Michigan Surpassing 48 States Shows Autos Drive U.S. Recovery

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(Courtesy of Bloomberg Business Week)

(Bloomberg) — Michigan’s economy is recovering from the recession at the second-fastest pace in the U.S., lifted by reviving carmakers and local manufacturers, according to a new Bloomberg index that tracks the pace of state growth.

The home to the U.S. automobile industry was topped only by North Dakota, where an oil boom is raising incomes and boosting government coffers at the nation’s quickest rate. California, Massachusetts and Illinois round out the top five in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States Index, which uses data on real estate, jobs, taxes and stock prices to gauge the growth rate in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Fifteen states are showing signs of economic stress, even after the 18-month recession ended in June 2009, according to BEES data comparing the 12 months ended June 30 with the year- earlier period. In New Jersey, which ranked 48th, mortgage delinquency rose by the most in the nation; Bank of America Corp.’s stock price is weighing on North Carolina, the index’s worst performer; and New Mexico is being buffeted by falling home prices in eight of the past nine quarters.

“In a slow recovery like you have today, it doesn’t take all that much growth to stand out,” said Mark Vitner, an economist who works for Wells Fargo & Co. in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As President Barack Obama and his Republican challengers prepare for the 2012 election, the BEES index may provide an answer to the question posed by Ronald Reagan in his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” With the exception of North Dakota, conditions are worse in every state than they were at the end of 2008, underscoring the challenges Obama faces.

Six Components

BEES tracks growth by compiling data on six components that are given equal weight: job creation, personal income, tax revenue, housing prices, mortgage delinquencies and the performance of Bloomberg stock indexes that track the share prices of locally based companies.

The BEES index, updated quarterly, is a measurement of growth, not absolute performance, so a slowing economy with low unemployment may rank below a battered state on the mend.

Some of Michigan’s improvement reflects the severity of its decline. It ranked last in the BEES index in the decade through 2010, a period when it was the only state to lose population. In September, it still had unemployment of 11.1 percent, two percentage points above the U.S. average.

‘Lost Decade’

“Michigan is emerging from, basically, a lost decade,” said Patrick Anderson, chief executive officer of Anderson Economic Group LLC, an East Lansing, Michigan-based consulting firm. “I sense a very cautious optimism in my home state.”

Seventy percent of Michigan employers said they expected the state’s economic outlook to improve over the next 18 months, while only 46 percent expected such gains for the national economy, according to a survey released last month by Business Leaders for Michigan. Mortgage delinquencies dropped at the fourth-fastest pace in the U.S., and personal income and employment growth ranked in the top third, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Michigan is benefitting from gains in the U.S. automobile industry, which is reviving after Obama led an $82 billion bailout and General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC emerged from bankruptcy.

Last week, Ford Motor Co. reported quarterly profit of $1.65 billion and Chrysler raised its forecast for its first annual profit to $600 million. The new United Auto Workers contract with Chrysler, Ford and GM boosts starting pay and provides signing bonuses to employees.

Chevy Cruze

GM’s Chevrolet Cruze compact has taken market share from Japanese competitors such as Toyota Motor Corp.’s Corolla and Honda Motor Co.’s Civic. It was the best-selling car in the U.S. in June and has an 11 percent share of the small-car segment through October, up from the 5.9 percent held by the model it replaced last year, according to Autodata Corp.

The biggest gainers in the BEES index included California and Arizona, two states hit hardest during the housing collapse; oil-and-gas rich states; and the Midwest, where a weaker dollar boosted demand for factory goods. The Dollar Index, which tracks the currency against those of six major U.S. trading partners, dropped 12.3 percent in the 12 months ended June 30.

“The Midwest industrial belt is doing relatively well because we’ve seen a strong rebound in capital-goods production,” said Vitner, the Wells Fargo economist. “Auto production has also improved, and that’s helped boost some areas that had been severely depressed a few years ago.”

Midwest Recovery

The index shows how rising demand for manufactured goods from countries including China are driving the recovery throughout the Midwest. Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota joined Michigan on the list of the 10 best-performing states.

In Illinois, rising profits fueled stock gains for Caterpillar Inc., the world’s biggest construction and mining- equipment maker, and Deere & Co., the world’s largest manufacturer of agricultural equipment. Caterpillar shares rose 77.5 percent in the period, compared with a 28.5 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. Deere shares climbed 49.3 percent.

Illinois also got a boost from a 21 percent gain in tax revenue, the third-biggest in the U.S. In January, Democratic Governor Pat Quinn pushed through a record tax increase that led companies including Sears Holdings Corp. to threaten to pull out of the state.

Vermont Coffee

The best-performing stock market in the period was Vermont, where Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. fueled a 218 percent rise in the BEES state equity index, more than seven times the gain in the S&P 500, according to Bloomberg data. Vermont shares have since fallen 28 percent, about three times faster than the S&P 500, after short-seller David Einhorn questioned the Waterbury-based coffeemaker’s accounting practices.

California and Arizona are also recovering from the worst of the housing market rout, according to the BEES index. Arizona, while being hit by the largest decline in housing prices besides Nevada, had the second-biggest drop in mortgage delinquencies, which fell 3.9 percentage points. California delinquencies slid 3.2 percentage points, the third-largest decline.

In Nevada, where employment growth has stalled since the end of the recession, businesses are also reaping the benefits of the stock market’s gain. Its equity index rose 56 percent in the 12 months through June, driven by casino operators Las Vegas Sands Corp., Wynn Resorts Ltd. and MGM Resorts International.

Bank of America

Elsewhere, the stock market is exerting a drag. In North Carolina, Bank of America drove its stocks to the second-worst performance in the country after Mississippi. The state also suffered from a lack of employment growth and sliding home values, giving it the worst performance in the BEES index, dropping 3.3 percent over the most recent year.

Among the worst-faring states is Washington, which ranked 46th. It faces a $2 billion deficit in its two-year budget that may force it to cut university funding and benefits for the disabled.

“I have to confront the reality,” Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, told reporters last week. “The people of our state are not spending. Businesses are not hiring. We need to cut $2 billion more.”

New Jersey ranked third-worst after North Carolina and New Mexico. In addition to its rising mortgage-delinquency rate, personal-income growth ranked 46th and employment growth was little changed.

New Jersey’s woes reflect the high cost of doing business and mix of some slow-growing industries, such as drug companies, that have caused the state to trail behind the U.S. since the turn of the century, said James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

“We’re paralleling the nation in trend, but we’re clearly lagging,” he said. “It’s an expensive place to do business.”

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