MMAC economic indicators hold steady

Economic indicators for southeastern Wisconsin held steady in March, according to the latest monthly report issued by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

Seventeen of 23 March local economic indicators improved over year-ago levels, matching the number of positive indicators recorded in each of the previous two months.

“In aggregate, a solid majority of local economic indicators continue to trend in a positive direction,” said Bret Mayborne, the MMAC’s economic research director. “The employment situation is a bit mixed. While a broad base of industries are registering growth, the overall job trend remains quite lackluster.”

Highlights of the report include:

* Employment in the metro area grew at a 0.5 percent rate in March (vs. March, 2014), averaging 834,600 jobs. March’s year-over-year trend marks the third time in four months that local employment gains have fallen under 1 percent.
* Seven of ten major industry sectors recorded year-over-year job increases in March led by the financial activities sector (up 3.1 percent). The financial activity sector posted the fastest growth (up 3.1 percent The leisure & hospitality sector recorded the sharpest decline (down 3.9 percent).
* New car registrations in the metro area rose for the fourth consecutive month, up 8.9 percent in March over year-ago levels.
* The number of unemployed averaged 45,500 in March, down 18.3 percent from year-ago levels. New unemployment compensation claims fell 3.2 percent vs. year-ago levels to 4,032, coming on the heels of the 15.5 percent drop recorded in February. Metro Milwaukee’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate for March fell 1.2 percentage points from one year ago to 5.6 percent. Metro Milwaukee’s rate matches the 5.6 percent recorded for the nation as a whole but ranks higher than Wisconsin’s 5.4 percent rate. Nonfarm jobs have now grown in 54 consecutive months on a year-over-year basis but the pace of growth has slowed in four of the past five months. March’s growth of 0.5 percent (to 834,600) falls below the 0.7 percent growth posted in February (vs. February, 2014).
* The length of a production worker’s workweek fell marginally – down 0.2 percent, to 41.1 hours. Earnings indicators for production workers on the other hand pushed upward. Average hourly earnings rose 2.9 percent (to $19.38) while average weekly earnings increased 2.7 percent (to $797). Both measures ranked above consumer price change nationally over the same time period.
* Robust gains were posted in local housing and real estate indicators tracked by the MMAC. Existing home sales in the metro area increased 27.9 percent (to 1,271), this indicator’s sharpest increase since October, 2012. Mortgages recorded in Milwaukee County numbered 2,278 in March, up 51.4 percent from year ago levels. March’s gain follows February’s 15.8 percent increase (vs. February, 2014).
* New-car registrations numbered 3,224 in March, an 8.9 percent increase over year-ago levels. March’s increase follows the 7.6 percent gain in February (vs. February, 2014) and marks the fourth consecutive year-over-year increase.
* Air passenger usage of Mitchell International Airport posted a small decline in March. Passengers numbered 626,067 for the month, a 0.9 percent decrease from year-ago levels.

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