Market Report: Whatcom economy expected to pick up in final months of 2012


It's final push time for local retailers.

The fourth quarter is typically the busiest three months for Whatcom County store owners; it's also a time when local companies are working to meet year-end goals.

While there appear to be concerns about British Columbia's real estate market slowing down, other economic data indicates Whatcom County retailers will once again see plenty of Canadian shoppers this season. The Canadian dollar continues to hover above parity compared to the U.S. dollar and the province continues to experience job growth.

As for Whatcom County shoppers, it'll be interesting to see what mood they are in. Many local economic indicators show some positive signs: The Whatcom unemployment rate is below the state and national average, building permits have ticked up in several communities and bankruptcies continue to decline. There are still plenty of problems, however, including rising home foreclosure numbers and some significant business closures.

In the past, local retailers have said one typical trend they've noticed is customers putting off some shopping until after the presidential election. With this year's election expected to be a close contest, that uncertainty could remain in play for a few more weeks. After the election is typically the time when national retailers really start pushing holiday sales and highlighting the hot new products for the season.

Other significant events that took place in September/October:

• After many months of negotiations, Alcoa has announced a 10-year electric power supply deal with the Bonneville Power Administration that should help maintain 625 jobs at the Alcoa Intalco Works smelter west of Ferndale. The company said it expects the deal to be finalized in early December.

• Leaders of the Lummi Nation came out against the coal train export terminal project at Cherry Point. Also, public comments are now being accepted on what should be on the Environmental Impact Statement.

• Mt. Baker Harley-Davidson announced it was closing its Bellingham store at the end of October.

• Big 5 Sporting Goods opens a second store in the retail center near Walmart on Meridian.

• The new 16-screen Barkley movie theater project is nearing completion; it is scheduled to open in early December.

• The total number of manufacturing jobs in Whatcom County hit 9,000 in August, the highest monthly total since 2008.

• A federal report indicates wages were up 6.6 percent in Whatcom County in the first quarter of 2012 compared to a year earlier. Average weekly wage in Whatcom was $796.

• Residential real estate sales were up 16 percent in the months of June, July and August compared to the same period as last year.


Whatcom County quarterly retail sales

Q2 2012: $792.1 million

Q1 2012: $716.1 million

Q2 2011: $742.9 million

Quarterly change: up 10.6 percent

Year-over-year change: up 6.7 percent

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

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

Whatcom County bankruptcies

August 2012: 53

July 2012: 47

August 2011: 61

Monthly change: up 12.8 percent

Year-over-year change: down 13.1 percent

Six -year monthly high: 83, February 2010

Six -year monthly low: 11, February 2006

Whatcom County auto sales

August 2012: 364

July 2012: 263

August 2011: 198

Monthly change: up 38.4 percent

Year-over-year change: up 83.8 percent

Six-year monthly high: 553, May 2006

Six-year monthly low: 140, December 2008

Whatcom County residential sales

September 2012: 216

August 2012: 262

September 2011: 209

Monthly change: down 17.6 percent

Year-over-year change: up 3.3 percent

Six -year monthly high: 398, August 2007

Six-year monthly low: 104, February 2009

Unincorporated Whatcom County building permit values

September 2012: $17.2 million

August 2012: $11.1 million

September 2011: $7.3 million

Monthly change: up 35.5 percent

Year-over-year change: up 135.6 percent

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

Five-year monthly low: $2.6 million, January 2012

Whatcom County foreclosures

September 2012: 55

August 2012: 50

September 2011: 82

Monthly change: up 10 percent

Year-over-year change: down 33 percent

Six -year monthly high: 153, April 2009

Six-year monthly low: 17, September 2007

Median price of homes sold in Whatcom County

September 2012: $239,944

August 2012: $237,250

September 2011: $225,000

Monthly change: up 1.1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 6.6 percent

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

Six-year monthly low: $208,000, November 2011

Whatcom homes newly listed for sale

September 2012: 272

August 2012: 414

September 2011: 308

Monthly change: down 34.3 percent

Year-over-year change: down 11.7 percent

Six-year monthly high: 707, May 2007

Six-year monthly low: 131, December 2011

Bellingham airport traffic

August 2012: 53,724

July 2012: 55,407

August 2011: 48,204

Monthly change: down 3 percent

Year-over-year change: up 11.5 percent.

Six-year monthly high: 55,407, July 2012

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

Canadian dollar

End of September 2012: $1.02

End of August 2012: $1.01

End of September 2011: 96 cents

Six-year high: $1.07, November 2007

Six-year low: 77 cents, March 2009

Southbound Canadian border crossings into Whatcom County

June 2012: 1,326,464

May 2012: 1,317,092

June 2011: 1,180,623

Monthly change: up less than 1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 12.4 percent

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

Five-year monthly low: 645,792 October 2006

Bellingham building permit values

September 2012: $6.4 million

August 2012: $4.3 million

September 2012: $4.8 million

Monthly change: up 48.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 33.3 percent

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

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

Ferndale building permit values

September 2012: $6.5 million

August 2012: $2.2 million

September 2011: $1.9 million

Monthly change: up 195.4 percent

Year-over-year change: up 242.1 percent

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

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

Whatcom County construction jobs

August 2012: 6,500

July 2012: 6,400

August 2011: 5,900

Monthly change: up 1.6 percent

Year-over-year change: up 10.2 percent

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

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

Whatcom County unemployment

Whatcom August 2012: 7.7 percent

Whatcom July 2012: 7.4 percent (revised)

Whatcom August 2012: 8.3 percent

State August 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 8.6 percent

Nation August 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 8.1 percent.

Six-year monthly high: 10.4 percent, February 2010

Six-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.

Market Report runs each month.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at or get updates on Twitter at

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