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Economy

California’s Rental, Housing Markets Defy Expectations in the Age of Covid

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Rent Costs Decline Only Modestly and Home Prices Jump Across State’s Major Metros; Job Recovery Varies Significantly Between Regions

December 09, 2020 — California’s famously high-priced rental and homebuying markets have behaved in some surprising ways given the job and other economic losses suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year, with one exception, rents haven’t budged much, and home prices have climbed, and sometimes soared, in every single metro region of the state, according to a new analysis released today by Beacon Economics.

“The pandemic has underscored just how stubbornly imbalanced and unaffordable California’s housing and rental markets are,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics. “We’ve long suffered from a lack of adequate housing supply, but it’s quite amazing that demand has held firm and even grown given the unprecedented shock COVID-19 has delivered to the wider economy.”

For the most part, the places where rents have fallen have been high-priced and/or densely urban locations such as San Francisco, downtown San Diego, and tony neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the South Bay. Declines in these areas have largely been due to an exodus of renters who have left for less populated, less expensive suburban environments, according to the analysis.

“The effects of the pandemic are likely at work here as these trends appear to be related to both fear of the virus and perhaps more prominently, the major shift we’ve seen towards working from home, where you don’t need to be physically close to your place of employment,” said Osman. However, according to the analysis, the ‘demise’ of urban centers that has been suggested by many observers is highly exaggerated.

Major rental market findings by region include:

  • San Francisco Metro (SF and San Mateo Counties): Pandemic-related rent declines have been sharpest in this region with the average rent per unit falling 9.6% ($3270 to $2957) from September 2019 to September 2020. The largest declines were primarily in the most expensive neighborhoods with the Marina/Pacific Heights sustaining a 15.8% drop. Across the region, however, rental vacancies rose just 0.6%.
  • Los Angeles Metro (Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale MD): Rents in the Los Angeles metro have held fairly steady with average rent declining just 2.9% to $2073 per unit from September 2019 to September 2020. Like San Francisco, the largest decline came from one of the most expensive neighborhoods: Marina del Rey/Venice/Westchester with a 6.9% annualized decrease in average rent. Some LA neighborhoods sustained rent increases with the largest occurring in the Carson/San Pedro/East Torrance area (+3.3%).
  • San Diego Metro (San Diego County): The pandemic has had only a minimal effect on rental costs in San Diego County with average rent virtually unchanged from September 2019 to September 2020 ($1881 to $1867). In fact, more of San Diego’s neighborhoods have sustained rent increases than declines. The largest increase occurred in the Escondido/San Marcos submarket (+3%) and the largest decline was in the La Jolla/ University City submarket, a more expensive neighborhood (-6.1%).
  • South Bay (Santa Clara and San Benito Counties): The South Bay, the world’s leading tech economy and generally a very high-priced region, has experienced a pandemic-driven decline in rent but not at a level that might be expected. The region’s average rent decreased 5.1% from September 2019 to September 2020 ($2755 to $2614) with significant declines in Mountain View/Los Altos (10.2%) and Northeast San Jose (7%), but much smaller drops in most other neighborhoods.
  • East Bay (Alameda and Contra Costa Counties): Rent in the East Bay metro has not been significantly affected by the pandemic. Average rent in the region stands at $2294 per unit, a 3.1% drop from September 2019 to September 2020. Unlike other areas of the state, the largest rent declines in the East Bay have not come from the most expensive or centrally located neighborhoods. The Fremont/Newark/Union City submarket, which is one of the furthest from downtown San Francisco, sustained a 7.9% decline in rent while the North Alameda submarket, which includes Oakland and Berkeley, fell only 2.9%.  

Without exception, over the past year, home prices and home sales in every major metro in California have grown significantly, and in some cases dramatically:

  • San Francisco Metro: The median home price is up 8.1% and existing home sales have soared by an astounding 90.2%, suggesting pent up demand.
  • Los Angeles Metro: The median home price has climbed 12.7% and existing home sales have risen 16.4%.
  • San Diego Metro: The median home price has jumped 15.4% and existing home sales have surged 32.8%.
  • South Bay: The median home price has increased 14.5% and existing home sales have ballooned by 36%.
  • East Bay: The median home price in both counties in the East Bay have experienced a surge with Alameda County jumping 15.4% and Contra Costa County rocketing up 19.4%. Home sales have risen 32.2% in Alameda County and 35.2% in Contra Costa County.

The new analysis also finds that employment increased across all the state’s major metros in October 2020, the most recent data available, with each region adding back jobs lost during the course of the pandemic. The rate of recovery, however, varies significantly, ranging from modest in San Francisco to robust in Los Angeles. Employment in the Los Angeles metro now stands at 90.9% of the region’s pre-pandemic level.

The Inland Empire Business Journal (IEBJ) is the official business news publication of Southern California’s Inland Empire region - covering San Bernardino & Riverside Counties.

Economy

An Uneven Expansion and Bounce Back for California’s Creative Economy

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New Analysis Tracks Performance of State’s ‘Creative’ Industries Before, During, and After COVID, Revealing Longer-Term Direction

The economy that houses industries such as entertainment, media, fashion, and fine arts in California has weathered the pandemic and, as a whole, done better in its recovery from the COVID-driven recession than the overall economy, according a new analysis released today by the UCR School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development.

The study, Shock and Roll: California’s Creative Economy from 2015-2021, examines trends in the state’s creative industries prior to, during, and following the pandemic recession, finding that the Creative Economy has added a total of 70,064 jobs since 2015 and appears to be bouncing back to its 2019 pre-pandemic peak. Additionally, the Creative Economy workforce in California grew 8% over the study period, significantly faster than the overall workforce.

Even more impressive has been wage growth. On average, in California’s Creative Economy, per worker wages have increased a spectacular 40% since 2015. Wages among Creative Economy workers were already relatively high in 2015 at 1.8 times the average California worker wage, but by 2021, the average worker wage in the Creative Economy was 2.35 times higher. Indeed, Creative Economy wages started higher and accelerated during the pandemic, even outstripping today’s historic inflation.

“California is a global epicenter of the Creative Economy, and its industries are an engine of growth for the state and its workers,” said Dr. Patrick Adler, Research Manager at the Center for Economic Forecasting, and one of the report’s authors. “By looking at conditions and trends that were in progress before the pandemic as well as changes since, we’re able to put the COVID shock in proper context; our main finding is that the 2020 disruption did not throw the Creative Economy off its previous gains.”

The report’s topline analysis comes with a critical caveat: Many different sectors, producing widely different kinds of products, make up the Creative Economy – and the findings indicate that both longer-term performance, and the more recent recovery from the pandemic, varies considerably from sector to sector with some soaring and others declining.

The Media sector, which includes Digital Publishing, is the true stand out the sector that keyed Creative Economy growth in the 2015-2021 period. Media currently makes up 31.2% of all Creative Economy employment in the state and accounts for over half (53.3%) of all the Creative Economy wages paid. By themselves, Digital Publishing industries have added 125,885 jobs since 2015 and, counter to macro trends, added 12,216 jobs during the pandemic period alone.

The Architecture and Related Services sector is the only other major creative sector that had more jobs in 2021 than in 2015; all the others have lost employment since 2015. Unsurprisingly, Fine Arts and Performance was hit hardest by the pandemic, given health mandated restrictions on group activity, and Fashion stands out as the one sector that has been in almost steady employment decline since 2015.

California Creative Economy Employment Change by Major Subsector: 2015-2021

The analysis is part of the Center for Economic Forecasting’s ongoing research about California’s Creative Economy, its industry sectors, and workforce. Amid the angst of the pandemic and its economic effects, Adler and his fellow authors hope that providing clear diagnostics that reach back well before the COVID-19 crisis, as well as during and after, will inform long range economic and workforce development efforts within the creative industries. “There is an important, broader context that shows us certain industries were headed one way or another before the pandemic,” says Adler. “The state’s leaders ought to be thrilled with the long-term dynamism in Digital Publishing, and more concerned by declines in Entertainment and Creative Manufacturing.”

The report is accompanied by an online appendix containing a variety of graphs, figures, and maps that provide additional, drilled-down detail.

The complete analysis is available here. The appendix is available here. 

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Economy

Job Recovery in California’s Major Metros Still Lags Other Areas; Transition from Recovery to Expansion Expected by Early 2023

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Collapsing Inventories Will Keep Upward Pressure on Home Prices in State’s Notoriously Expensive Urban Housing Markets

California’s major metropolitan regions have continued to recover the jobs lost during the pandemic-driven recession although, with one exception, they are still lagging the state and nation. A new analysis released today by Beacon Economics spotlights steady job gains in five of the state’s largest metros but also illustrates the ground that these urban cores need to make up to reach pre-pandemic levels of employment.

From best performing to worst, San Diego County payrolls now stand 2.2% below their pre-recession peak, the South Bay/Silicon Valley comes in 3% below, Los Angeles 3.8%, the East Bay/Oakland 4%, and San Francisco 4.7% below peak. All of the metros except San Diego are trailing California’s statewide jobs recovery, now 2.8% below peak, and all are trailing the nation as a whole where payrolls are 1.8% lower than they were prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

“With health-mandated restrictions pretty much lifted, and with relatively high vaccination rates in the state, the major headwinds to employment growth have largely faded and we expect each of these major urban centers to reach or surpass pre-pandemic job levels by early 2023,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics and one of the report authors.

The analysis also examines the red-hot housing markets in California’s large metros, forecasting that home prices will continue rising in the near-term future even though high demand throughout the pandemic has essentially collapsed already tight housing inventories. “A lack of housing supply was a real dilemma in California long before COVID, but the changes the pandemic brought about in terms of wealth, work routines, and consumer preferences has intensified the problem,” said Osman.

According to the analysis, increasing mortgage interest rates, as well as limits on affordability, will cool price growth from the historic double-digit surges that have been occurring in the state’s major metros over the past several years, but none of the five areas studied will see price declines any time soon.

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Business

Excessive Stimulus ‘Dangerously’ Overheating the U.S. Economy; Near Term Forecast Still Strong But Long Run Instabilities Loom

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Home Price Surge Intensifying California’s Workforce Shortage

The 3rd quarter’s real U.S. GDP growth rate disappointed many observers and set off calls to continue various Federal government stimulus programs, or at least slow their reduction. However, a well-regarded economic forecast argues that there is nothing intrinsically worrisome about the 2.1% GDP growth rate (in the nine years leading up to the pandemic, the U.S. economy grew at this same pace or slower for 16 out of 36 quarters) and that over stimulus is now the real threat to the economy.

According to Beacon Economics latest outlook for the United States and California, the U.S. economy has recovered from the pandemic recession, which ‘officially’ ended in May 2020 (peak to trough), and is now becoming dangerously overheated as a result of excessive stimulus – triggering today’s hyperinflation, labor shortages, and severe supply chain disruptions.

“In a normal year, this rate would be applauded as a solid growth trend, but because job numbers and real economic output are still lower than they would have been had the pandemic not happened, we’re hitting the panic button,” said Christopher Thornberg, Founding Partner of Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “Numerous metrics combine to constitute an economic recovery and so many are currently at red hot growth levels that continuing to pump stimulus into the economy in an effort to chase down raw job counts and domestic output will do more harm than good.”

According to the new analysis, job and output numbers are not the sole, and sometimes not even the most important, metrics in terms of economic recovery after a recession. The outlook points to a host of key indicators that are overheated or flourishing including consumer spending, government spending on public services, business investment, real estate markets, personal wealth and earnings… and job opportunities. While there are 4 million fewer payroll jobs in the United States today (2.6% less than pre-pandemic), there are 10 million job openings – a result of record high retirements and quitting. The nation’s unemployment rate has also fallen to 4.2%, just 0.7 percentage points higher than its pre-pandemic low, which was itself one of the lowest in U.S. history.

“The real problem in today’s jobs market is the 3-million-person decrease that has hit the U.S. labor force; it isn’t normal,” said Thornberg. “We’ve been facing a looming labor shortage for years, driven by basic demographics, but the excessive stimulus has hastened the process and we need to step off the accelerator.”

Many parts of California’s economy have also returned to pre-pandemic levels, but like the nation, the state is challenged by a diminished labor force which has led to a severe shortage of workers. According to the outlook, California’s labor force has 414,700 fewer workers than it did pre-pandemic.

“The state’s shrunken workforce has emerged as the biggest constraint on future employment expansion,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “Although Governor Newsom has just reinstated a statewide indoor mask mandate, restrictions on business activity have been removed for months and are not the main driver of California’s labor market issues – worker supply is.”

There are still 5% (900,000) fewer jobs in California than there were prior to the pandemic, compared to 2.8% fewer jobs nationally. In some other states, the number of jobs has exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

The underlying issue that is most exacerbating California’s struggle to attract and retain the workforce it needs, is the price of housing. In the third quarter of 2021, California’s median home price surged to $651,383, compared to the national median of $404,700. “That kind of price disparity is bound to have a major impact on where workers choose to live, most especially lower-income workers who are impossibly strained in California’s housing environment,” said Osman. The new outlook is forecasting home prices in the state to steadily climb throughout 2022.

Overall, the near-term economic forecast in both the United States and California boils down to a strong run over the next couple of years (with labor supply being the biggest constraint), but with long-term storm clouds on the horizon. U.S. GDP is forecast to grow by 5.3% in the 4th quarter, falling to a more sustainable 3.7% in the 1st quarter of 2022.

View The Beacon Outlook here.

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