Holiday shopping season will have plenty of variables for Whatcom retailers


Black Friday Bellingham

Amber Heard, left, Sarah MacDonald and Debbie MacQueen, all of Abbotsford, B.C. cross Meridian Street after holiday shopping Thanksgiving night, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, at the Walmart store in Bellingham.


Although the economic data is pointing toward a stronger holiday shopping season, plenty of other factors are creating a bit of uncertainty.

At this point in the year Whatcom County retailers are making that crucial decision on how much inventory they need to order for November and December. By looking at the economic data to this point - an improving real estate market, a Canadian dollar that remains strong, a 6.5 percent unemployment rate, fewer bankruptcies - retailers could be bullish when placing orders.

However, other factors, including the federal government shutdown impacts, a shorter holiday shopping season and consumer confidence, could curtail sales this season.

The shorter shopping season will be an interesting one around here, depending on the weather. Black Friday - traditionally the kickoff to holiday shopping - starts on Nov. 29, much later than usual. That might make for a more intense four weeks, but the weather could throw a monkey wrench into retailers' plans. As many Whatcom County residents know, a strong winter storm that brings snow and freezing temperatures can shut down main roads for days, putting a damper on gift buying.

Taking all that in hand, it'll be interesting to see what local retailers do in terms of how much they will order this season.

Significant local business events that took place in August and early September:

• Home sales remained strong through the summer and into early fall, according to the data. Whatcom County real estate agents sold 718 homes from July through September, a 20.9 percent increase compare to the third quarter in 2012, according to a report from Lylene Johnson of The Muljat Group. That's the highest third quarter total since 2007.

• It was announced that Washington will continue to have the highest state minimum wage in the country. The Department of Labor and Industries will raise this state's minimum wage to $9.32 an hour on Jan. 1, 2014. That's a 13-cent increase compared to the current rate.

• Lithtex, a Bellingham commercial printing and mailing company, has purchased Premier Graphics from School Specialty, Inc. Lithtex is currently working on the details on how many Premier employees they will add and what to do with Premier's printing facility at 2000 Kentucky St.

Whatcom County quarterly retail sales

Q1 2013: $757.1 million

Q4 2012: $891.5 million

Q1 2012: $716.1 million

Quarterly change: down 15.1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 5.7 percent

Seven-year quarterly high: $891.5 million, fourth quarter, 2007

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

Whatcom County bankruptcies

August 2013: 48

July 2013: 46

August 2012: 53

Monthly change: up 4.3 percent

Year-over-year change: down 9.4 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 83, February 2010

Seven-year monthly low: 11, February 2006

Whatcom County new auto sales

August 2013: 341

July 2013: 406

August 2012: 364

Monthly change: down 16 percent

Year-over-year change: down 6.3 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 553, May 2006

Seven-year monthly low: 140, December 2008

Whatcom County residential sales

September 2013: 259

August 2013: 274

September 2012: 216

Monthly change: down 5.5 percent

Year-over-year change: up 19.9 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 398, August 2007

Seven-year monthly low: 104, February 2009

Unincorporated Whatcom County building permit values

August 2013: $17.2 million

July 2013: $12.8 million

August 2012: $11.1 million

Monthly change: up 34.4 percent

Year-over-year change: up 55 percent

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

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

Whatcom County foreclosures

September 2013: 27

August 2013: 68

September 2012: 55

Monthly change: down 60.3 percent

Year-over-year change: down 50.9 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 153, April 2009

Seven-year monthly low: 17, September 2007

Median price of homes sold in Whatcom County

September 2013: $269,000

August 2013: $253,400

September 2012: $239,944

Monthly change: up 6.1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 12.1 percent

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

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

Whatcom homes newly listed for sale

September 2013: 311

August 2013: 484

September 2013: 272

Monthly change: down 35.7 percent

Year-over-year change: up 14.3 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 707, May 2007

Seven-year monthly low: 131, December 2011

Bellingham airport traffic

July 2013: 56,992

June 2013: 52,884

July 2012: 55,407

Monthly change: up 7.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 2.9 percent.

Seven-year monthly high: 61,402, March 2013

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

Canadian dollar

End of September 2013: 97 cents

End of August 2013: 95 cents

End of September 2012: $1.02

Seven-year high: $1.07, November 2007

Seven-year low: 77 cents, March 2009

Southbound Canadian border crossings into Whatcom County

July 2013: 1,640,597

June 2013: 1,421,928

July 2012: 1,542,265

Monthly change: up 15.4 percent

Year-over-year change: up 6.4 percent

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

Seven-year monthly low: 645,792 October 2006

Bellingham building permit values

September 2013: $8.7 million

August 2013: $11.9 million

September 2012: $6.4 million

Monthly change: down 26.9 percent

Year-over-year change: up 35.9 percent

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

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

Ferndale building permit values

September 2013: $1.4 million

August 2013: $1.1 million

September 2012: $6.4 million

Monthly change: up 27.3 percent

Year-over-year change: down 78.1 percent

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

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

Whatcom County construction jobs

August 2013: 6,200

July 2013: 6,200

August 2012: 6,000

Monthly change: no change

Year-over-year change: up 3.3 percent

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

Seven-year monthly low: 4,900, January 2013

Whatcom County unemployment

Whatcom August 2013: 6.5 percent

Whatcom July 2013 (revised): 7.2 percent

Whatcom August 2012: 7.7 percent

State August 2013 (seasonably adjusted): 7 percent

Nation August 2013 (seasonably adjusted): 7.3 percent.

Seven-year monthly high: 10.4 percent, February 2010

Seven-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 Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or Read his Business Blog at or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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