The Post and Courier

In the case of South Carolina’s housing and jobs numbers — which include greater Charleston’s — the state tends to be an economic chart-topper.

South Carolina had a near-top score for its six-month “state leading (economic) index” from November through April, according to the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia and reported Tuesday at a housing update in Charleston.

The regional Fed’s index looks at housing permits, initial unemployment insurance claims, employment, manufacturing hours worked and wage outlays tempered by consumer prices.

Just two months earlier, South Carolina was the only state with a predicted half-year growth rate of more than 4.5 percent.

What all this means is the Palmetto state carries considerable weight in terms of its financial forecast and housing outlook — akin to the early primary states in a presidential election.

Further, events such as the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors’ “Residential Market Update - 2012 Year in Review” held Tuesday can be important barometers of the country’s fiscal future.

“The bottom line is the South Carolina economy was much stronger (last year), nearly twice the growth of 2011,” says Joseph Von Nessen, research economist with the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

“Housing turned a corner in 2012 (with) increases on the local level in prices, starts and permits,” he told more than 300 agents at the morning gathering at the Charleston Marriott.

The most telling figure is that home sales in metro Charleston, based on the area Multiple Listing Service, climbed 12.5 percent last year from 2011. The sizable increase was not unexpected, Von Nessen says: This time last year, he forecast a 14 percent year-to-year surge for 2012.

Von Nessen eyes a similar sales run-up this year, although there’s still “market uncertainty.” This year’s expiration of a 2 percent Social Security tax rollback — which comes out of worker’s paychecks — could “blunt growth,” he says.

Von Nessen provided mostly state and local economic and real estate trends. By contrast, NumberNomics economist Stephen Slifer offered a national perspective on how President Obama and Congress should “seize the moment” and hash out real deficit-reduction reform in 2013.

The economist sides with a report from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as Bowles-Simpson. The bipartisan group of 18 leaders, headed by former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson and business-political adviser Erskine Bowles, fashioned a plan in 2010. It would rein in the debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio — predicted to soar to 186 percent by 2035 at current rates of GDP and debt growth — to a more manageable 40 percent within 22 years, Slifer says.

The commission’s solutions include slashing the top tax rates to 23 percent (from 39 percent) for individuals and 35 percent (from 26 percent) for corporations; eliminating most tax deductions but keeping charitable and mortgage interest deductions; cutting defense and non-military budgets roughly the same amount; upping the retirement age to 68 while raising a graduated Social Security payroll tax rate to $190,000 in income; and increasing the Medicare age to 68, not covering the first $500 in medical expenses and paying 50 percent of expenses between $500 and $5,000.

In his remarks, Slifer also forecast a 2.7 percent GDP rise this year, the jobless rate shrinking to 7.3 percent, inflation holding at a minuscule 1.9 percent and the 30-year mortgage dipping to a record-low 3 percent.

“If we can do this and solve budget problems, this won’t be just a great deal but fantastic,” he says.

The Realtors event coincided with the association releasing its annual report on the Charleston Trident real estate market.

“With a mean crossover dribble and a wicked head fake, housing is again driving the lane with authority,” says the report, sprinkled with basketball imagery.

“Restoring seller confidence,” the nine-page synopsis notes, “is a slam dunk to continued recovery.”

Home prices eased upward to a median $190,000, a 4.4 percent increase from 2011 and “down only 8.6 percent from their bubbly apex in 2007,” the report says. “They have recovered from the air ball lows of 2009.”

It concludes, “Here’s to continued improvement and a breakaway year.”

Among other findings:

• Heading the rise in new listings in the region was Hanahan, up 21.2 percent; while Daniel Island showed the steepest drop, off 15.7 percent. Closed sales in the Hollywood-Meggett-Ravenel area shot up 61.3 percent; They slid 30.4 percent in St. George and rural Dorchester County. Home inventories ranged from a 1.2 percent decline in the Wando-Cainhoy area to a 44.5 percent drop on Daniel Island. Median sale prices rose 13.5 percent in Hollywood-Meggett-Ravenel and fell 8 percent in St. George-rural Dorchester County. The highest townhome-condo market share was Folly Beach at 54.5 percent.

• The average number of days that homes were for sale in greater Charleston last year was 100, the lowest figure in at least four years. Days on market until sale sank 27.8 percent in Sullivan’s Island and surged 36.8 percent in rural Berkeley County.

• New-construction homes for sale dropped below 1,000 from a peak of nearly 3,000 in January 2008. The new-home leader by market share was Johns Island at 51.1 percent.

• Sales of distressed properties — those with seriously delinquent or defaulted home loans — totaled 26.6 percent of all deals in 2012. The figure was off 0.9 percent from the year before. Four years ago, just 7.4 percent of sales were of distressed homes. Greater North Charleston reported the largest share of distressed properties at 38.6 percent while downtown Charleston claimed the smallest share, 9.4 percent.

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