Money Odds & Ends

MMAC says local economy remains sluggish
Only six of the 19 available July indicators of metro area economic activity registered improvement from year-ago levels, according to the latest report by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

July marked the ninth consecutive month in which less than half of the indicators tracked by the MMAC showed improvements. July’s total matches the revised number of improved indicators recorded for June.

"A sluggish employment trend continues to be the principle drag on the local economic environment," said Bret Mayborne, economic research director for the MMAC. "Year-over-year job declines were posted both in the metro area and nationally in July across a majority of major industry sectors."

Highlights of the latest report include:

Nonfarm employment levels in the metro area fell at a 0.4-percent pace in July, smaller than the 1.1-percent decline recorded in June (vs. one year ago), but somewhat steeper than July’s 0.1-percent job decrease for the nation as a whole.

Four of 10 major industry sectors registered July job gains (vs. one year ago), while six posted declines. The largest percentage increase was posted in the government sector (each up 3.6 percent over year-ago levels). Conversely, a 3.9-percent job decline was posted in the construction, mining & natural resources sector, the largest decrease registered.

A mixed trend was registered among metro area unemployment indicators. The number of unemployed fell 4.1 percent in July (vs. July 2007) to 41,700, but new unemployment compensation claims rose significantly, up 63 percent (vs. year-ago levels), the sixth year-over-year increase in the first seven months of 2008.

Local area housing and real estate indicators continued to slide. Existing home sales in the metro area fell 8.8 percent (to 1,207), but July’s percentage decline was the smallest posted in almost one year (since August, 2007). Mortgages recorded in Milwaukee County fell at a 29.4-percent pace to 3,557.

New-car registrations posted a 1.8-percent decline in July (to 3,420), following a 15.9-percent fall in June.

The value of signed construction contracts, as reported by F.W. Dodge for June, was $118.3 million, down 6.3-percent from June, 2007.

The Milwaukee area consumer price index for urban consumers (CPI-U) reached 201.955 for the first half of 2008, a 4.8-percent increase from the first half of 2007.

Northwestern Mutual continues growth ahead of industry curve
Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. oversees more than 10 percent of the total U.S. direct life insurance market, based on the most recent data from A.M. Best.

The latest data reaffirms Northwestern Mutual’s No. 1 rank in U.S. individual life insurance market share, a position the financial security company has held since 2000.

Significantly outpacing the industry year-over-year, Northwestern Mutual increased its total U.S. direct life insurance premium by 9.0 percent from first quarter 2007 to the first quarter 2008, compared with the overall industry average of 0.9 percent.

"We have close to 3.5 million policyowners and take great pride in helping each of them with their financial security planning," said Edward Zore, Northwestern Mutual president and chief executive officer. "In uncertain economic times, life insurance is a flexible financial asset that can provide protection, cash value and confidence for Americans as they take control of their financial future. Regardless of one’s life stage, life insurance is the foundation of any sound financial security plan."

Northwestern Mutual has always received the best possible insurance financial strength ratings from Standard & Poor’s, Fitch Ratings, Moody’s and A.M. Best, which affirmed the company’s A++ rating in March 2008.

Northwestern Mutual expects to provide $5 billion in dividends to policyowners in 2008.

Baird expands presence in China
Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. has expanded its global platform to include investment banking capabilities in Asia with the addition of Anthony Yan-Hong Siu, managing director.

Siu, a 17-year veteran who was previously an investment banker at Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong, will focus on cross-border mergers and acquisitions working closely with Baird’s investment bankers in the United States and Europe. He will be based in Baird’s Shanghai office, which also houses Baird Private Equity operating and investment professionals.

"We have long understood that in order to help our clients be successful in China, it is vital to give them access to on-the-ground experts who are deeply familiar with local business practices and know how to best navigate the market," said Paul Purcell, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based Baird. "We have taken that strategic approach with our successful global private equity business, and are very excited about building out our investment banking capabilities to create additional opportunities."

While this is Baird’s first investment banking office in Asia, the firm has been establishing a significant presence there over the past several years.

Steve Booth, director of investment banking for Baird, said the company’s strategy for expansion in China is modeled after its previous expansion in Europe.

"In order to best serve our clients, particularly those in the consumer and industrial sectors, we must be able to effectively help them access opportunities in China," Booth said. "We have been building networks and relationships in the market for years and are delighted that we were able to attract Anthony to our platform. We are confident that he will be an excellent addition to our team."

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