Houston and DFW midyear review

Last week we started our midyear review of Texas markets with a look at San Antonio and Austin. This week we will be looking at DFW and Houston. As stated last week, the majority of our state has enjoyed tremendous job growth and all the benefits it brings.

Over the last twenty-three years, the number of jobs has increased almost twice as fast in Texas as it has in the rest of the country. Many people might imagine that most of those new jobs pay low wages, but that turns out not to be true. To be sure, Texas has more minimum-wage jobs than any other state, and only Mississippi exceeds it with the most minimum-wage workers per capita. According to the Dallas Fed, only 28 percent of the jobs created in or relocated to Texas since 2001 pay in the lowest quarter of the nation’s wage distribution. By comparison, jobs paying in the top half account for about 45 percent of the new jobs in Texas.

Texas has been creating or attracting middle- and high-wage jobs at a far faster pace than the rest of the country taken as whole. For example, between 2001 and 2012, the number of Texas jobs in the upper-middle quarter of the nation’s wage distribution increased by 25.6 percent. This compares with a 4.1 percent decline in the number of such jobs outside of Texas. Though coming off a comparatively small base, Texas has also outperformed the rest of the country in its growth of high-paying jobs.

That’s a big deal. From 2000 through 2010, the country as a whole experienced zero net job creation, and the continuing decline in middle-class jobs is arguably the largest single threat to the economy’s viability. The first and most obvious question to ask about the Texas boom in jobs is how much it simply reflects the boom in Texas oil and gas production. Texas boosters say the answer is very little, and play up how much the Texas economy has diversified since the 1970s. And indeed, Texas has more high-tech, knowledge-economy jobs than it did forty years ago. But so does the rest of America, and the stubborn truth is that, despite there being more computer programmers and medical specialists in Texas than a generation ago, oil and gas account for a rapidly rising, not declining, share of the Texas economy.

Thanks to fracking and other new drilling techniques, plus historically high world oil prices, Texas oil production increased by 126 percent just between 2010 and 2013. Only a few years ago, Texas’s oil production had dwindled to just 15 percent of U.S. output; by May of 2013 production had jumped to 34.5 percent, as new drilling methods opened up vast new plays in once-forgotten corners of south and west Texas with names like Eagle Ford, Spraberry Trend, and Wolfcamp. Thanks to the increase in drilling, Texas already produces more oil than major oil producing countries such as Venezuela, and is headed to become the ninth-largest producer of oil in the world, ahead of Kuwait, Mexico, and Iraq.

The economic effect of the energy play on cities and metros is apparent in traditional oil towns such as Midland/Odessa, Houston, and Fort Worth, which have unemployment rates lower than Texas’s and the rest of the country in April 2014. In addition non-oil Texas cities and metros such as Lubbock, San Antonio-New Braunfels, San Angelo, and Longview have seen their unemployment numbers bolstered by the strength of the energy play.

Houston

To say growth in Houston has been fueled by the strength in oil and gas exploration and the supporting technologies would be an understatement. The shale gas exploration in particular is creating jobs in multiple areas. It’s led to 10,500 jobs in professional and scientific services, while administrative, machinery, and manufacturing industries have also seen job gains. Job growth is the seventh strongest in the country over the last five years, largely because Houston’s energy infrastructure is only getting more developed. Multiple companies are building export terminals, fractionaters, and ethane crackers. Because of this growth Houston has seen a huge increase in engineering and construction jobs as a result.

Houston saw little to no slowing during the recession compared to the rest of the US. More than 100,000 new jobs will be created in 2014 for the Houston MSA, drawing thousands of new residents. Despite an increase in multifamily completions this year and last, housing supply and demand will remain well aligned. Since hiring resumed four years ago, more than 12 jobs were created for every apartment brought online over the same period. The ratio of jobs to completions will decrease in 2014, but should remain highly favorable, supporting a little decline in vacancy of residential rental.

Bayou City home sales saw sales volume fall for the first time since May 2011. The lack of housing inventory resulted in the market’s first home sales decline in three years in May. Thirty-four consecutive months of positive sales ended in April with flat year-over-year sales. However, sales activity for homes over $500,000 outpaced last May 2013, and coupled with low inventory levels, drove the average sales price to a new record

Houston’s office channel continues to improve as booming energy markets support expansion of top industry players and their campuses. The second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014 was characterized by several major leases, with Bechtel, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, and ExxonMobil each committing to more than 400,000 square feet. This year, ExxonMobil will also complete its 3 million-square foot campus in The Woodlands/Spring area, where Southwestern Energy’s 515,000-square foot headquarters is slated for delivery. Numerous other build-to-suit projects have broken ground in the metro, including BHP’s office tower in Uptown, Phillips 66’s campus in Westchase, and Noble Energy’s headquarters in the Northwest submarket. Downtown, Chevron’s plans to expand its presence with a 1.7 million-square foot tower were recently delayed. The project, which was initially slated to break ground in 2014, could bring 1,700 jobs to the area. In the Class B sector, construction is limited, which will support occupancy gains among existing properties.

Houston remains on many equity and investors ‘needs’ lists this year as local job growth reaches well beyond the national rate. The metro’s surging economy recaptured the attention of REITs and institutions, which accounted for nearly 70 percent of dollar volume in 2013, up dramatically from the previous year. This influx of capital has heightened competition for best-of-class deals, driving cap rates for high-credit assets in strong locations into the mid 6 to 7 percent range. Activity in the metro’s Class B sector has also picked up, thanks in part to the return of private out-of-state buyers who have focused almost exclusively on core submarkets.

Houston retail has benefitted also, with retail vacancy slipping to its lowest level in years and should continue to improve in 2014 amid the strong economic growth and resurgent homebuilding. The Woodlands, Katy and Energy Corridor submarkets, in particular, stand to benefit tremendously from healthcare-sector growth and expanding energy firms.

We have talked a lot about the resurgence of the energy industry and its effect on the metro. Remember that Houston is also home to one the largest medical centers in the world. The innovation and leadership generated from Houston leads most of the country and world in the industry. This area will continue to be one of the major employers and leaders for the Texas economy. As the Dallas Federal Reserve has pointed out, 40+% of jobs created the last 15 years were in the health and education channels.

As in the other real estate channels, above-average economic expansion and growth prospects in the Houston area continue to attract retail investors to the area, supporting property values escalating and encouraging more owners to sell. Because of that demand in closer-in submarkets, land constraints and rising costs have relegated much of the new retail space to mixed-use projects.

The opening of Mexico to oil exploration for the first time in 25+ years, and the value of lower priced, yet high occupancy real estate should continue to help Houston be one of the healthiest economic metros not only in the state and region, but the nation also.

DFW

In Dallas/Fort Worth the housing market has not been as robust as the rest of Texas. 2013 showed a burst of activity that slowed with the start of 2014. Gains in home values and sales early last year have slowed. A year ago, sales of pre-owned homes were up 23 percent and prices were rising at double-digit rates from the previous year. However this last month, home sales in the area fell 1 percent from a year earlier. Prices rose, but by 6 percent from May 2013. The slowdown in the pre-owned home market growth is likely to continue in the months ahead because of a tight supply and consumer push-back against huge price increases.

The feeling among builders and realtors is that consumers in the D/FW market are waiting for better economic signs before taking a leap to buy in many cases, which continues to keep the market sluggish and adds to the time it will take the market to heal. Adding to the sluggishness is the delays in completing homes during the quarter due to a shortage with many trades. The extended construction timeline negatively impacted the number of closings for the quarter, leading to only a 14% increase in closings compared to a year earlier. The tight supply is extending the construction cycle and driving up construction costs, lot costs, and ultimately home prices.

The DFW metro area continues to have one of the most diverse economies in the US, with strong establishments in tech, aerospace, telecom, and financial services. Employers will create 113,900 jobs in 2014, more than any other metro in Texas, raising payrolls 3.6 percent. In 2013, 112,700 positions were added. Population growth is strong, housing sales are, and employment at corporate headquarters increased by more than 4,000 works over the last five years.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s relocation of its U.S. headquarters to Plano has been a welcome addition and may bring $7.2 billion of economic activity over 10 years. The figure includes $4.2 billion from payroll, along with direct and indirect spending, and sales and property tax revenue, according to the analysis by Grant Thornton LLP, a Chicago-based audit, tax and advisory company. The report was released May 12 when the city, a Dallas suburb, approved incentives for the company.

The central location of DFW and the abundance of large contiguous space will continue to attract corporations as they look to expand.

The push back from home buyer bodes well for DFW landlords. These buyers who are waiting for values to change, combined with rising interest rates and tight underwriting, will preclude them from purchasing a home, a positive trend that will further support apartment operations this year and next. Almost all submarkets will post gains in occupancy and rents during 2014, and construction will reach the highest level since 2000, lifting competition and encouraging greater concessions in some areas

The DFW office market continues to be healthy with major office leases being shopped. The lack of aggressive concessions from landlords is a testament to the strengthening of the market. Another year of strong economic growth in the Metroplex will reinforce investor optimism through 2014. REITs and institutional investors, which accounted for more than half of last year’s dollar volume, will again dominate the market for high-credit Class A deals. Landlords continue to see small rent improvements strengthened by corporate inquiries.

Texas is extremely business-friendly with a low tax, low regulation environment that makes it attractive to out-of-state firms. All of the tech hustle and bustle has led to an influx of young professionals, which has led to a boom in construction in all metros. To consider that the state has put its focus on too few industries for a strong future is a weak argument, when looking at the facts. Again realize that we are lucky, blessed to be living in Texas, at one of the best times in history. Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and DFW will be the recipients of over 25 million new Texans over the next 20 years. To put that in perspective, few if any states will see that type of growth over the next 20 years. That type of growth has been likened to what happened to California in the 60s by some economists.

As in all Texas markets, the number of jobs and lack of inventory has gotten most buyers off the fence and helped new and resales through the first of the year. Developers are scrambling to put lots on the ground to address the lack of inventory. Comparatively all real estate channels have stayed healthy also. Not as robust as previous years, but good. Values have remained stable with a little appreciation. Developed lots are just above equilibrium, with expansion in the pipeline for the first time in all metros, however most markets will continue to be tight through the end of 20114.

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