Morning Headlines: harbor deepening, housing, Nathan Deal

A month or so ago, I set up a Google Alert for news articles about harbor deepening issues along the East Coast. It’s clear that politics is playing a big role — and will certainly play a bigger role — as various East Coast ports jockey for federal money to prepare for the larger Panamax ships expected after the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2014.

Georgia’s leadership has been banging the drum hard for expansion of the Savannah River channel, but this piece by Mary Landers in today’s Savannah Morning News is an eye-opener: S.C. river commission picks apart deepening. From the tone of the discussions among our neighbors across the Savannah River, it’s clear that Georgia leaders have been unsuccessful in convincing South Carolinians that dredging the channel is in their state’s best interest. This lack of political success in reaching out to other states is hardly surprising, given Georgia’s track record in recent years dealing with disputes about water resources.

Mary’s piece also raises some interesting questions about ship navigation in the long, relatively narrow channel. Few have the expertise to comment on that, I think, so it will be interesting to see how that issue plays out. If there are indeed significant questions regarding navigation that will remain even if hundreds of millions are spent on dredging, the project faces some big hurdles.

In a piece in the Savannah Morning News today,Savannah home sales jump in December, Adam Van Brimmer notes some positive signs in December’s local housing data: higher than expected sales and lower inventory. He tempers some of the enthusiasm of that headline in his blog post Curb your housing market enthusiasm. According the news article, 20% of December sales were purchases by members of the military who still qualify for special financing and the homebuyer tax credit. The decline in inventory might seem significant, but that’s a seasonal pattern — a seasonal pattern we did not see at the end of 2009 because the market had been flooded with supply in anticipation of one of the homebuyer tax credit expiration dates. As I’ve noted before, we almost certainly will see an increased sales pace in 2011, but it will probably be 2014 before our entire single-family home market is back down to a six-month inventory. If the sales pace does indeed pick up, look for inventory to surge along with it, as would-be sellers (including banks sitting on foreclosed properties) are lured from the sidelines.

Also, an interesting piece in the Atlanta Business Chronicle about declining salaries in the Atlanta area in 2010, long after the end of the recession.

In other Georgia economic news, all eyes and ears will be turned toward snowy Atlanta today to hear Governor Nathan Deal’s budget proposals, apparently to be announced in his State of the State address.