Market Report: A quiet start to 2013 in terms of business closures


This year is off to a quiet start for Whatcom County in terms of retail news, which can be considered a good thing.

January and February are typically when major retailers announce store closures. It's a strategically convenient time because it is after the holiday shopping season and, typically, when property leases are expiring.

Aside from the Sears at Bellis Fair, which was announced last fall and officially closed Sunday, Jan. 27, there hasn't been a major retail store closure in Whatcom County in the first few weeks of 2013. With the Sears closure, remodeling work is expected to begin soon as Sports Authority prepares to move into that spot later this year.

Once past the start-of-the-year, business-closure announcements, the next step is usually a mini start-up phase. That's when retailers announce plans to open locally, trying to be open before summer (if it has a tourism focus) or to be established before back-to-school and holiday events begin.

A trend that has carried over from the second half of 2012 is the acquisition of distressed property in the Blaine and Birch Bay area.

The most recent was the purchase of the Horizon at Semiahmoo property. Once envisioned as a 650-home subdivision, it was sold by Union Bank to North American CC Chang Jiang Investment LLP for $5.88 million. Mike Kent of Windermere Real Estate estimates that more than 1,200 acres of commercial and residential property has been sold in the past 15 months within a five-mile radius of the Horizon project for more than $35 million. The properties include the Marin condominiums, Birch Bay Waterslides, Sea Links Golf Course and Birch Bay Square. Many of the projects were purchased by Canadian investors.

Summary of year-end local economic data:

Last year, real estate agents sold 2,077 single-family homes in Whatcom County, up 12.8 percent in the past year and the highest annual total since 2007, according to a new report from Lylene Johnson, a real estate agent at Muljat Group.

Prices for homes sold in 2012 also rose, according to the report. In Whatcom County, the median price was $250,000, up 3.2 percent compared to 2011.

... In 2012, a total of 570,577 people used the Bellingham airport to fly to other destinations, an 11.5 percent increase over 2011, according to airline data collected by the Port of Bellingham.

... Last year, 620 Whatcom County bankruptcies were filed, according to data from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Western District in Seattle. That's down 16.6 percent from the previous year and is the lowest annual total since 2008. The peak year during this economic downturn came in 2010, when 808 local bankruptcies were filed.

... RealtyTrac, an online database of foreclosure properties, reports that 546 foreclosure filings were sent out to Whatcom County households in 2012, down from 559 in 2011. Nearly half of those 2012 filings - 242 - came during the last three months of the year.

... Last year, Whatcom County car dealers sold 3,657 new cars, a 16.5 percent increase compared to 2011, according to the Dominion Cross-Sell Report, which relies on data from the Washington State Department of Licensing.

... A total of 15.4 million people crossed the border southbound into Whatcom County in 2012, an 8.5 percent increase over 2011. It's the highest annual total since 1997, when 18.3 million came into Whatcom County, according to data collected by Western Washington University's Center for Economics and Business Research.


Whatcom County quarterly retail sales

Q3 2012: $860.9 million

Q2 2012: $792.1 million

Q3 2011: $797.7 million

Quarterly change: up 8.7 percent

Year-over-year change: up 7.9 percent

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

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

Whatcom County bankruptcies

December 2012: 43

November 2012: 38

December 2011: 54

Monthly change: up 13.2 percent

Year-over-year change: down 20.4 percent

Six -year monthly high: 83, February 2010

Six -year monthly low: 11, February 2006

Whatcom County auto sales

December 2012: 276

November 2012: 265

December 2011: 314

Monthly change: up 4.2 percent

Year-over-year change: down 12.1 percent

Six-year monthly high: 553, May 2006

Six-year monthly low: 140, December 2008

Whatcom County residential sales

January 2013: 142

December 2012: 197

January 2012: 118

Monthly change: down 27.9 percent

Year-over-year change: up 20.3 percent

Six -year monthly high: 398, August 2007

Six-year monthly low: 104, February 2009

Unincorporated Whatcom County building permit values

December 2012: $3.7 million

November 2012: $3.6 million

December 2011: $2.9 million

Monthly change: up 2.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 27.6 percent

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

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

Whatcom County foreclosures

December 2012: 79

November 2012: 91

December 2011: 24

Monthly change: down 13.2 percent

Year-over-year change: up 229.2 percent

Six -year monthly high: 153, April 2009

Six-year monthly low: 17, September 2007

Median price of homes sold in Whatcom County

January 2013: $235,000

December 2012: $255,000

January 2012: $220,500

Monthly change: down 7.8 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

January 2013: 288

December 2012: 160

January 2012: 241

Monthly change: up 80 percent

Year-over-year change: up 19.5 percent

Six-year monthly high: 707, May 2007

Six-year monthly low: 131, December 2011

Bellingham airport traffic

December 2012: 48,486

November 2012: 45,811

December 2011: 42,256

Monthly change: up 5.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 14.7 percent.

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

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

Canadian dollar

End of January 2013: $1

End of December 2012: $1.01

End of January 2012: $1

Six-year high: $1.07, November 2007

Six-year low: 77 cents, March 2009

Southbound Canadian border crossings into Whatcom County

December 2012: 1,290,481

November 2012: 1,175,351

December 2011: 1,228,747

Monthly change: up 9.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 5 percent

Five-year monthly high: 1,676,071 August 2012

Five-year monthly low: 645,792 October 2006

Bellingham building permit values

December 2012: $4.6 million

November 2012: $4.7 million

December 2011: $9.5 million

Monthly change: down 2.1 percent

Year-over-year change: down 51.6 percent

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

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

Ferndale building permit values

January 2013: $2.5 million

December 2012: $2.5 million

January 2012: $0.6 million

Monthly change: no change

Year-over-year change: up 317 percent

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

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

Whatcom County construction jobs

December 2012: 6,200

November 2012: 6,300

December 2011: 5,400

Monthly change: down 1.6 percent

Year-over-year change: up 10.5 percent

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

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

Whatcom County unemployment

Whatcom December 2012: 6.9 percent

Whatcom November 2012: 6.5 percent

Whatcom December 2011: 7.9 percent

State December 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 7.6 percent

Nation December 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 7.8 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.

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

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