Texas Two-Step

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Gross

Politically it may be parochial, but economically it's a global player.

Texas has always been something of a separate country when it comes to politics and culture. Lately, the state seems to be functioning as its own economic republic. While it hasn't been immune to the issues plaguing the nation, the housing market, employment rate, and overall growth in Texas are relatively strong. Chalk some of that up to accidents of geology and geography. But the Texas economic tiger also reflects the conscious efforts of a once parochial place to embrace globalization.

On several measures of economic stress, Texas is doing quite well. The state unemployment rate is 8.2 percent --high, but still one that many states would envy. (California's is 12.5 percent; Michigan's is 14.1.) It entered recession later than the rest of the country--Texas was adding jobs through August 2008--and started slowly adding jobs again last fall, thanks mostly to its position in the largely recession-proof energy industry.

The Texas housing market also has fared better than many. The mortgage delinquency rate (the portion of borrowers three months behind on payments) is 5.78 percent, compared with 8.78 nationwide, according to First American CoreLogic. That's partly because relaxed zoning codes and abundant land kept both price appreciation and speculation down. But it's also due to several attributes not commonly associated with the Lone Star State: financial restraint and comparatively strong regulation. Unlike those of many of its neighbors, Texas's laws prohibited consumers from using home-equity lines of credit to increase borrowing to more than 80 percent of the value of their homes.

As it has for decades, energy is driving Texas's economy. But it's not because the state's wells are gushing crude. In November 2009, Texas wells produced 1.08 million barrels per day, about half as much as they did in the late 1980s. In recent years, natural gas has been undergoing a renaissance--the state's production rose about 35apercent between 2004 and 2008. …