Market Report: Retail a key driver to November economic activity in Whatcom County

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 4, 2011 

This is the time of year when retail plays a key part of the local economy, and it appears to be off to a good start.

Several Whatcom County retailers reported strong sales activity pre-Black Friday as well as the days following the shopping event. As for Black Friday itself, the increase in midnight openings may have been a factor in bigger crowds this year.

The arrival of the holiday shopping season typically means a slowdown in business openings and closings locally; that activity tends to pick up again in January.

The economic data continues to point toward a slow, steady economic recovery. The local unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in a year, while bankruptcy filings and foreclosures are at lower levels than earlier in the year. Car sales and Bellingham building permits rose significantly in October, according to the latest data.

Other significant business events that took place in November:

• While home values continue to depreciate across Washington, Whatcom County values are dropping at a slower rate, according to a new federal report. The Federal Housing Finance Agency estimates that home values in the third quarter declined 4.7 percent in the Bellingham metro area compared to a year earlier. In the past five years, Whatcom's home price index has declined 10.8 percent.

• Despite a cold, slow start in spring 2011, Whatcom raspberry farmers were able to put together the largest local berry harvests ever. In summer 2011, local raspberry farmers harvested 66.3 million pounds of raspberries, a 22 percent increase compared to 2010 and the highest yield ever locally, according to the Washington Red Raspberry Commission.

• The Market at Fairhaven grocery store began a closing liquidation sale last month after the company couldn't reach terms for the location's lease renewal.

• BP Cherry Point announced it would hire 60 to 80 people as part of a restructuring move for the oil company. The new jobs are a wide range of support positions, including marketing and finance, and are a result of BP's anticipated sale of its Los Angeles refinery and Texas City refineries.

• National clothing retailer Marshalls opened a Bellingham store in Meridian Village on Nov. 17.

• A total of 50 employees are being cut from PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in an effort to reduce operating costs.

BY THE NUMBERS

Whatcom County quarterly retail sales

Q2 2011: $742.6 million

Q1 2011: $657.7 million

Q2 2010: $716 million

Quarterly change: up 12.9 percent

Year-over-year change: up 3.7 percent

Five-year quarterly high: $873.4 million, fourth quarter 2007

Five-year quarterly low: $624.4 million, first quarter 2009

Whatcom County bankruptcies

October 2011: 62

September 2011: 54

October 2010: 74

Monthly change: up 14.8 percent

Year-over-year change: down 16.2 percent

Five-year monthly high: 83, February 2010

Five-year monthly low: 11, February 2006

Whatcom County auto sales

October 2011: 299

September 2011: 214

October 2010: 281

Monthly change: up 39.7 percent

Year-over-year change: up 6.4 percent

Five-year monthly high: 553, May 2006

Five-year monthly low: 140, December 2008

Whatcom County residential sales

October 2011: 177

September 2011: 209

October 2010: 182

Monthly change: down 15.3 percent

Year-over-year change: down 2.7 percent

Five-year monthly high: 398, August 2007

Five-year monthly low: 104, February 2009

Unincorporated Whatcom County building permit values

October 2011: $7 million

September 2011: $7.3 million

October 2010: $6.6 million

Monthly change: down 4.1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 6.1 percent

Three-year monthly high: $65.3 million, July 2011

Three-year monthly low: $3.1 million, January 2010

Whatcom County foreclosures

October 2011: 66

September 2011: 82

October 2010: 112

Monthly change: down 19.5 percent

Year-over-year change: down 41.1 percent

Five-year monthly high: 153, April 2009

Five-year monthly low: 17, September 2007

Median price of homes sold in Whatcom County

October 2011: $235,000

September 2011: $225,000

October 2010: $244,500

Monthly change: up 4.4 percent

Year-over-year change: down 3.9 percent

Five-year monthly high: $280,450, May 2007

Five-year monthly low: $224,900, March 2009

Whatcom homes newly listed for sale

October 2011: 271

September 2011: 308

October 2010: 249

Monthly change: down 12 percent

Year-over-year change: up 8.8 percent

Five-year monthly high: 707, May 2007

Five-year monthly low: 170, December 2010

Bellingham airport traffic

October 2011: 43,943

September 2011: 40,512

October 2010: 38,702

Monthly change: up 8.5 percent

Year-over-year change: up 13.5 percent.

Five-year monthly high: 51,421, July 2011

Five-year monthly low: 12,597, September 2010

Canadian dollar

End of November 2011: 98 cents

End of October 2011: $1.01

End of November 2010: 97 cents

Five-year high: $1.07, November 2007

Five-year low: 77 cents, March 2009

Southbound Canadian border crossings into Whatcom County

September 2011: 1,250,971

August 2011: 1,540,776

September 2010: 1,121,705

Monthly change: down 18.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 11.5 percent

Five-year monthly high: 1,540,776 August 2011

Five-year monthly low: 645,792 October 2006

Bellingham building permit values

October 2011: $10.8 million

September 2011: $4.8 million

October 2010: $12.5 million

Monthly change: up 125 percent

Year-over-year change: down 13.6 percent

Five-year monthly high: $47.3 million, December 2009

Five-year monthly low: $1.1 million, November 2008

Ferndale building permit values

October 2011: $1.4 million

September 2011: $1.9 million

October 2010: $1.9 million

Monthly change: down 26.3 percent

Year-over-year change: down 26.3 percent

Four-year monthly high: $12.9 million, July 2007

Four-year monthly low: $0.2 million, January 2009

Whatcom County construction jobs

October 2011: 5,900

September 2011 (revised): 5,800

October 2010: 5,900

Monthly change: up 1.7 percent

Year-over-year change: no change

Five-year monthly high: 8,600, September 2006

Five-year monthly low: 5,000, December 2010

Whatcom County unemployment

Whatcom October 2011: 7.6 percent

Whatcom September 2011 (revised): 7.9 percent

Whatcom October 2010: 7.6 percent

State October 2011 (not seasonably adjusted): 8.3 percent

Nation October 2011 (not seasonably adjusted): 8.5 percent

Five-year monthly high: 10.4 percent, February 2010

Five-year monthly low: 3.7 percent, October 2007

SOURCES: Washington State Department of Revenue; U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Washington; Cross-Sell; Washington State Department of Licensing; Northwest Multiple Listing Service; Whatcom County Planning and Development Services; Bank of Canada; Port of Bellingham; RealtyTrac; Center For Economics and Business Research, Western Washington University; City of Bellingham; Washington State Employment Security Department.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.

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