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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, May. 9, 201212:00 PM EST

Florida economic conditions changing


In an economic overview released last week, just 13 days after the previous one, the state reported some updates that showed slight changes in conditions, both up and down.

The Florida Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research issued its “Florida: An Economic Overview” report May 1, updating the April 18 document.

Overall, the economic factors continued to show that conditions are improving after the national recession, which began in December 2007 and ended June 2009.

The report repeated former findings that Florida economists say the state remained in recession longer than that. The report said Florida’s economic growth “turned positive” in 2010 after two years of decline.

Here are some of the updates in the May 1 report compared to the April 18 overview.

Employment and unemployment improving

• In March, Florida’s nonfarm job growth increased 1.2 percent, more than the February rise of 1 percent. They are below the national growth rate of 1.5 percent both months.

• Florida gained 89,800 jobs over the year from March-March, up from the 72,300-job gain from February-February. The number of jobs in March still was down 746,100 from the job peak.

• Florida’s unemployment rate was down to 9 percent in March from 9.4 percent in February. That represented 836,000 unemployed people in March, down from 869,000 in February. The national rate was 8.2 percent in March.

• In March, four states had a higher unemployment rate than Florida, compared with five in February. Florida tied with three states in March – Georgia, Mississippi and New Jersey.

• Among the state’s 67 counties, Flagler County posted the state’s highest unemployment rate in March, at 12.2 percent, as well as in February, a higher 12.7 percent. Monroe County had the lowest rate both months – 5.1 percent in March and 5.4 percent in February.Housing improving, but still struggling

• Again, existing home sales “are sputtering,” said the report. The sales level fell slightly from March 2011 through March 2012 to 78.3 percent of the mid-decade boom level, down from 79.3 percent from February-February.

• Existing home prices remain flat. The median sales prices for existing homes have been essentially flat for 38 months, still “with a slight downward drift,” the report said.

• The median sales price peaked at $257,800 in 2006 and was down 46 percent to $139,000 in March, better than the 48 percent drop in February to $134,000.

• “Foreclosure filings remain daunting,” according to the report. In the first quarter, the state had the second highest number of foreclosure filings in the country and the fifth highest foreclosure rate. For calendar year 2011, the state was No. 2 in filings and No. 6 in the rate of foreclosures.

• Again, the mix of sales “points to lower prices.” The average price for real-estate owned properties is about 40 percent below the average price and the average short-sale price is about 21 percent lower. The percentage of REO and short sales among all sales in Florida rose from 49 percent in December to 51.3 percent in January.

• Cash sales as a percentage of all sales remained almost steady – 35.4 percent in December and 35.7 percent in January.

• Financed sales fell from about 15.6 percent in December to 13 percent in January.

Credit conditions tightening again

The Federal Reserve Board surveys senior loan officers, asking about changes over the past three months in their bank’s credit standards for approving applications from individuals for prime residential mortgage loans.

The April 18 overview reported that in January, 94.3 percent of loan officers said credit conditions remained basically unchanged, while 5.7 percent said they eased somewhat. It was the first survey since July 2010, the earliest cited in the report, in which no senior loan officers said conditions had tightened.

However, the May 1 report said that in April, 90.7 percent of loan officers said credit conditions were unchanged, while 5.6 percent said they tightened somewhat and 3.7 percent said they eased.

Consumer sentiment on the rise

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey found that while perceptions had fallen in August to near the lowest level of the recession and not far from the lowest level ever posted, the subsequent months have shown improvement.

Consumer sentiment nationwide rose slightly in April to 76.4 percent, higher than 76.2 in March. The lowest point was 51.7 in May 1980.

Florida’s consumer confidence level of 73 in April was down from 74 in March.

Economy is slowly recovering

Like the previous report, the May 1 overview said the national economy is in recovery and credit markets are recovering stability, but remain sluggish and difficult for consumers to access.

Among risks to forecasts, the report said U.S. gas prices continue to rise. Florida’s highest recorded average price was $4.079 a gallon for regular unleaded on July 16, 2008. The report said the current average was $3.786, down from $3.930 in the previous report.

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