Bullish on the Chicago Metropolitan Economy

So far this decade, the Chicago metropolitan area’s economic performance has been disappointing. As in the surrounding Midwest, job declines during the recent recession were worse here than in the nation as a whole, and this area’s job growth during the expansion has since been lagging. With this lackluster performance, there has been a special disappointment for Chicagoans; the metropolitan region’s economy led the nation and most of the surrounding Midwest during the 1990s. During that time, there was a sense that Chicago’s economy had evolved beyond its role as regional business capital into one as national and global business center.

What is Chicago’s outlook for 2006? I am optimistic, although there are some defensible reasons for caution. For one, goods producing industries in the surrounding region may continue to pull down Chicago’s service sectors. Chicago’s outsized business and professional service sector continues to serve the Midwest, as do its travel, distribution, and business meeting services. But looking ahead, the Midwest economic outlook is clouded by the prospects for its automotive industry. Nationally, automotive sales growth is not expected to be robust this coming year, especially for the Big Three automakers and their suppliers that populate the eastern part of the Midwest region as well as northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Accordingly, this segment of the Midwest cannot be expected to propel Chicago’s service economy in 2006.

There is a second reason to be cautious: National economic growth is expected to moderate modestly in 2006 (link). Since Chicago and the Midwest generally follow national trends—perhaps even follow them in a magnified fashion—there is some doubt that the metropolitan economy’s performance will gain momentum as the national economy moderates.

Still, despite these trends, and with a great deal of uncertainty, I offer some reasons for optimism for those of us who are inclined to be bullish about Chicago.

Not all of the surrounding Midwest manufacturing activity is moribund. The region’s capital goods industries, such as the machinery and equipment industry, are expanding. Looking forward, as national and global economic growth continues, U.S. and world demand for “new tools” and added production capacity tend to lift capital goods sectors. In turn, employment in manufacturing sectors, along with physical expansion of factories, tend to take place with a lag as excess capacity becomes squeezed.

More generally, recently reported data indicate that improvement in Chicago’s labor markets is already underway. During the autumn, Chicago’s year-over-year payroll job growth exceeded 1 percent for the first time since the year 2000, while the unemployment rates were down in the fourth quarter (according to preliminary reports).

Chicago’s vaunted business and professional services industry is once more reporting strong employment growth. Though it has much catching up to do from its poor performance in recent years, Chicago’s year-over-year job growth in this sector is exceeding the nation’s.

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Midwest and the Global Economy Part I

From the slow progress being made on the Doha round of global trade liberalization, it would seem that globalization is slowing down. Yet, this is not the case at all. As the 2002 Economic Report of the President articulated, globalization continues to be enhanced by ever-falling costs and technical advancements in communication and transportation. Such developments are magnifying trade flows of merchandise and commodities and, more recently, services such as software, R&D, call services, and data processing. Springing from these developments in information technology and communication, global capital markets are deepening, which in turn further heightens trade in goods and services.

Regional economies, especially that of the Midwest, are being affected by globalization. Tradable goods such as manufacturing and agriculture products play a significant role in the upheavals of globalization. And so, Midwestern households and business would benefit from timely and appropriate adaptation to the globally induced upheavals taking place in industries, companies, and occupations in the region.

Since households continue to learn about globalization from the print media, The Global Chicago Center of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the Ford Foundation are fashioning a project called the Midwest Media Project. The project intends to assist journalists throughout the region to help put local interests in the broader context of global economic developments and events. In this way, Midwesterners can become more attuned to globalization, especially as it relates to the region.

At the first meeting of the project on January 10, researchers and policy leaders are being asked to present globalization topics and information to the attending journalists. In turn, several senior journalists will lead discussions on ways in which global events and trends can be linked to local stories in engaging ways.

I was asked to deliver the overview on the Midwest economy, highlighting the linkages between our region and the world economy. And when I stop to think of the linkages, there are many. For one, given our sharp manufacturing concentration, the Midwest economy is about on par with the nation in terms of exports, and our region’s exports to the world are large and growing. Not surprisingly, it is our “capital goods” that stand out as prominent exports—construction and farm machinery, medical equipment, engines, and electrical equipment. Automotive exports are also prominent, with most of them destined for nearby Canada rather than for far-away locales. As Thomas Klier, automotive expert here at the Chicago Fed has said, “the binational region’s auto industry knows no boundaries.” (Chicago Fed Letter on border conference) Close to 40% of the considerable U.S.–Canada merchandise trade crosses the border in Michigan through the Detroit–Windsor corridor or over the bridge at nearby Huron-Sarnia, much of it being automotive parts and finished vehicles.

Partly owing to this tight automotive production integration, Great Lakes exports to Canada represent 50.4% of the region’s exports versus only 18.2% for the overall U.S. If we were to deduct U.S. exports to Canada from both the Great Lakes region and the U.S., the pattern of export destination by country would be nearly identical for both the region and the overall U.S., with a slight tilt of Midwestern exports to Europe rather than toward Asia.

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Great Lakes: Economy and water

The Council of Great Lakes Governors convenes December 13, 2005, in Milwaukee. At that time, the governors will discuss progress on region-wide procedures to regulate, protect, and control diversions of the waters of the Great Lakes basin, the largest single body of surface water in the world. Such actions are laudable for their foresight in sustaining the health of the Lakes ecosystem. Interstate cooperation in fashioning public policy is difficult and rare. Inspired by such achievements in the environmental arena, should the region’s leaders aspire to broader cooperation to spur economic growth and development?

The Council of Great Lakes Governors, formed in 1983, is a non-partisan partnership of the eight states that border the Lakes—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—along with the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec. The council’s goals are both environmental and economic.

Next week’s agreements to address water diversions are but one of several initiatives that the governors are engaged in to improve the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. Through the Great Lakes Governors’ Priorities Initiative, the council has established a list of nine priorities to guide the restoration and protection of the largest single source of freshwater in the world, the Great Lakes. Most of these priorities are being addressed more broadly in the U.S. by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, which was created by executive order in 2004. The collaboration includes the EPA-led federal agency task force, the Great Lakes states, local communities, Native American tribes, non-governmental organizations and other interests in the Great Lakes region. The first goal of the Collaboration is to create a workable strategy to restore and protect the Great Lakes ecosystem. Past abuses of the Lakes include the introduction of invasive species, destruction of sensitive shoreline habitat, and the introduction of persistent toxins and pollutants. Today’s threats include increased demands for consumptive uses of Great Lakes water; pollutants from land, sea, and air; erosion of coastal habitat through onshore development; and imminent introduction of invasive species such as the Asian carp.

Should similar interstate cooperative efforts be marshalled for economic growth and development? Some limited efforts are being taken already. Through the Council of Great Lakes Governors, a group of five of the Great Lakes states maintain a non-competitive partnership in international trade initiatives. Five states share overseas trade offices that offer responsive and comprehensive services to small and medium sized companies seeking to expand product and service sales.

In addition, one might argue that proper stewardship of the watershed itself is highly important to the economy. Regionwide organizations such as the Great Lakes Commission address the use of the waters for maritime transportation and tourism-related activities. A Council of Great Lakes Industries tries to preserve the region’s industrial activity and balance the needs of industry with those of the environment.

The Lakes ecosystem is also important to what the region’s economy is becoming. Quality of life, especially human health and outdoor recreational amenities, are increasingly important in attracting the highly skilled and highly mobile knowledge workers of “the information economy.” As family income and educational attainment grow in the U.S., demands for environmental quality grow more than proportionately. Primary residences adjacent to scenery and open waters are in ever greater demand. More people are buying second and even third homes for vacation and retirement. A small but growing subset of households follows the seasons residence by residence suggesting that, over time, the Great Lakes attractiveness as a site of seasonal homes is likely to expand.

Still, as we stand at mid-decade, the Great Lakes economy appears to have lost some steam from ten years ago (chart and table below). At that time, the region was celebrating a return to prosperity from the tougher times of the 1980s (see Assessing the Midwest Economy project of Fed). Labor markets in the mid-1990s were tighter in the region than the nation, with concerns of work force shortages about to emerge.

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Driving Indiana’s and Michigan’s Economic Performance

The Midwest economy is lagging the U.S., but some states are doing better than others. These differences may help us understand the reasons for the region’s lagging economy.

Last week in Indiana, I presented some evidence that the entire region is growing more slowly than the nation. Payroll job growth in our Seventh Federal Reserve District is up only 0.6% for September from one year earlier, versus 1.6% in the nation. In some respects, this performance is not surprising since, nationally, manufacturing jobs are still declining (down 1% year over year through September), and the Midwest’s economy is steeped in manufacturing. In addition, the region’s economy is bogged down by the structural change taking place in the automotive industry. Foreign nameplates continue to gain market share from the domestic automakers (previous blog). Since the foreign nameplate companies and their parts suppliers tend to locate in the South, jobs and income are seeping away from the Midwest.

In this regard, comparing the performance between Indiana and Michigan is telling. Though both states rank among the top 3 nationally in manufacturing concentration, the unemployment rate in Michigan stands at 6.1% in Michigan (Oct.) versus 5.4% in Indiana. Year over year, manufacturing payroll job growth is virtually flat in Indiana, but down over 3% in Michigan.

Click to enlarge.

The economies of both states are automotive intensive, but Michigan to an even greater degree. Indiana’s automotive share dominates manufacturing inside the state, at 16%. But Michigan’s automotive sector accounts for 35% of its manufacturing employment. A weakening automotive sector, then, would be felt more sharply in Michigan.

On top this, the auto sector’s performance in Michigan has been worse. From 2001 to date, automotive jobs have fallen 24% in Michigan, compared to 8% in Indiana.

Indiana’s automotive performance is buffered by having a larger share of foreign auto parts and auto assembly plants than Michigan. According to senior economist Thomas Klier, 29% of automotive parts plants in Indiana are foreign owned, as are 2 of its 3 auto assembly plants.

Auto parts makers tend to locate close to their customers. In Indiana, the foreign-owned parts plants are more likely to supply parts to those automakers who are gaining market share—the foreign nameplates.

Michigan’s automakers are only 17% foreign owned; its only foreign owned assembly plant is the Mazda plant, versus its 15 domestic auto assembly plants.

If the current shifts in market share among automakers continue, it will be imperative for Michigan’s economy to attract investments from the successful auto suppliers and auto assembly companies.

Other performance differences between Indiana and Michigan are intriguing, though one cannot draw any hard conclusions. The chart below illustrates the population growth of the largest metropolitan areas in each state—Indianapolis and the Detroit MSA. Indianapolis’ population growth has exceeded the surrounding areas, and far exceeded that of the Detroit metro area.

Click to enlarge.

In searching for explanations, manufacturing concentration again comes to mind. As recently as 1969, only 26% of Indianapolis’ overall employment was manufacturing, versus Detroit’s 35%. Generally speaking, “factory towns” have had the roughest road in restructuring. As manufacturing employment shrinks, such cities must re-employ larger shares of their work force in new industries and activities. Otherwise, workers move from the area and create a different set of challenges to the town governments. That is, how to efficiently use and maintain their current roads and buildings for a less populous (and sometimes less wealthy) population.

Governance structures may also explain some of the challenges. Central city Detroit has been buffeted by job, population, and income flight, with concentrated poverty left in the wake. Detroit city leaders have been unable or unwilling to climb above the city’s fiscal problems to re-build its economy. To what extent has this failure come about because the central city was isolated from the rest of the metropolitan area (and state), and left to solve profound problems with its own (meager) resources?

Indianapolis and other cities have taken some modest steps in consolidating local governance to a closer fit with their metropolitan-wide economies. In the late 1960s, Indianapolis moved toward a “Unigov” structure. As Rick Mattoon discusses (working paper), the city’s boundary was expanded from 82 square miles to 402 square miles, with a legislative body responsible for governing the city. Though there remain many independent governments, taxing authorities, and school districts within the city, the consolidated city has six administrative departments below the mayor’s office.

Other Midwest cities with elements of regional governance include Minneapolis–St. Paul, which has a metropolitan sharing of property tax base. Columbus, Ohio, has not consolidated, yet its central city government has been aggressive in annexing land outward toward its interstate beltway. Both metropolitan economies have outgrown the broader Midwest.

Driving Indiana’s and Michigan’s Economic Performance

The Midwest economy is lagging the U.S., but some states are doing better than others. These differences may help us understand the reasons for the region’s lagging economy.

Last week in Indiana, I presented some evidence that the entire region is growing more slowly than the nation. Payroll job growth in our Seventh Federal Reserve District is up only 0.6% for September from one year earlier, versus 1.6% in the nation. In some respects, this performance is not surprising since, nationally, manufacturing jobs are still declining (down 1% year over year through September), and the Midwest’s economy is steeped in manufacturing. In addition, the region’s economy is bogged down by the structural change taking place in the automotive industry. Foreign nameplates continue to gain market share from the domestic automakers (previous blog). Since the foreign nameplate companies and their parts suppliers tend to locate in the South, jobs and income are seeping away from the Midwest.

In this regard, comparing the performance between Indiana and Michigan is telling. Though both states rank among the top 3 nationally in manufacturing concentration, the unemployment rate in Michigan stands at 6.1% in Michigan (Oct.) versus 5.4% in Indiana. Year over year, manufacturing payroll job growth is virtually flat in Indiana, but down over 3% in Michigan.

Click to enlarge.

The economies of both states are automotive intensive, but Michigan to an even greater degree. Indiana’s automotive share dominates manufacturing inside the state, at 16%. But Michigan’s automotive sector accounts for 35% of its manufacturing employment. A weakening automotive sector, then, would be felt more sharply in Michigan.

On top this, the auto sector’s performance in Michigan has been worse. From 2001 to date, automotive jobs have fallen 24% in Michigan, compared to 8% in Indiana.

Indiana’s automotive performance is buffered by having a larger share of foreign auto parts and auto assembly plants than Michigan. According to senior economist Thomas Klier, 29% of automotive parts plants in Indiana are foreign owned, as are 2 of its 3 auto assembly plants.

Auto parts makers tend to locate close to their customers. In Indiana, the foreign-owned parts plants are more likely to supply parts to those automakers who are gaining market share—the foreign nameplates.

Michigan’s automakers are only 17% foreign owned; its only foreign owned assembly plant is the Mazda plant, versus its 15 domestic auto assembly plants.

If the current shifts in market share among automakers continue, it will be imperative for Michigan’s economy to attract investments from the successful auto suppliers and auto assembly companies.

Other performance differences between Indiana and Michigan are intriguing, though one cannot draw any hard conclusions. The chart below illustrates the population growth of the largest metropolitan areas in each state—Indianapolis and the Detroit MSA. Indianapolis’ population growth has exceeded the surrounding areas, and far exceeded that of the Detroit metro area.

Click to enlarge.

In searching for explanations, manufacturing concentration again comes to mind. As recently as 1969, only 26% of Indianapolis’ overall employment was manufacturing, versus Detroit’s 35%. Generally speaking, “factory towns” have had the roughest road in restructuring. As manufacturing employment shrinks, such cities must re-employ larger shares of their work force in new industries and activities. Otherwise, workers move from the area and create a different set of challenges to the town governments. That is, how to efficiently use and maintain their current roads and buildings for a less populous (and sometimes less wealthy) population.

Governance structures may also explain some of the challenges. Central city Detroit has been buffeted by job, population, and income flight, with concentrated poverty left in the wake. Detroit city leaders have been unable or unwilling to climb above the city’s fiscal problems to re-build its economy. To what extent has this failure come about because the central city was isolated from the rest of the metropolitan area (and state), and left to solve profound problems with its own (meager) resources?

Indianapolis and other cities have taken some modest steps in consolidating local governance to a closer fit with their metropolitan-wide economies. In the late 1960s, Indianapolis moved toward a “Unigov” structure. As Rick Mattoon discusses (working paper), the city’s boundary was expanded from 82 square miles to 402 square miles, with a legislative body responsible for governing the city. Though there remain many independent governments, taxing authorities, and school districts within the city, the consolidated city has six administrative departments below the mayor’s office.

Other Midwest cities with elements of regional governance include Minneapolis–St. Paul, which has a metropolitan sharing of property tax base. Columbus, Ohio, has not consolidated, yet its central city government has been aggressive in annexing land outward toward its interstate beltway. Both metropolitan economies have outgrown the broader Midwest.

Can Higher Education Revive the Great Lakes Economy?

In the Midwest and elsewhere, state government financial support for higher education has been eroding. Public colleges and universities are increasingly being left to their own resources; this raises a number of issues for them and for the Midwest economy.

In a major conference held here this week, Chicago Fed President Michael H. Moskow summed up one dilemma. “….universities today are increasingly forced to rely on their own resources to make budgets balance. But this can restrict access, because schools must often dip into endowments and resort to aggressive tuition hikes to close the gap. If the school is concerned with maintaining academic quality, large tuition increases are often the best option, but in doing so access for (lower income) students may be limited. If on the other hand, the university limits tuition increases, it is often forced to economize and offer reduced services, which can jeopardize quality through large classes and the use of part-time faculty.” (link to speech)

However, if state universities had a free hand in shaping the tuition schedule and financial aid, higher tuition need not be borne by lower income families.

Many state universities charge tuition rates well below the cost of education provision. Meanwhile, the returns of the degree to the students are significant in terms of higher wages and salaries throughout their working life. And especially at state flagship universities, which are highly selective, a large share of students come from high-income families.

Mike McPherson, President of the Spencer Foundation, presented evidence on familial background of the available talent pool of highly selective schools, drawing from a recent book by William Bowen et al. Of children born in 1988 in families where neither parent attended college, only 0.9% went on to score 1200 or higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (the common admissions test for highly selective schools). This compares with 6.6% of children in families where at least one parent had attended college, and 14.6% from families in the top quartile of U.S. family income.

The point here is that many more families at state flagship colleges and universities could and would pay more for their education. Of course, unlike private colleges and universities, state flagships are often constrained in raising tuition because they must petition their state governing boards to do so, and such requests often fail to garner political support.

Perhaps that is why many representatives at the conference from public flagship schools instead pushed for a renewal of the “social compact” between public education and the public, in which public financial support would be restored and enhanced. To accomplish this, schools need to do a better job of explaining the many benefits that accrue to the general public from subsidizing the education of the few. For example, economists Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel have documented the societal benefits from public medical research in terms of reductions in mortality and morbidity. These benefits have been enormous in relation to public expenditures—and probably should be promoted (link).

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Chicago’s Exchanges Look to the Future

Last week, the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) became a publicly traded company. On the first day after offering its stock, its share price ended the day above $80, well above forecasts of a $45-50 value per share.

The CBOT development was one of many suggesting that the prospects of Chicago area’s futures exchanges have improved in recent years. But to what extent is the turnaround sustainable, and will this growth and success continue for one of Chicago’s hallmark industries?

Chicago’s importance as a financial center is defined by its exchanges and associated dealers and brokers. The Chicago exchanges can claim close to two-thirds of the volume of exchange-traded contracts in the U.S. A major assessment of the exchanges’ importance to the Chicago economy has not been conducted since 1997. (See Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago‘s Report by the Risk Management Center, “Study of Financial Markets & Financial Services in Chicago,” 1997.) That study reported that 150,000 Chicago-area jobs could be attributed to the exchanges, and $35 billion in funds were on deposit at local banks to support Chicago’s exchange products. Many other linkages to Chicago’s economy, such as the needs of large local companies to balance their financial risks and risk exchanges’ ties with other financial and legal services firms and universities, were articulated in that report.

Chicago’s exchanges had long dominated global trading activity in futures and derivatives. But throughout the 1990s, the Chicago exchange community lost global market share. The figure below shows the growth in volumes of futures and options contracts traded on exchanges from 1987 to 2004. Trading volume at U.S. exchanges languished in the mid-1990s, even while growing rapidly throughout the rest of the world.

Click to enlarge image

In the 1990s, competing exchanges in Europe and Asia made strong gains in market share. Electronic or computerized exchange facilitated overseas market locations partly by offering trading activity during hours when Chicago floor trading was not active. Ultimately, electronic trading also offered cost advantages for some existing products, while preserving important liquidity, clearing, and price-discovery properties as well. Overseas competitors adapted to and innovated electronic or computer-generated trading more successfully, and therefore captured markets that the Chicago exchanges might otherwise have claimed.

The Chicago exchanges also innovated and implemented systems of electronic trading, but their strong prior commitment to the open outcry or pit trading method of trading and price discovery perhaps impeded their success. So too, globalization of capital markets enhanced the demand for futures products overseas, along with a desire to trade around the clock. And so, electronic trading and the competitors who used it effectively were more successful in capturing growth in global demand.

But in recent years, Chicago’s two major exchanges, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the CBOT (CBOT), have rebounded strongly. Not only are contract volumes up markedly, but both exchanges have gained market share on their global competitors over the past two years. The CME reorganized from a mutual or member ownership structure to incorporation and public ownership, with an IPO in late 2002. Since that time, product and market expansion, enhanced services, and cost savings and price reductions on trades have boosted the CME’s market shares and sales. As of mid-October, the CME share price had increased ninefold since its IPO.

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Delphi and Midwest Auto Parts

Midwestern communities that host automotive plants are especially concerned at the recent bankruptcy actions of Delphi Corporation. Such concerns are not misplaced, since the geography and problems of Delphi’s operations are similar to those of some other automotive plants.

Delphi, the nation’s largest auto parts supplier, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 8. The bankruptcy covers only its U.S. plants; non-U.S. subsidiaries are not included. The company, which had 2004 revenues of $28.6 billion, is looking to the courts to allow it to cut costs by rewriting its contracts with its UAW-represented work force, closing plants, and restructuring its legacy-cost obligations for retirement and health care.

Delphi is a global company. It employs 185,000 people around the world. Of these, about 50,000 are employed in the U.S. Delphi makes a wide range of auto parts, including dashboards, air conditioning systems, electronics, and batteries.

Drawing from a variety of data sources, my colleague Thomas Klier and his research assistant, Cole Bolton, have put together a map of Delphi’s Midwest operations that displays current employment (figure 1). The Midwest is home to about 70% of Delphi’s U.S. employment. The two states with the highest concentration of Delphi employment are Michigan (just under 15,000) and Ohio (just over 13,000).

Figure 1 — click to see larger image

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How Much Are Headquarters Worth?

Earlier this month, Mittal Steel USA announced it will locate its headquarters in downtown Chicago rather than in Northwest Indiana. Mittal USA employs 21,000 workers in 14 states. The parent company, Mittal, headquartered in London, is the largest steel maker in the world.

Mittal’s U.S. headquarters will employ only about 200 people. Even so, the company will reportedly receive $7.5 million in tax credits from the State of Illinois for job training and infrastructure, and the City of Chicago will contribute $2 million toward equipment, furniture, and fixtures. At a cost (undiscounted) of $40,000-$50,000 per job in tax incentives, why are public officials so pleased to have the Mittal headquarters?

For one reason, the Chicago area economy, along with the rest of the Midwest, is lagging the nation in this first decade of the millenium. Moreover, an intense matter of pride and branding of Chicago’s economy is at stake. The Chicago area ranks second only to the New York metro area as a headquarters city (figure 1). And, as reported by Lyssa Jenkens, chief economist of the Greater Dallas Chamber, even Sun Belt cities that are gaining headquarters admire Chicago and New York(Chicago Fed Letter). Yet, although Chicago snagged a big prize with Boeing’s move from Seattle in 2000, the city has lost other headquarters in recent years, such as Ameritech, BankOne, Quaker Oats, and Amoco.

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Hurricane Impacts and Energy Prices

As the water recedes and the human toll accumulates in the hurricane-impacted Coastal regions, discussion has turned to the economic impact. Many areas and communities immediately surrounding the Gulf Coast are experiencing increased business and real estate activity as evacuees try to refocus their lives and homes, even as local governments and charitable organizations struggle mightily to lend assistance and resettle evacuees. Midwest economic activity will pick up in several ways during the coming months, but these will likely be outweighed by rising energy prices—-especially for natural gas, which is used to heat Midwest homes.

Hurricanes and other natural disasters are often accompanied by interruptions in economic activity and are followed by upswings and regional diversions in economic activity. Parts of the Midwest have felt the disruption through our ties to the Gulf Coast economy. Shipment delays and sharp price spikes for petroleum-based chemicals have slowed production for Midwest manufacturers of tires and furniture. Midwest grain shipments down the Mississippi were delayed and diverted by Hurricane Katrina, though they have now largely resumed or been diverted in other directions.

In other ways, the hurricane impacts are boosting Midwest economic activity. Some evacuees have taken refuge in Midwest communities, and now reside with relatives or in donated facilities. In response, government operations such as schools must bolster their payrolls. The added spending of the new families will be an infusion into Midwest income and spending streams.

As for “export” industries, mobile and trailer home construction in northern Indiana and other areas of the Midwest have been called into hot demand by FEMA. Emergency workers, evacuees, and homeowners who are in the process of rebuilding their properties must have housing—-at least temporarily. And the region’s manufacturers of earth-moving and construction equipment, such as Caterpillar, and makers of other rebuilding tools, such as electric equipment and generators, will experience some added sales. And of course, flood-damaged autos and homes will require such Midwest staples as motor vehicles and home appliances. Chicago also has gained several upcoming conventions dropped from the New Orleans calendar.

But rising natural gas prices loom large as the Midwest approaches the home-heating season, due to supply disruptions from the Gulf. Other cold-weather regions, such as New England, burn home heating oil. The Midwest enjoyed low home heating bills from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s when natural gas prices were very low and gas utilities were paying about $2 to $3 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas (mcf). But in recent years, natural gas prices have been rising because of higher demand for gas from electricity utilities and from its use as a substitute for petroleum.

In the regional newsletter of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, veteran energy economist Steve Brown investigates the relationship between petroleum prices and natural gas prices (Southwest Economy July/August 2005). Although the two fuels are no longer common substitutes in electric generation, Steve finds that the two fuel prices continue to move in tandem—-with two exceptions. Natural gas prices are higher in the winter, and they also depend on how much is stored during the summer for use in the winter. In the Midwest, natural gas is stored in the summer in underground aquifers, salt caverns, and abandoned gas wells. According to Brown, if 10 percent less gas is stored now than the average in the previous five years, natural gas price prices will go up 23 cents nationally.

What can cause these shortfalls in stored volumes? Winter cold snaps for one, whereby vendors drain their stored reserves to meet demand. Cold snaps contributed to price spikes during the winter of 2000-2001 and 2002-2003 when the spot price approached $10 and $12 per mcf. Abnormally hot weather during the summer can also contribute to a shortfall. The hot spell in the Midwest this past summer increased natural gas prices and slowed storage as some electric power generators fired up on natural gas to feed air conditioning units. And finally, of course, supply interruptions such as those from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita can slow the pace of storage. This is a particular problem for the Midwest since most of our natural gas supplies come from the Gulf Coast area.

How much will natural gas prices rise this winter as a result of the Gulf hurricanes? Not quite as much as current rises in spot market prices and contract prices for future delivery suggest. During the heating season, gas distributors blend new spot market purchases with the natural gas already purchased and stored or pre-contracted. Likewise, the delivered price to homes reflects a price blend of the stored gas, as well as gas purchased under long-term contract, with augmented or spot market purchases. A colder-than-normal winter, or low volumes of stored or pre-contracted gas, would tend to tilt the blend toward higher-priced spot market purchases, which could deliver a ruder heating bill shock to Midwest households.

The figure below shows that reported spot prices do follow the acquisition, or “city gate,” prices that gas distribution utilities pay for natural gas. This past summer, and intermittently since 2000, the measure of spot price was running roughly double that of the 1990s. Due to the current supply disruptions, the prices for delivery under futures prices on the NYMEX were running double that of this past summer at over $14 for December 2005 and January 2006 delivery, though falling in the years thereafter.

FIGURE 1

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