The pattern of contraction in the Odessa general economy extended to 20 months in September with the Odessa Economic Index falling to 194.1 for the month down from 196.0 in August (revised slightly downward from the original 196.1), and down 12.1% from the September 2015 OEI of 220.9. The spending indicators continue to take a beating, and auto sales activity in particular was sharply lower in September. Every single component of the Odessa Economic Index is in negative year-over-year territory for the month of September, the third quarter, and the first nine months of the year.
On the heels of the first increase in 21 months in August, the Texas Permian Basin Petroleum Index reversed course in September falling to a new low in this cycle of 208.0 down from 208.7 in August, and down 25.3% from the September 2015 TPBPI of 278.2. The monthly average posted West Texas Intermediate benchmark price slipped back below its year-ago level, and was flat from August to September. The rig count continued to improve through September, adding another nine rigs to the monthly average. The completions numbers are certainly providing downward pressure to the index, and oil & gas employment remains down by double-digit percentage points compared to year-ago levels.
General real (inflation-adjusted) spending per third quarter sales tax receipts was down by over 18% compared to the third quarter of a year ago, which in turn was down by about 8% compared to the third quarter of the prior year. Spending was off by some 17.5% from the September 2015 total, and through the first nine months of the year general real spending is down by over 21% compared to the January-September total from a year ago. Auto spending fell sharply in September and was down by over 36% for the month compared to September of a year ago, the largest rate of year-over-year decline thus far in 2016. Third quarter real auto spending was down by close to 20% year-over-year, and through September is down by over 23% compared to the first nine months of last year.
September employment estimates suggest the rate of job loss is slowing, and indicate a year-over-year decline of only about 1.4%. However, newly released quarterly employment and wage data for the second quarter suggest that current 2016 monthly employment estimates are overstated, and if so will be subject to a significant downward revision in 2017. June 2016 monthly employment was down by about 3.3% compared to June of a year ago according to the Texas Workforce Commission Current Employment Statistics (CES) series, which is the data used to calculate the Odessa Economic Index. However, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data suggests a decline of over 9% in June compared to June 2015. We will continue to utilize CES data throughout the year, and make adjustments to the index for 2016 when the data is revised in early 2017.
Construction activity as reflected by building permit valuations is down by double-digit percentage points with the September, third quarter, and year-to-date totals down by 23%, 37%, and 19%, respectively. The number of new single-family residence construction permits was down by about 30% in the third quarter, and the number of permits issued thus far in 2016 is down by 8% compared to the first nine months of a year ago.
After a sharp year-over-year increase in September, the number of existing homes sold in the Odessa metro area retreated in September, and was down by over 27% compared to the September 2015 home sales total. Third quarter home sales declined by over 15% compared to a year ago, and home sales through September are now down by 5.6% relative to year-ago levels. Prices remain on the decline as well with the third quarter average home sale price down by over 8% compared to the third quarter of a year ago. Through the first nine months of the year, the average sale price is down by just over 4% compared to the average through September of a year ago. The real total dollar volume of residential real estate activity fell by a sharp 31% in September compared to September of a year ago, and posted a 24% year-over-year decline in the third quarter.
The ultimate trough in regional oil & gas activity as reflected by the Texas Permian Basin Petroleum Index will help to peg the turnaround in the Odessa Economic Index (and in fact the general cyclical health of the Odessa general economy). The Permian Basin regional oil & gas economy is in the process of bottoming out; the overall Odessa economy very likely still has a few months of contraction ahead as this cycle plays out. And it is important to remember that the rate of expansion in the Odessa economy was every bit as impressive as these numbers are negative, and this was the case for a solid five-year period of time leading up to the downturn. The Odessa Economic Index remains well ahead of its post-recession low point and its nadir at the end of this cycle will not be anywhere near that prior trough, meaning the gains that were achieved during the expansion will not nearly be undone in this contraction.
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