G-Fin™ Jobless Rates Up in West Virginia

The Gilmer Free Press

Unemployment rates increased in all of West Virginia’s 55 counties in February.

The West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment increased two-tenths of a point to 7.6%.

The U.S. unemployment rate was down to 5.5% in February from 5.7% in January.

The February 2014 unemployment rate for West Virginia was 8.1%.

Calhoun County had the highest non-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate at 14.8%, followed by McDowell County at 14.4%.

Jefferson County, in the state’s Eastern Panhandle, had the lowest unemployment rate at 5%, followed by Monongalia at 5.1%.

Employment in goods-producing industries was down from 105,200 workers in January to 103,600 workers.


The Gilmer Free Press

CHARLESTON, WV - Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has signed House Bill 2016, the budget bill for Fiscal Year 2016, with targeted cuts.

In January, Governor Tomblin presented the Legislature with a responsible, balanced budget that took into account the tough budget year.

“As a longtime legislator and former Finance Committee chairman, I respect the hard work legislators put into the budget and the difficult choices they face when choosing how to allocate state dollars to best serve all West Virginians,“ Governor Tomblin said. “West Virginia has a reputation of being one of the most fiscally responsible states in the country. We’ve worked hard to earn that distinction, and I remain committed to finding ways to reduce government expenditures and minimize use of the Rainy Day Fund.“

Governor Tomblin adjusted 46 line items representing a total of nearly $11 million from the FY 2016 budget, which includes a $14.8 million withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund.

“Our six-year projections show we will again have surpluses in the coming years,“ Governor Tomblin said. “That additional revenue, which will become available as we pay off long-term liabilities such as the old workers’ compensation fund debt, can be used to provide extra funding in several critical areas. But those funding increases cannot occur if we increase the baseline budget in 2016. I am committed to maintaining fiscally responsible policies now and into the future.“

The total general revenue budget for FY 2016 is $4.296 billion.

To read the budget letter in its entirety, Click H E R E.

U.S. Home Sales Rebound Slightly in February

The Gilmer Free Press

WASHINGTON — Slightly more Americans bought homes in February, but tight inventories, affordability problems and nasty winter weather point to sluggish sales in the coming few months.

Sales of existing homes rose 1.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million, a slight rebound after plunging in January yet still underperforming by historical standards, the National Association of Realtors said Monday.

The real estate market has hibernated through the first two months of 2015, creating the potential for a second straight year of weak buying activity.

Strong job growth and relatively low mortgage rates have failed to awaken buyers. Meanwhile, relatively few homes are being listed for sale and builders are mostly catering to the wealthiest slivers of the market. Sales are running below last year’s pace of 4.93 million, which represented a 3.1% drop from 2013.

Despite February’s uptick, buying activity appears to have been slow coming into March because of a series of harsh winter storms.

The weather last month shut down construction and hurt open houses, likely causing fewer signed contracts and put additional downward pressure on completed sales in March.

Housing starts plunged 17% in February, the Commerce Department reported last week. Buyer traffic also slipped last month, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index. Mortgage applications slipped in March, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Sales tumbled 6.5% last month in the Northeast, which was hammered hard by snow, the Realtors said. Home-buying was unchanged in the Midwest and increased in the South and West.

The recent storms have led several economists to expect a strong recovery in the coming spring months, when more buyers usually step up their search and sellers decide to list their properties.

Still, some homeowners are trapped by mortgage debt, making it unprofitable for them to sell. Their negative equity is a lingering aftershock from the recession and housing bust, limiting the supply of available homes on the market.

The real estate data firm Zillow reported last week that 16.9% of homeowners owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth. In several metro areas including Philadelphia, Houston and Boston, that rate actually increased from the levels in the third quarter of 2014.

The Realtors reported Monday that just 4.6 months of supply was listed for sale, compared to a full five months a year ago.

That meager inventory has helped push up sales prices, creating additional affordability pressures despite strong monthly job gains averaging more than 200,000 for the past year.

Median home prices increased 7.5% over the past 12 months to $202,600, almost quadruple the pace of average hourly wage gains.

Sales to investors and for all-cash have also declined over the past year, while first-time buyers have yet to return. First-timers accounted for only 29% of home sales, compared to a historical average of 40%.

Nor have buyers responded much to the comparatively low mortgage rates.

Average 30-year fixed rates were 3.78% last week, according to the mortgage giant Freddie Mac. That average has plunged from a 52-week high of 4.41%, which should help to make housing more affordable.

Because of tight credit, few potential buyers have been able to take advantage of the low rates.

An Urban Institute index measuring credit availability found that lenders are taking fewer risks with mortgages, choosing buyers with high credit scores and providing them routine mortgages, rather than the exotic and opaque loans that inflated the housing bubble and led to the financial crisis.

The restricted credit “has been, and threatens to continue to be, a headwind for the housing recovery,” said Michelle Meyer, a senior economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in a client note.

G-Fin™: FAA Approves Wrong Amazon Drone; Dow Drops 100 Points on Strong Data

The Gilmer Free Press

U.S. Markets closed in the red Tuesday after giving up small gains in midday trading.

The Dow Jones Industrial dropped 100 points as investors weighed stronger-than-expected economic reports and a slight rebound in the U.S. dollar.

Crude oil settled slightly higher, gaining $0.06 at $47.51 a barrel.

Despite the modest rise in oil prices, Chevron (CVX) was still the worst performing blue chip in the session.

But Chesapeake Energy (CHK) managed to gain on activist investor Carl Icahn adding his stake in the company to nearly 11% from around 10%.

Twitter (TWTR) shares soared more than 6% on heavy volume.

The social micro-blogging site is testing video feeds that play automatically.

Amazon (AMZN) says the FAA approved the wrong drone last week to test-fly in the U.S.

The e-commerce giant argued the government is too slow when it finally gave permission to a delivery aircraft that was already obsolete.

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