DALLAS — The Texas economy received a vote of confidence Thursday in a special report from Standard & Poor’s, despite a growing budget shortfall in the coming year.
“Over the past 20 years, Texas has seen a demographic and economic transformation that, in our opinion, has placed the Lone Star State among the few that can claim to have escaped, relatively unscathed, what many believe has been the worst economic recession since the Great Depression,” analyst Horacio Aldrete-Sanchez wrote. “We believe that Texas’ policy choices following periods of economic distress have helped set the stage for its current strong credit profile.”
Standard & Poor’s is the only credit agency that does not rate Texas’ general obligation triple-A. At AA-plus, the rating is one notch below those from Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings. All have stable outlooks.
The new report comes three months before the Texas Legislature begins looking for ways to cover a $21 billion revenue shortfall in its upcoming two-year budget. Lawmakers meets in odd-numbered years to produce a biennial budget.
“The fact that Texas joined the recession essentially a year later than the nation as a whole allowed the state government to maintain a very strong fiscal position through the current biennium,” the report noted. “The strong revenue performance during most of 2008 allowed the state to not only build up its rainy-day fund to a record level, but also avoid the painful cuts and tax increases that the majority of states have had to implement.”
The report cited five key factors in the Texas economy: favorable demographics, a stable housing market, increased economic diversity, favorable energy prices, and the overall fiscal health of its government sector.
“In our opinion, these elements will contribute to an economic recovery in Texas that will likely be faster and stronger than in most other states, resulting in a continued strong credit profile,” Aldrete-Sanchez said.
The report noted that Texas added 129,100 non-farm jobs during the 12-month period that ended in August. That compares with a gain of 214,000 jobs for the entire nation during the same period.
The state also recorded a 7.5% expansion in housing starts in August, even as national residential construction was edging up 0.3% the same month.
While states such as California, Florida, and Arizona are still suffering from foreclosures and declining housing prices, Texas generally avoided the housing bubble due to the widespread availability of land for new houses, according to analysts. The state has long enjoyed a reputation for unusually large homes at unusually low prices
According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s state level house price index, average home prices in Texas increased 32.4% from 2000 to 2006, compared with a 99.3% jump in California and an 84.3% leap in Arizona during the same period. Since the collapse of the national housing market in 2007, average home prices in Texas have continued to increase by a cumulative 4.2%. That compares with declines in average home prices of 41.1% in California and 42.8% in Arizona.
With a population approaching 25 million, Texas ranks second behind California. It has added almost four million residents since 2000 and compiled a 1.9% annual growth rate that is nearly double that of the country as a whole. About 28% of the population is younger than 18 years, while only 10.2% is older than 65, according to U.S. Census data.
A “rapidly expanding and relatively young population can present significant difficulties, given the costs associated with providing services and infrastructure,” the report said. “However, we believe that, as is the case in Texas, a growing population can also increase a state’s revenue-generating capability, strengthening sectors that benefit from the rise in overall economic activity, such as housing, retail, government, and services.”