MMAC economic gauge improves

Economic indicators for metro Milwaukee rebounded in February from a weak January performance, according to the latest monthly report by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

Twelve of 24 February indicators registered improvement over year-ago levels, up from the revised seven upward-pointing indicators
posted for January.
“In aggregate, local economic indicators grew sluggish late in 2011 and into early 2012, led largely by a lackluster employment picture,” said Bret Mayborne, the MMAC’s economic research director. “Some of this weakness is still evident in February’s numbers but the indicators also suggest that the overall trend may be moving closer to what Milwaukee saw through most of 2011.”
Highlights of the report include:
* Nonfarm job levels posted a marginal decline in February with a net loss of 200 jobs from February, 2011 levels. February’s loss follows a 0.1 percent decrease in January (vs. year-ago levels).
* Five of ten major industry sectors registered year-over-year job increases in February. The manufacturing sector posted the largest gain – up 3.4 percent vs. year-ago levels. Conversely, five of ten major industry sectors posted employment declines with the 6.1 percent drop in the government sector ranking as the biggest percentage fall.
* Construction employment in the metro area rose for only the second time in over four years (since December, 2007). Jobs in the construction sector rose at a 3.3 percent pace in February (vs. February, 2011), to 21,800.
Unemployment indicators for the metro area improved in February. The number of unemployed in the Milwaukee area fell 7.5 percent vs. year-ago levels, this indicator’s 22nd consecutive year-over-year decline. New unemployment compensation claims also fell, down 0.8 percent in February (vs. February, 2011), to 5,871.
Metro Milwaukee’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate averaged 8 percent in February, down 0.7 percentage points from one year ago. The local rate ranks slightly higher than the 7.9 percent rate posted statewide but ranks below the 8.7 percent figure recorded nationally.
The aggregate job trend in the metro area remains rather flat. Nonfarm employment in February numbered 799,200 – a less than one-tenth of a percent decrease from levels posted one year ago.
This marks the third consecutive year-over-year job decline for metro Milwaukee, but all such declines have been smaller than 0.5 percent.
For the first time since January, 2011 both area housing and real estate indicators tracked by the MMAC showed growth. Existing home sales for the metro area rose at a 22.6 percent pace, to 694, this indicator’s eighth consecutive year-over-year increase. Mortgages recorded in Milwaukee County rose at a 20.6 percent pace in February (to 2,208), its first increase in 13 months.
New-car registrations in the metro area numbered 1,437 in February, down 4.6 percent from one year ago, and this indicator’s third consecutive year-over-year decline.
Air passengers using Mitchell International Airport fell 9.4 percent in February, to 591,323, following the 14.8 percent decline posted in
January (vs. year-ago levels).
The value of signed construction contracts, as reported by F.W. Dodge for January, was $66.8 million, up 58.8 percent from January, 2011.

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