Monday, August 29, 2016

Gross Domestic Product - 2016 First Quarter

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) releases an estimate of gross domestic product (the output of all goods and services) by individual states. For the first quarter (Q1) of 2016, the figures signaled bad news for WV - the annualized (scaled to one year) rate of growth was -2.5%. The economic output contracted from the final quarter of 2015. WV was the only state in Appalachia to suffer negative growth over the first three months of the year, although Kentucky featured a very low 0.4% growth rate that is basically stagnate. Other Midwest states featured negative GDP growth over the same period with Wyoming (-4.9%) and North Dakota (-11.4%) being the hardest hit. The dependence on mining natural resources is the common denominator in states with negative growth. As the BEA notes, "Mining declined 11.1 percent for the nation in the first quarter. The industry subtracted 1.82 percentage points from real GDP growth in Wyoming...and more than 2.0 percentage points from Alaska, North Dakota, and West Virginia, which declined 1.0 percent, 11.4 percent, and 2.8 percent, respectively."
A decline in the mining industry shrunk GDP in WV by more than 2.0% and the total decline for Q1 was 2.5%. Basically, the state's output shrank by the same amount that mining output declined. As bad as that sounds, North Dakota shows a bleaker boom-bust picture. The low price of oil over the last 18 months (at or below $60/barrel) has decreased the revenue from the Bakken Shale. Production in North Dakota has slowed slightly in response, dropping from an average of 34.23 million barrels per month in 2015 to 32.247 million barrels per month for Q1 2016. But mainly it was a drop in the price of oil at the start of 2016 that drove down oil revenue for North Dakota. The decline over in GDP over what mining directly contributed to North Dakota shows how much services are directed at supporting mining in that state.
Meanwhile, WV declined in line with the amount its mining sector declined. There was no "multiplier effect" that subtracted more economic activity due to decreased mining production and revenue. It was a 1-to-1 relationship. Wyoming also fared worse in terms of total economic activity. It is more closely related to WV in that both states are large coal producers. Both states had a decrease in coal production from 2014 to 2015, the decline in WV -14.7%. The production for WV for Q1 2016 was 19,260 short tons down from 27,239 short tons in Q1 2015. Consider that while coal production has been declining, the price of coal exports has remained flat or decreased since 2012. Lower production and less revenue for each unit of coal produced results in less tax revenue and fewer service industries in the state. The natural gas industry has undergone similar duress in WV due to over expansion in the Marcellus Shale, resulting in sustained low gas prices and less production.
With the Northeast, South, West Coast, and a few Midwest states featuring moderate to strong output growth, it is depressing to see negative growth in WV. It is true that output as measured by GDP is not the most important indicator for a healthy society. However, health and welfare are often tied to economic output (be that causation or simply correlation). For a state with a drug abuse problem and unemployment rate in the bottom 25% of the country, contracting economic output is a bad sign (duh, I know). Pundits can decry political opposition to natural resource extraction and blame policies for the decline of the mining sector. But to respond proactively and diversify industries will do more to boost economic output than arguing along boring, banal, stagnant political lines. "Diversifying" is easier said than done. And the mining industry has a large footprint that will not easily be filled by even a few industries. The service sector will always need industry to support it. Barbers, retailers, restaurants, doctors, and more, their work exists to serve the surrounding populace. Finding the next generation of "makers" is a problem for society to solve together. I know I don't have the answer, but drilling holes in the ground is increasingly not what will support the well-being of WV and Appalachia at large.