, the state has seen its economy grow at an annual compound rate of 6.6 percent (adjusted for inflation). That's double the growth rate of all but four states over this period.

To put that in context, the state’s economy has roughly doubled since 2003 (inflation-adjusted) to $56 billion in annual output. By comparison, the Montana and South Dakota economies have also done very well among states over this period, ranking among the top quarter in annual growth. Considerably smaller in output compared with Montana and South Dakota in 2003, North Dakota easily leapt over both in total output over the past decade (see Chart 2).

2013 state GDP Ch1

2013 state GDP Ch2

 

Growth in student debt slows, but will it last?

For much of the past decade, student debt has grown rapidly on two margins—the share of consumers affected and the amount owed by each debtor—and has generated considerable concern over the attendant pressure on household budgets and rise in delinquencies. But growth in both measures has slowed recently in the Ninth District.

In the Ninth District in early 2005, about 15 percent of consumer credit files included some form of student debt, with a median balance owed of about $7,000, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. By early 2011, the share of district files with student debt grew to over 20 percent and the median balance owed by those with student debt rose to over $11,750. The prevalence and median balance for most other forms of consumer debt grew much more moderately or even contracted over the same period (see Figures 1a and 1b).

Student debt ch1-2 6-5-14

However, since 2011, the two measures of student debt are no longer growing rapidly in tandem. Growth in the share of district residents with student debt slowed first. This share grew by just 0.2 percentage points per year between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2014, compared with 0.9 percentage points per year between the first quarters of 2005 and 2011. The median student loan balance among district residents with student debt climbed rapidly until more recently, rising by 6 percent from early 2011 to early 2012 and by a further 9 percent by early 2013. However, it has been nearly flat since, rising just 0.2 percent from the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014.

It is premature to say that the period of rapid growth in student debt is over. As seen in Figure 2, both measures are volatile from quarter to quarter and even year to year. For example, although generally slow since 2011, growth in the share of district residents with student debt rebounded after a dip in 2012, and by late 2013 this share reached 21 percent for the first time. Still, for those concerned about the burden of student debt, these recent data show at least a pause in its previous rapid, two-edged pace of growth.

For further details on student debt and general consumer credit conditions in the Ninth District and the nation, see the Consumer Credit Conditions web page.

Student debt Ch3-- 6-5-14

All fall down: Rising mortgage rates and the refi crunch of 2013

The mortgage refinance business headed into 2013 on the upswing, but the pendulum swung swiftly in the other direction by year’s end. And this reversal included borrowers across the credit-score spectrum.

According to figures from Black Knight Financial Services (BKFS), which typically represent 60 percent to 70 percent of the mortgage market, the number and dollar volume of refis in the United States and Ninth District trended up in the second half of 2012, reaching a two-year high in the fourth quarter of 2012. Activity remained high in January 2013, when BKFS reported over 7,800 new refis worth almost $1.4 billion in the Ninth District.

But then refi activity began a steep slide (see Figure 1). Between January 2013 and January 2014, activity reported by BKFS fell by almost 80 percent, to about 1,600 new Ninth District refis worth less than $285 million. Most of the decline occurred after May, when mortgage interest rates began moving up from about 3.5 percent to a range of 4.2 percent to 4.5 percent in the second half of the year. By January 2014, Ninth District refi activity was at its lowest level in the past 10 years of BKFS data, even weaker than during the refinance bust of 2008 at the height of the Great Recession.

Refi Figure 1

The sensitivity of refi activity to interest rates is easy to understand, since obtaining a lower rate is one of the main motives for refinancing. Big surges in refi activity have long tended to follow drops in mortgage rates, and just the reverse when mortgage rates rise.

However, grouping borrowers into low, medium and high credit score categories suggests that movements in housing prices have also influenced refi activity over the past 10 years (see Figure 2). For example, borrowers with low credit scores (below 660) have accounted for less than 10 percent of BKFS’s Ninth District refi dollar volume since the housing bust, but represented as much as a third of market volume during the housing boom (2004-06). Rising home prices at the time boosted borrowers’ home equity and made refinancing low-score borrowers seem safe to lenders and attractive to these borrowers, for whom cash-out refinancing (i.e., borrowing more than the former mortgage balance) was a cheap and accessible form of liquidity. When home prices fell and credit standards tightened after 2006, refi activity by low-credit-score borrowers crashed and has generally remained much lower.

Refi Figure 2

By contrast, borrowers with high credit scores (780 or more) appear to refinance mostly to obtain lower mortgage rates. Since 2009, refi activity by these borrowers has accounted for about one-third to one-half of the value of Ninth District refinancings, a marked increase compared to the group’s share during the housing boom (less than 16 percent ), when the rate on 30-year conventional mortgages was trending up. As mortgage rates trended down over the next six years, and especially when they dipped abruptly, high-score mortgagors took advantage of these opportunities to lower their financing costs by elevating their refi activity.

Borrowers in the middle, with credit scores between 660 and 779, dominate the refi market, accounting for half to two-thirds of the value of Ninth District refinancings reported by BKFS since 2009 (compared to 65 percent to 70 percent a decade ago). These borrowers seem to have been sensitive to both interest rates and home prices. Like the low-score borrowers, their refi activity was on average higher during the housing boom than afterward. But, like the high-score borrowers, middle-score borrowers have refinanced fairly aggressively in response to post-boom interest rate dips.

Despite their varying refinance motives over the past decade, Ninth District mortgagors in all three credit score categories cut back sharply on refinancing in 2013. By January of 2014, the dollar volume of refi activity was down from January 2013 by 68 percent among low-score borrowers, 77 percent among middle-score borrowers and 85 percent among high-score borrowers. For all three groups, this represents the steepest 12-month fall over the past decade. The large scale and relative uniformity of the decline across credit score categories suggests that last year’s big rise in mortgage interest rates was indeed the main factor behind the refi crunch of late 2013.

Personal income buys more in district states

Income earned in one part of the country goes further than in another based on differences in the cost of living. A job in New York City, or in the oilfield city of Williston, N.D., will have to pay more to purchase a similar value of housing, goods and services than a job in Missoula, Mont.

Last week the Bureau of Economic Analysis released data that adjust personal income across states and metropolitan areas to account for cost of living differences. Data on regional price parities (see chart) show state price levels relative to the U.S. average. South Dakota’s value of 88.2 means that the state’s price level is 11.8 percent lower than the U.S. average. Minnesota has the highest value among district states, but is still 2.5 percent lower than the national average. The data series also adjusts for U.S. inflation from 2008 to 2012.

Price parity -- 5--14

Since district states have lower price levels than the nation, once per capita income is adjusted for regional price differences, district states move up across the board in per capita income rankings (see table below). In 2012, North Dakota moved from the fifth to the second highest per capita income level after adjusting for price differences, behind the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, South Dakota jumped from 18th to sixth after a price level adjustment.

Price parity table

Planting intentions: What’s cropping up this year?

One of the major stories in agriculture over the past year was a big reduction in crop prices from the records they hit in 2012 toward more historically normal levels. In particular, corn prices dropped from over $7 per bushel in late 2012 to just over $4 more recently. Wheat and soybean prices fell over that period, too, but not as dramatically.

As expected, farmers reacted to these market conditions by moving away from corn and toward other crops, especially in the Ninth District. Nationwide, farmers intend to plant 4 percent fewer acres of corn in 2014 compared to last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile, soybean acreage is projected to increase 6 percent to an all-time record, while the forecast for wheat is nearly flat, with a 1 percent decrease in planted acres.

Farmers in the district are taking a harder turn away from corn, whose acreage is projected to decrease by 6 percent, while both soybean and wheat plantings are expected to increase by 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively (see chart below).

Plantings -- 4-29-14

Most of the decline in corn is accounted for by a big drop in North Dakota—23 percent—and a 6 percent drop in South Dakota; Minnesota and Wisconsin acreage is unchanged from last year. Likewise, while soybean acres are going up in all states, they’re surging 22 percent in North Dakota. Wheat acreage is also way up in North Dakota, at 28 percent, including a 38 percent jump in durum wheat, a specialty variety used for making pasta. Minnesota and Montana are increasing wheat acreage slightly, while South Dakota and Wisconsin both expect 8 percent decreases.

The USDA’s survey also covers some other important niche crops in the district. After a tough year for sugarbeets, acreage will be down 4 percent in North Dakota and 6 percent in Minnesota. Dry bean acreage will increase 36 percent in Minnesota and jump a whopping 41 percent in North Dakota, the nation’s leading producer (though acreage will remain below the 2012 level). And the nutrition conscious who closely watch their intake of omega-3s can also rejoice—North Dakota flaxseed acreage will double from last year.

Higher ed endowments rebound in 2013 in district states

Higher education budget officials got a bit of good news this year as endowments at many universities posted strong gains in assets in 2013, according to an annual report from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and Commonfund Institute.

Nationwide, assets in 835 endowments tracked by the report grew by 12 percent to almost $450 billion. Assets declined slightly in 2012.

There are 40 higher education endowments of at least $20 million in Ninth District states. In 2013, their combined assets grew by 14 percent to $10 billion. Sixty percent of these endowments benefit private institutions, but they hold of minority (40 percent) of assets. The two biggest, by a considerable margin, support the University of Minnesota ($2.8 billion) and the University of Wisconsin ($2 billion). Both had strong results in 2013, but Minnesota’s assets leapt by more than 21 percent (see Chart 1).

Endowments typically grow by both investment returns and donations, though the NACUBO report does not detail these different asset streams. Growing endowments mean more resources for universities because IRS regulations require that foundations disburse at least 5 percent of assets annually—a minimum of $500 million this year alone from endowments in Ninth District states. This disbursement rule is also one reason some endowments have struggled to return to prerecession levels.

The strong asset increase last year at the University of Minnesota (which, technically, is two separate endowments) belies a long road to asset recovery, as asset levels are still slightly below their peak 2007 levels (see Chart 2).

Most other endowments have been doing better. Among 24 other foundations (with available figures from 2007), assets grew 15 percent over this period. Three endowments saw zero or negative growth, but 10 had asset growth of 20 percent or more since 2007, including those benefiting the University of Wisconsin and the College of St. Scholastica, a small private college in Duluth, Minn., which saw its endowment nearly double over this period to $54 million.

Endowments -- 4-9-14

 

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