Economy At a Glance – Greater Houston Parntership –

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On the Cusp of a Recovery? — This month marks the second anniversary of the collapse in global oil prices. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for light, sweet crude, peaked in mid-June of ’14, then tumbled nearly 75 percent over the next 21 months. Brent crude, the European benchmark, followed the same path. Their plunge shredded exploration budgets, decimated the rig count, and triggered a wave of energy company layoffs. In Metro Houston, the industry lost 70,000 jobs.1

Two years on, the industry is in the nascent stages of a recovery. Oil prices have trended upward since February. The North American rig count appears to have stabilized in late May. And layoff announcements, once as common as mosquitos in August, have subsided (though not halted completely). The worst may be over for the oil industry, which is welcome news since the broader economy has begun to show signs of stress.

A few examples:

 Metro Houston retail sales have slipped from $35.4 billion in Q4/14 to $32.0 billion Q4/15, a drop of 9.8 percent. Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

 Wage growth has stagnated. The average weekly wage paid to Houston-area workers was $1,300 in Q4/14 and $1,307 in Q4/15. Adjusted for inflation, that represents a 0.4 percent decline. Over the previous 10 years, wage growth averaged a 3.0 percent increase per year. Source: Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages

 April year to date, local auto sales are down 13.2 percent compared to the same period in ’15. Source: TexAuto Facts, published by InfoNation, Inc. of Sugar Land

 Average apartment occupancy in Houston fell to 89.7 percent in May. Below 90 percent is considered a renter’s market. Of the 2,648 apartment communities in Houston, 341 now offer floorplan specials, 236 offer free rent, and 23 offer other incentives to lure new tenants. Source: Apartment Data Services

 Through the first four months of this year, City of Houston building permits are $400 million off last year’s pace. Source: City of Houston

 May year to date, sales tax receipts have fallen in 38 of the 113 cities in the metro area that collect the tax. Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

 Local bank deposits fell from $242.6 billion in ’14 to $214.7 billion in ’15, a drop of 11.5 percent. Source: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

In spite of the forces aligned against Houston, the region managed to eke out 15,200 jobs in ’15. Momentum from the boom years offset the losses in the oil patch. That momentum, however, has played out.

The few big wins Houston has logged so far this year—Daikin’s 4-million-square-foot facility in Cypress, FedEx’s new distribution hub near Bush Intercontinental, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ U.S. headquarters in Greenway Plaza—won’t reverse the inertia holding back Houston’s growth.

For Houston to prosper, the oil patch needs to grow again. Fortunately, signs have emerged that the energy industry may be on the cusp of a recovery. WTI, which fell to $26.19 per barrel in February, rose steadily through the spring, closing above $51 in early June. Research conducted by Wood MacKenzie found a large number of firms would become cash flow neutral, i.e. their incomes match their expenses, once crude reaches $53 per barrel. The decline in the U.S. rig count has slowed in recent weeks. The fleet lost no rigs the last week of May and added four rigs the first week of June.

During Halliburton’s Q1 earnings call, Chairman David Lesar said he expected the rig count to bottom out in Q2 and that there would be an upswing in the second half of the year. In May, daily U.S. crude production dropped by 200,000 barrels. U.S. production is now down one million barrels from its April ’15 peak.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts domestic production to fall another half a million barrels next year. Simmons & Company expects non-OPEC supply outside of the U.S. to drop another 600,000 barrels this year, and that’s on top of the U.S. production declines mentioned earlier. Granted, some of the declines may be offset by increases in OPEC production.


The Worst US Drilling Drops For 2016 Have Now Passed via

The Worst US Drilling Drops For 2016 Have Now Passed


This downturn is about 67 weeks old. In only 12 of those 67 weeks has the US onshore oil rig count registered an increase. Last week was one of those with the onshore oil rig count leaning into the wind and rising by one unit. This was the first weekly increase seen since December 2015.

While we try not to read too much into the weekly changes (rig moves and other factors can add noise), it does appear that largest weekly declines of the year are now behind us. The recent rally in oil prices doesn’t hurt.

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In early-2015, the drilling collapse resembled a massive bell curve spanning January to May. This makes sense as new E&P budgets take effect in the first quarter. Over the 2015 bell curve decline, the US onshore oil rig count came down 815 rigs, an average of -37 per week with the biggest weekly loss seen in late-January (-89).

After that, there was a bit of relief with some weekly increases in the summer followed by a slower trickle in the fall (a pattern that followed oil prices up and then back down).

From January to March this year, we’ve again seen the bell curve shape collapse in the rig count. While a gradual drift lower may continue, we believe last week’s uptick closed out the worst period of the year for rig count pain (a similar uptick book-ended the big decline last year).

Until this week, the US onshore oil rig count had fallen each and every week of the year with the decline totaling 153 rigs, an average of -14 per week (biggest drop this time was -32 the first week of February). Coming into 2016, there were only 516 US onshore oil rigs working vs. the 1,443 rigs entering last year. With just 363 US onshore oil rigs still active today, there just isn’t much room left to fall…

Weekly North American Rig Count Statistics

Last week, the total US land rig count fell 4 rigs to 446. The North America rig count fell 33 units last week. With WTI rallying some 50% over the past 4-5 weeks, the rig count could begin to find some stability, perhaps still drifting lower but not collapsing like it was earlier this year.


The Independent E&Ps are cutting capex even more than we expected, and spending declines this year will likely be 40-50% below 2015 in the aggregate. We believe current drilling levels are not sustainable and will translate into a meaningful production response, which we believe will become clear by 2017.


In Canada, the rig count fell 29 rigs to 69 for the week.


A regional summary of rig counts by key basins is below. With 152 rigs working, the Permian is still the most active basin, and it was flat on the week. The Eagle Ford, with 45 rigs running, is the second most active basin, and it was up 2 last week. With 31 rigs running, activity in the Bakken was down 1 rig last week.

February 2016 Newsletter for Houston Accounting & Finance Professionals

 February 2016

Industry News and Updates:

I know everyone is ready for my update & opinion on the Houston employment market. Here you go: I still remain cautiously optimistic about 2016. The job market is definitely taking a hit locally (E&P and Field Services have been impacted the most), but there are a lot of industries that are still doing very well. There are also some positive things happening on a macro level that will impact our job market locally. First, we can finally export oil. The first shipments have already left Houston. We are yet to see how this will impact us, but I have to believe it will be good! Second, it sounds like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela and Qatar have agreed they will freeze output levels for a while. My hope is that would at the very least stabilize the price of oil and keep it above 30 dollars! Third, we still have a very low unemployment rate in Houston and nationally. That means that we are still at full employment and top talent is still hard to find. Finally, the BLS report states that the demand for Accountants and Auditors will grow by 16% through 2020. So, Houston is not going to experience another boom year, but we are also not going to bust either and that is great news! 

See you again in April 2016!

Local Statistics:

  • National Unemployment Rate: 4.8 (last year 5.4)
  • Houston Unemployment Rate:  4.6 (last year 4.0)
  • Texas Unemployment Rate:  4.2 (last year 4.1)
  • Oil Rig Count: 654 (last year 1683)  
  • Industries hiring: Consumer Products related companies, Downstream related companies, Real Estate, Public Accounting Firms!!!! 
  • Positions in demand: Tax, Audit, Staff Accountants, HR support roles

Interesting Articles:

Local Searches:

Galleria area:

  • Compensation & Financial Analyst – Senior – Galleria
  • Financial Reporting & Consolidations Senior – must have public – Galleria
  • GL Accountant – Galleria
  • Associate Manager / Manager – Professional Services Firm – Consulting on high profile projects – full time role – need at least 2.5 year of public accounting and maybe a splash of industry to qualify
  • Senior Accountant – 3 years GL experience – Galleria
  • Senior Accountant – SAP – Galleria
  • Bilingual Auditor
  • Senior IT Auditor
  • Reduced work week hours: Tax Manager or Supervisor – small public accounting firm

North Houston:

  • Senior Accountant – NW Houston
  • Senior Cost Accountant – Greenspoint
  • AP & AR Supervisor – Greenspoint
  • AR Lead / Accountant – Woodlands
  • HR Manager – Humble
  • Bilingual Credit & Collections Manager – Greenspoint


  • Senior Accountant – DT – must have public accounting
  • Staff Accountant (big 4) – 2 openings
  • CFO – Non Profit – 10M dollar Budget
  • Non Profit Senior Auditor – Central
  • Tax Staff Accountant – DT
  • Audit Senior – 10% travel – Central
  • Senior IT Auditor
  • Tax Supervisor – CPA Firm – are you a senior ready for the next step?

West Houston/Energy Corridor:

  • SEC Reporting Director – West
  • Public accounting (small, medium and large firms!): Tax and Audit – All levels
  • Contract Compliance Manager – SW Houston
  • Payroll Accountant – Spanish – SW Houston
  • Compensation & Financial Analyst – Senior – Westchase
  • Campus Recruiter – West
  • Corporate HR Recruiter – West
  • Corporate HR Manger – West
  • Inventory Accounting Manager – West
  • Benefits and Payroll Specialist – West
  • Inventory and Operations Accounting Director – West
  • Sales & Use Tax Analyst – 3 years minimum – Westchase
  • Audit Senior – 70% travel – West

Consulting & Temporary Roles:

  • Contracts Analyst – Sugar Land
  • Payroll Accountant – Tomball area
  • HR Manager – Humble
  • Cash Rec Project with Track system experience – SW Houston
  • AR Clerk with Oracle – Central
  • AP Clerk with Oracle – Central
  • Medical Coder with ICD9 and ICD10
  • SEC Reporting – 6 month project – North Houston


Diane Delgado LeMaire | Senior Managing Director, Executive Search & Branch Manager Creative Financial Staffing (CFS) 5718 Westheimer Suite 800, Houston, Texas 77057 – T: 713.490.6003 | | |


5 Things to Watch on the Economic Calendar BY JOSH MITCHELL

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5 Things to Watch on the Economic Calendar

The state of the economy is a hot topic amid volatile stock markets and rising fears of a recession. After the Presidents Day holiday, measures of industrial production, home building and inflation highlight the week of economic indicators.

  • Falling Industrial Production

    Output by major industries–factories, mines and utilities–is one of the main indicators economists pay attention to when trying to gauge the economy’s health and the risk of a recession. Industrial production has slipped for three straight months. The report on January industrial production, out Wednesday by the Federal Reserve, will show how much lower oil prices, the strong dollar and weak exports are continuing to weigh on output.

  • Weak Inflation

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    The precipitous decline in oil and global economic weakness are tamping down inflation, making the Fed’s job that much tougher as it considers lifting short-term interest rates further. Look for an update on the inflation picture with the Labor Department’s release of the January consumer-price index, out Friday, and the producer-price index, out Wednesday.

  • Rising Home Construction

    The housing market–including sales and construction–helped buoy the U.S. economy last year. Housing startsdeclined in December from November, but for all of 2015, they were up nearly 11% compared with 2014.Wednesday’s release of January housing starts, along with Tuesday’s release of the National Association of Home Builders survey for February, will show whether the sector is sustaining momentum.

    Increase in U.S. housing starts in 2015 compared with 2014
  • Fed Thinking

    The week will also bring clues about the Fed’s thinking on the economy and future interest-rate increases. Wednesday, the central bank releases minutes from its Jan. 26-27 meeting, when it left doubts about whether it would raise rates in March. Meanwhile, a slew of officials are set to speak publicly, including San Francisco FedPresident John Williams–considered a policy centrist–on Thursday and St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, a voting member of the Fed’s policy committee, on Wednesday.

    James Bullard

  • Manufacturing Woes

    The strong dollar, weak exports and lower oil prices have walloped U.S. factories.  Two reports on regional factories–the New York Fed’s Empire State survey Tuesday and the Philadelphia Fed survey Thursday–will offer a peek at how the manufacturing sector is performing. Each survey covers activity for February.

    Employees work on a motorcycle at a Harley-Davidson Inc. manufacturing facility in York, Pa.


Economic Update from Greater Houston Partnership

Looking Back — Economic data for ’15 continue to trickle in. Oil prices, the rig count and drilling permits finished the year well below where they started. Home sales continued at a brisk pace until the early fall, then began to trail off. Construction followed a similar path. By October, the metro area managed to generate modest job growth. And the region set an annual record for vehicle sales. Given the challenges the region faced all year, ’15 turned out better than many expected.

This issue of Glance focuses on how seven economic measures—employment, energy, manufacturing, commercial real estate, home sales, construction and consumer prices— fared in ’15. The details follow. Tepid Job Growth — The Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land Metro Area1 created 23,200 jobs in ’15, a 0.8 percent increase, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That’s in line with the Partnership’s July forecast of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs by year’s end.

Job growth fell well below the pace of recent years: Houston added 491,500 the previous five years. Given the flood of layoff announcements throughout the year, weaker job growth was to be expected. The Partnership anticipates the metro area will create approximately 21,900 jobs in ’16. 2


Houston Economic Update / Greater Houston Partnership

Houston Economic Update / Greater Houston Partnership

An Inauspicious Start — ’15 proved to be difficult for the oil and gas industry. Over the course of the year, drilling permits fell 41.6 percent, the North American rig count fell 61.4 percent, and the price of crude fell 29.6 percent. That’s on top of the declines the industry already suffered in ’14.

The new year hasn’t started any better. West Texas Intermediate lost $4.93/bbl the first week of trading, a drop of 13.0 percent. Crude prices will likely fall further before hitting bottom. And the North American fleet lost 34 drilling rigs the first week of January. At 664, the rig count stands at a level not seen since August of ’99.

The causes of the downturn have been widely reported—concerns over slower growth in China, allout production by OPEC, stubbornly resilient U.S. production, and record high crude inventories, both in the U.S. and abroad. Even the ongoing unrest in Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Syria hasn’t impacted the market. Perhaps the greatest indicator of how abnormal the current situation is—in early January, Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic ties with Iran and crude prices fell. Adjusted for inflation, crude is trading at the same level it traded in late ’02.

’16 will be even tougher for the industry. The Texas Railroad Commission issued only 727 drilling permits in December, the fewest for the month in records dating back to ’03. The commission typically issues 1,400 or more in the month. Iranian crude will likely hit the global market this spring, adding to an already glutted market. And the recent drop in prices has further eroded cash flow, impacting the industry’s ability to drill wells, service debt and meet payroll. The long-expected shakeout in the energy industry may finally happen this year.

The impact outside energy has been uneven so far. Office leasing is down, but retail construction is up. City of Houston sales tax collections have slipped, but vehicle sales set a new record. Home closings have fallen. Airport and port traffic continues to grow. And employers continue to add jobs, just enough to offset losses in energy. What follows is a summary of how these sectors are responding to the downturn in oil prices.

Read more here:

Solving The 2016 Dilemma | Part One: E+T=+(E+P) By Mark Harrington

Solving The 2016 Dilemma | Part One: E+T=+(E+P)

By Mark Harrington

Over 35 year career, have served as either Founder, Chairman or President of seven private and public E&P, oil services and Energy PEGs.

Was 2015 the “good old days”? 2016 might well make it feel that way. Many causes for that, and strategic shifts are needed immediately to meet this wave front of change.

First question, how do we right size and retool our company so we live to fight another day? Here is a straightforward solution: E+T=+(E+P). Translated, Experience plus Technology equals a positive outcome for E&P companies.

  1. E is experience of the people, taking one giant step back and reassessing its vision and CAPEX priorities based on the experience of its people, and
  2. T is technology, selectively employing new and proven drilling, completion and production technologies in more conventional reservoirs.

This requires immediate and proactive moves by management. A distressed enterprise is not transformed by waiting for possible oil/gas price increases. That is not what capital providers have made a bet on. When they bet the horse, they bet the jockey. It’s back-to-basics time, but this time, with the twist of embracing recently proven technologies. Here are some guideposts:

First and foremost, the “E”. Experience.

My colleague, William Weekley, and I always put this first. The industry’s “crew change” of the past few years has vacated much needed field level experience, now, more than ever. To help obviate:

  1. Find the field foreman that has overseen the development and maintenance of the field for 10-30 years. Yes, they may have shortcomings in terms of supporting new technologies. Yes, they may have shortcomings in moving outside their “circle of trust” in using more competitive priced vendors of services. That repositioning of thinking is the job of management. Listen and learn and then set the guidelines.

    Over the past 5-10 years, many properties have changed hands, making this focus imperative. There are countless cases of companies that buy a property and then find production drops like a rock. Why? One answer, at acquisition, management may believe they have the best field people in the business, so just review the well files and put new management’s own people in the field. Doing so can lose the color and narrative prior field level employees can offer. That can be a company’s greatest asset, if tapped into properly and with respect for the people.

  2. Management experience in oversight is critical. New to the farm engineers may wish to run amuck over the older vets. Younger egos that forgot to check those at the door, may not allow an admission of deficient field specific knowledge. CEO— it’s your responsibility to set guidelines to manage that risk.

Second, the “T”. Technology.

Technology has revolutionized extraction techniques, in unconventional reservoirs. It is now doing so with conventional reservoirs as well. The evaporation of ground floor shale economics, is moving the application of many technologies down to less flamboyant conventional reservoirs. By example, advances in downhole tools for reducing turning radius on lateral excursion legs has reduced to only 75’ or less.

Optimizing production from excursion legs with properly designed fracs has been a focus for well over a decade. That knowledge base is now being deployed on more conventional reservoirs in a highly economic fashion, even in today’s pricing environment. A good example– in the Southeast Permian a 3,000‘ vertical and a 2,500’ lateral was recently completed with 7 fracs stages for under $750,000, all in. That can work at $25 per barrel or less.

Overlaying all the above needs to be a realistic economic analysis. I prefer flat price decks at $20/30/40 for WTI, with gravity and basis differential incorporated. Using a flat price deck facilitates decision-making on the economic merits of specific CAPEX being allocated to a project. CAPEX is controllable, prices are not.

Management is charged with being certain that field level employees fully appreciate the critical importance of not only the best technology applicable, but also the most cost efficient vendors. The “Buddy-Buddy system is a relic of the past. However, that must be balanced against finding the best of crews to implement.

Everyone has a job to do. As encouraged before, best to do that now rather than waiting for the knock on the door from your capital provider’s credit officer. They will not come bearing belated Christmas presents.

There are two remaining questions to be quickly answered:

  • How big is this crash likely to be? and,
  • When and how much will this market rebound?

Personal Point of View in the next two installments.



Houston Economy in 2016: No Recovery in Oil Markets Brings Another Slow Year December 31, 2015 – By Robert W. Gilmer, Ph.D.

Houston Economy in 2016: No Recovery in Oil Markets Brings Another Slow Year

Written by:
Robert W. Gilmer, Ph.D.
Institute for Regional Forecasting
December 31, 2015

December 31, 2015

Over the last 15 months, Houston has seen its economic world turned upside down. Last September, the fracking boom was in full force, the local economy was steadily adding 100,000 jobs per year, and Houston was out-performing the U.S. by a wide margin. Then the price of oil fell, the drilling market collapsed, local job growth turned barely positive, and Houston’s unemployment rate rose above the U.S rate. The latest setback came this summer with the announcement of the Iranian nuclear agreement that will lift trade sanctions and allow Iran’s oil to return to market. Oil prices that had returned to near $60 per barrel last spring were suddenly in full retreat once more. Any hope of a V-shaped recovery in drilling markets was squashed, and along with it any hopes of quick and easy economic recovery for Houston. It means another year of slow local job growth in 2016, with the eventual return of stronger growth highly unpredictable.

Three big events currently drive Houston’s economy: solid U.S. economic expansion, a collapse in drilling that is now unmatched since the 1980s, and an unprecedented petrochemical construction boom based on low natural gas prices. Each of these has its own powerful influence on the local economy, two are positive and one negative, and this article is an effort to sum it all up.

The bottom line for Houston is continued very slow but positive near-term growth, considerable uncertainty about when strong growth will return, and long-term optimism for the future. For Houston, this is not the massive reversal of the 1980s, but one more return to familiar — if unwelcome – territory. This marks the city’s fifth time though a major drilling bust since 1982. All of them have been painful, but none of them fatal.

Oil Markets Lose Out

A recent editorial in the Oil and Gas Journal reads: “If not for the Iranian increment [of new production] the oil market in 2016 would be headed for long awaited balance.”1 Announced in mid-July, the Iranian nuclear agreement will allow Iran to legally return to world oil markets, to immediately bring new supplies from floating storage, and in coming months to add significant new barrels from renovated oil fields. Opinion on just how much oil the Iranians can deliver and how soon varies widely, but the price of oil fell hard on the heels of the announcement. Over the 60 days before the surprise agreement, U.S. crude price had bounced back to average $57 dollars per barrel, but by late July the price was back under $50 per barrel, and it has stayed well below that level since then.

Oil markets briefly appeared to have grabbed the brass ring this summer, with the prize being the return of higher crude prices. Drilling activity had fallen steeply in early 2010, tumbling faster and further than the 2008-09 downturn, and by mid-July the number of working rigs was only 44.4 percent of the 2014 peak. But higher oil prices in May and June seemed to bring an end to the decline, and even a brief upturn in drilling activity. The upturn lasted only a few weeks, however, ending with the Iranian agreement. Another 150 rigs have been lost since oil prices collapsed once more, the U.S. rig count is now down 63.7 percent from the peak, and we find ourselves mired in the worst setback to U.S. drilling and exploration since the 1980s.

Figure 1: Drilling Takes Another Leg Down Pushing Drilling Market into U-Shaped Recovery

Figure 1 shows the Baker Hughes rig count over the course of the 2008-09 collapse, and compares it to the current decline. We are now 63 weeks into this downturn, with more weeks likely to come. It is not obvious from Figure 1, but the 2008-09 event was a classic V-shaped turnaround. This summer, drilling seemed on the same schedule as 2008-09, bottoming out around week 40. But then the recovery was aborted in July, and this will be a deeper and delayed U-shaped recovery.

When the brass ring was snatched from world oil markets, it was a significant loss for Houston’s economy as well. As soon as oil prices stabilized in the spring, local oil-related layoffs slowed, payroll employment briefly turned around, and most economic indicators showed that Houston’s economy had found some positive footing. A V-shaped recovery in oil prices and drilling activity would have brought a V-shaped recovery for Houston’s economy as well. This quick turnaround would have been the best possible outcome for Houston, and it was the most likely outcome until the Iranian deal was announced. Now Houston faces the fallout from sustained low oil prices and a very deep downturn in drilling.

The Houston Economy Now

Three big events currently shape the outlook for Houston. First, Houston benefits from a strong U.S. economy that supports many jobs throughout the metropolitan area. Local companies that reach into national markets such as HP, BMC Software, United Airlines, AIG, and Sysco benefit from national strength. After eight years of recession and sluggish recovery, the US economy finally appears to have put the Great Recession behind it. We assume throughout this discussion that US payroll employment grows at 1.7 percent per year, adding an average of 200,000 new jobs per month.

The most important single factor currently shaping Houston’s economy is the collapse of oil prices and drilling. Once the payroll employment data for Houston are revised in March, they are likely to show that 2015 brought the loss of over 30,000 jobs in oil and gas production, oil services, and oil-related manufacturing. The timing and pace of any drilling recovery is uncertain, and we will look at three scenarios to see how this oil downturn might play out. However, the V-shaped recovery that was the best and most likely option last summer is now off the table. Houston will see no quick and easy return to strong job growth.

Finally, the third factor driving the local economy – and most surprising – is a major boom in building downstream petrochemical, refining and liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants. Primarily driven by low natural gas prices, over $50 billion in oil-industry construction is underway in east Houston, bringing an influx of skilled construction workers. These are temporary workers, and the plants will leave relatively few jobs in their wake once completed, but this construction could not be better timed as a counter to mounting layoffs from the drilling collapse.2

Pulling the three events together, the result is likely to be very slow job growth in 2015 and 2016. At the spring Symposium, the IRF forecast for 2015 employment called for 13,000 new jobs in Houston3, and the Texas Workforce Commission says that after 11 months we are on track for 17,300. The Dallas Fed does early and preliminary revisions to the payroll employment data, and their calculations indicate that Houston is perhaps on track for 4,000 new jobs. All sources agree that the number of new jobs is small but positive, and down substantially from the 100,000 new jobs per year that Houston added each year from 2012-2014. But no recession is yet underway, and Houston is certainly not experiencing a recession anything like the 1980s, where the metro area lost 13.3 percent of its jobs, or better than one in eight.

Figure 2 shows the recent history of payroll employment growth in Houston. Local job growth resumed after the Great Recession at about the same time and same rate as the U.S. However, while the US struggled in the recovery, Houston accelerated as the fracking boom set Houston’s job market apart from the rest of the country. Also note how quickly job growth came to a halt in early 2015, as soon as the price of oil fell. With oil price returning to the $50-$60 range at mid-year, Houston briefly began to add jobs again, but growth once more evaporated after the Iran nuclear accord was struck.

Figure 2: Houston's Job Growth Machine Broke Down in Early 2015

Three Scenarios

Looking forward, we assume the US economy performs well, and that downstream construction adds to local jobs throughout 2016. The determining factor in Houston’s economic outlook becomes the level and timing of improvement in oil prices, leading to more spending for exploration and production, and in the number of working rigs.

We propose three scenarios for how a drilling recovery might unfold. Why scenarios? The current range of opinion on how fast and how far oil prices will rebound is very wide, ranging from a rebalancing of the market in mid-2016 to prices below $60 through 2021. Figure 4, for example, tracks the NYMEX futures prices for West Texas Intermediate through 2020. If $65 per barrel is taken as the level needed to see a healthy revival in drilling and fracking activity, this is a disappointing outcome that points to a prolonged and difficult oil slump.

Figure 3: What the Future's Market Says About Where WTI Oil Price is Headed

In principle, the futures market brings together all the information available about the outlook for oil prices, and should be the best possible forecasting machine. If anyone has significant new data to add to the oil price forecast, they should trade on that information, and incorporate their news into the outlook. Unfortunately, most studies of the market’s forecasting performance say it has a lackluster track record at best.4 A number of studies would agree its forecasts probably incorporate everything publicly known about future oil prices. It generally provides unbiased forecasts that are not systematically high or low. While it is not very accurate, it turns out to perform as well or better than most subjective forecasts or standard statistical tools. Its poor performance is not the result of our ignorance about the past and how the past might affect the future, but more about the all the things that are unknown and will affect the future.5 The futures prices as a forecast get worse the further we try to move into the future, particularly after about six months, but this is true of other forecasting techniques as well. We are simply can’t even guess at the key economic and political factors that will move oil markets over the coming 3, 6, 12, 24 or 36 months. Our view of the world will change several times before we get far into the future.

We probably won’t do much better than the oil-price forecast delivered by the futures market, but how accurate is it? The Energy Information Administration regularly computes error bounds for the futures market estimates of the price West Texas Intermediate.6 They look at historic implied volatility in the futures market, solve the Fischer Black option pricing model, invert the model, and compute error bounds on the market forecast of future prices. The results are shown Figure 5. On the one hand, the market provides a point estimate of $35 per barrel for December 2016. But if we ask for a range that is 95% certain to contain the realized price next December, the information currently in the future’s market means the price of oil should be somewhere between $24 and $95 per barrel. At 66 percent certainty (a little better than a coin flip) we would still be left with a range of about $40 to $80 per barrel.7 This is not very useful. At the high end, $80 or $95 oil would imply a year of very robust recovery for Houston’s economy, and at the low end it means another year of debilitating economic weakness.

Figure 4: WTI Price: Historical and Futures Price in December 2015 ($/Barrel)

Given this ignorance about future oil prices, we would be better off considering a range of outcomes for oil price, and then figuring out what these prices mean for oil-field activity, the local economy, and – ultimately – for economic growth. Planning then can deal with a range of outcomes rather than a single, highly-suspect price or price path.

Our three scenarios are based explicitly on the Baker Hughes rig count and the return of drilling.8 The rig count is assumed to be nearing a bottom that is similar for all scenarios, and the chief difference among them is the timing and strength of the drilling upturn.

  • In the past, we used a V-shaped recovery that begins in early 2016, with drilling and the rig count expanding as fast as in the recovery of 2009-2010. This scenario died when the Iranian nuclear agreement was announced.
  • A U-shaped recovery, similar to the V shape, except now delayed until mid-2016. The rig count returns to 1800 rigs, and recovery – once it begins – is at the same pace as the 2008-09 drilling recovery. Once recovery is complete, energy jobs in Houston grow at 1.8 percent annually, a rate typical of the early phases of the fracking boom. This takes the same role that the V-shape played in the past – a strong recovery of energy employment taking place two or three quarters in the future.
  • A Checkmark recovery, with the rig count flat through 2016, and then growing relatively slowly through 2020. The rig count returns to levels near 1800 only by late 2019. Energy jobs return cyclically and with the rig count, and they return to 2014 levels only in 2019Q4
  • Fracking is damaged seriously by sustained low oil prices, the rig count is only 1300 by the end of 2019, and energy employment never returns to levels near 2014 over the forecast horizon

Figure 5 shows the rig count assumptions for the three scenarios.9 There is a strong statistical tie between the rig count and short-term movements in local energy employment, and the tie has strengthened since the advent of fracking.10 Over the long-run – once the cycle ends and we move into a new expansion of local energy employment – statistical models can provide no guidance. I assume that long-run energy employment grows at about a 1.8 percent annual rate, a number that is quite conservative compared to the latter stages of the fracking boom. It should reflect a healthy fracking industry, but without the frenzy of recent years.

Figure 5: The Domestic Rig Count Guides the Recovery of the Oil Sector

If this drilling bust was the only major energy event in Houston, even with the US economy growing strongly, it would mean a moderate local recession. As the oil downturn lengthens from prior forecasts, the job losses from thishypothetical Houston recession range from 81,000 over 7 quarters for the U-Shaped event, to 99,100 over 9 quarters for the “fracking damaged” scenario. While job losses in these scenarios are not as fast or deep as the losses in the 2008-09 downturn in Houston — when 100,000 jobs were quickly lost, and then just as quickly restored — as the Fracking Bust extends through seven or more quarters, it ultimately pushes job losses closer to the 100,000 mark.

But there is another major energy-related event under way in Houston, one that can prevent this hypothetical recession by bringing $50 billion in new construction to the industrial east side of town. We have explained the origins of this downstream construction boom at length elsewhere, but it is built primarily on low natural gas prices.11Ethylene, for example, is a petrochemical intermediary that is a major building block for plastics such as polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride. In North America it is made from the natural gas liquid ethane, which is priced much like natural gas, or at the energy equivalent of $20-$25 per barrel of oil. The rest of the world primarily uses oil-based naphtha to make ethylene, meaning that feedstock until recently was priced at $100 per barrel. This difference between feedstock prices in North America and the rest of the world kick-started an enormous expansion of Gulf Coast petrochemical plants, accounting for $32.7 billion in new construction in the Houston metro area alone. More construction is spread up and down the Gulf Coast.

A second major source of local construction – about $6.7 billion — is the liquefaction of natural gas for export. Like petrochemicals, it is low domestic natural gas prices that make these LNG export facilities economically attractive. A major plant at Freeport is the only project in the Houston metropolitan area, but a series of other plants are under construction in Corpus Christi, Sabine Pass, and near Lake Charles. There is concern that so many plants are under construction or proposed that there could be a glut of LNG by the end of the decade. However, the regional plants mostly have take or pay contracts that give them a high probability of completion.

Finally, a number of refinery projects have joined the parade of new plants and plant expansions. Low oil prices have increased refining margins and profits, and $4.7 billion in construction has been announced. Add another $3.4 billion for new natural gas processing plants to separate natural gas liquids from methane.

Figure 6: East Side Construction Projects Begin to Wind Down Rapidly After 2017

These construction jobs are an important offset to losses from the drilling bust, and another 10,000 workers may be hired in east Houston in 2016. They are temporary jobs, many workers are drawn to the area for short-term work, and their impact on new home construction, office space, high-end retail, and luxury apartments will be quite limited. Figure 7 shows that construction will wind down quickly beginning in 2017. The new plants will offer good jobs after they are completed, but they will be small in number compared to the thousands of workers required to build them.

Employment Forecast

Table 1 summarizes the recent history of the Houston business cycle. It includes five periods containing the largest declines in domestic drilling activity in modern history, beginning with the 1980s. The 1980s oil bust was kicked off by the short but serious 1981-82 U.S. recession, but in Houston the downturn assumed a life of its own with an 82 percent fall in drilling. Oil problems were compounded by massive, not-to-repeated excesses in real estate and banking, and it turned into five years of deep local recession. The Asian Financial Crisis brought $10 oil and a 46.0% fall in drilling, but there was no local recession thanks to very strong U.S. growth. During 2001-03, Houston saw a shallow but long recession, responding to a mild national downturn, a 35.4 percent fall in drilling activity, and the fall of Enron. This is the only past Houston recession where strong petrochemical construction was a positive mitigating factor. In 2008-09, everything went wrong with a very deep U.S. recession, drilling falling 50.9 percent, and no help from the downstream.

Table 1: Forces Shaping the Houston Business Cycle

If we add petrochemical construction into the forecast, treating construction workers as a temporary injection of energy employment in Houston, it is just enough to keep the Houston economy out of recession. Figure 7 shows how payroll employment in Houston behaved through the cyclical events described above, as well as in the forecast scenarios. The Asian Financial Crisis and 2001-03 are the periods that most resemble Houston’s response to the current downturn. In the Asian Financial Crisis very strong U.S. growth prevented a Houston downturn despite a significant drilling decline. In 2001-03, Houston saw mild recession followed by a long period of slow growth. Now, moderate US growth and substantial help from downstream construction are working to offset the worst drilling downturn since the 1980s.

All three scenarios for the current Fracking Bust have similar assumptions. This is the worst drilling downturn since the 1980s, the U.S. economy is strong, and the petrochemical construction is unprecedented in scale. The difference in the scenarios is in the timing of the recovery, and the pace at which rigs return to service once recovery is underway.

Figure 7: Allow for the Petrochemical Expansion: Houston Just Skirts Recession

Table 1 shows the forecast payroll employment numbers. The U-shaped recovery begins in the third quarter of 2016, and assumes that the fracking boom is quickly resumed. The bubble-like conditions of 2012 to 2014 are missing, but fracking returns as a solid and growing part of American oil production. The Checkmark recovery picks up steam in 2017 and accelerates into 2018. Since 1990, payroll employment in Houston has grown at a 2.2 percent annual rate, and the “fracking damaged” scenario touches this long-term trend rate only in 2018. Otherwise, its forecast of job growth is well below historical expectations.

The 40/40/20 column is a probability-weighted forecast that assumes a 40 percent chance that either the U-Shape or Checkmark scenario is the right outcome, but only a 20 probability for Fracking Damaged. This can be treated as “most likely” outcome at present. This forecast sees a slow 2016, followed by above trend growth in 2017 and 2018 as the energy market recovers. Over the long-term, as cyclical events work their way out of the forecast, job growth should average near 65 – 70,000 jobs per year.

Table 2: Job Growth in Houston, 2013-2019

Another Slow Year In 2016

Having lost the opportunity for a quick recovery, all the employment scenarios for Houston point to another slow year in 2016. So far, much of the economic damage from low oil prices is confined to oil production, oil services, and oil-related manufacturing. As the rig count bottoms out in 2016, oil-related layoffs should slow sharply. However, additional time without a real turnaround in oil markets provides the opportunity for economic damage to spread through many sectors that have yet to feel much pain.

Many businesses in Houston will tell you that they have yet to see much effect of the drilling bust. Strong job growth continues unabated in sectors such as education, healthcare, leisure, hospitality, and local government. Sales and price levels are holding up for single-family housing. Apartment occupancy and rents are still strong. Retail sales are still growing, and restaurants are still crowded.

Some of this activity stems from Houston’s current economic strengths: US economic growth and petrochemical expansion. Some activity is the result of past momentum. Houston added nearly 680,000 payroll jobs between 2003 and 2014, the equivalent of a metro area the size of Oklahoma City. Even as job growth slowed in 2015, there remained serious demand for housing, shopping centers, bars and restaurants, schools, roads, and other infrastructure. But the catch-up phase will lose momentum as slow growth extends into 2016.

Finally, 2015 population growth probably remained at very high levels, as in-migration typically continues for several quarters after job growth slows. But with a second year of poor job growth, news will spread that that Houston is no longer a growth mecca for the nation’s unemployed. Figure 8 shows the how the slowdown of in-migration might work in our three scenarios. In no case does it begin to accelerate again before the second half of 2017.

Figure 8: Houston In-Migration Steadily Slows Through 2017 in All Scenarios

Regional economists often distinguish basic and non-basic industries. Basic industries export from the region, and bring Houston income and revenue from the rest of the state, the rest of the nation or from abroad. They are drivers of local economic growth. Examples in Houston can be energy industries like oil producers, oil services, pipelines, refiners or chemicals. High concentrations of local employment in wholesale trade, airlines, and professional and business services indicate that large parts of these Houston industries are also exporters of basic services. These industries drive local growth, but are highly susceptible to external factors like oil prices or the national business cycle. Figure 8, shows the rate of growth in employment in base industries in Houston, and the cyclicality is apparent. Annualized growth rates in Houston since 2007 have ranged from 12.2 to -21.6 percent.

The non-basic part of the economy is the economic follower, the inherently local industries that expand to serve the growth delivered by the base industries. Examples are dry cleaners, laundries, car washes, grocery stores, drug stores, retailers, most construction, and real estate. They deliver absolutely indispensable services to the local economy, but these followers depend on other sectors to deliver the growth that justifies their existence. Figure 8 shows that non-basic growth is much more stable, accelerating to near five percent per year in the recent fracking boom, but slowly losing steam over the past year. It is these non-basic jobs that have been carried by past momentum and now-waning population growth. Another way to state our earlier observation about 2016 is that the big blow from drilling has been to the economic base, but the coming year will see the non-basic part of the economy continue to slow and share the pain.

Figure 9: Basic Jobs Try to Stabilize Over the Summer and Then Fall Back

A recent study from Rice University can provide one more perspective on what another year of slow growth means for an oil center like Houston.12 As we put a drilling rig to work, we immediately create 37 jobs, but over the long-run we create 224. In other words, additional jobs are added as we work our way back through the supply chain to company management, engineering, R&D, legal, personnel, accounting, through various contractors and suppliers, and ultimately to employees that spend oil-related paychecks at the local Wal-Mart, Kroger’s and CVS Pharmacy. This works in reverse as well, and the loss of 1,222 working rigs has now put in train the loss of 274,000 jobs – with an oil center like Houston a significant target for potential cuts. It takes time for these layoffs to unfold and work all the way back to Kroger’s or CVS, but now we have another year for the losses in oil and gas to spread much more widely. In 2016, many of the local non-oil businesses that have felt bulletproof to this point will realize how much they depend on the oil industry to sustain healthy growth.

Time to Think About Diversification?

No, it is not time to think about diversification. Houston is America’s oil headquarters, and a global center for drilling technology and oil services.13 For Houston, oil means top-of-the-line white-collar employment – executives, engineers, geologists, and geophysicists. Does San Jose want to give up tech? Detroit abandon the automobile? Wall Street quit doing finance? I don’t think so, although in each case a highly cyclical industry has made their local economies highly cyclical.

Houston is justifiably famous for losing 225,000 jobs or 13.3 percent of its payroll employment between 1982 and 1987. The lost jobs were restored, however, by early 1990. But compare San Jose, which from 2001 to 2004 lost 211,000 jobs or 19.7 percent of its payroll employment. Over the coming few months — 14 years later — San Jose should finally return to its December 2001 peak employment level. Curiously, every city looking for diversifications wants to be a tech center.

Let’s look at the growth of personal income in Houston since 1969, and compare it to the other 20 largest metro areas in the U.S. This is a period that includes all of Houston’s major oil reversals, including the devastation of the 1980s. Over the last 45 years, measured by the growth of income, Houston is the second most successful large metro area in the U.S., just behind Phoenix. Houston has grown 1.8 percent per year faster than the typical U.S. metro for 45 years.

Table 3: Houston is Second-Fastest Growing Major Metro Over 45 Years

Is it just choosing large metros that makes this work? Going down the list of metros ranked by total 2014 personal income, the smaller metros that have grown faster than Houston are not unexpected: Austin at #32 (9.5% per year), Orlando at #35 (8.5%), Las Vegas #37 (9.3%), Raleigh #45 (8.9%), and then falling down the list to Fort Meyers at #78 (9.7%). This is good company in terms of fast-growing and successful economies, although none are quite in the same league yet as Houston in terms of size.

Oil may have taken Houston on a long and bumpy ride since 1969, but it also has been a high-flying and successful venture. Maybe we should think twice about seeking diversification and tinkering with the current growth formula. Houstonians love living with success, but probably need to do a better job of preparing themselves for the numerous temporary setbacks that come with the current oil-laden industry mix. Maybe rule one should be to better understand the pitfalls – and never bet your business on the price of oil.


1 The Kingdom in Control, Oil and Gas Journal, December 14, 2015, p. 15

2 R.W. Gilmer, “Upstream Bust Meets Downstream Boom in Houston: The East Side Earns Some respect,” December, 2015, Forbes blog post at

3 R.W. Gilmer, Houston Outlook Grows Darker as Oil Downturn Turns Deeper and Longer, June 2015,

4 William G. Tomek, “Commodity Futures Prices as Forecasts,” Review of Agricultural Economics, 19, #1 (Spring-Summer, 1997), pp. 23-44.

5 Suppose in a global and complex system like the oil market, we can think of a 1000 very low probability events that could throw an oil price forecast off track over the next six months. None of them has a probability above one-tenth of one percent, and would never be incorporated in any forecast. However, the probability at least one of these events occurs is 1 – (.999)1000 = .632. In other words, before 6 months is up, there is a 63.2 percent chance that our forecast will be disrupted by at least one of these highly unlikely events. At the time the forecast is drawn up everything important is incorporated, but the unforeseen and unpredictable intervenes more often than not.

6 Bob Ryan and Tancred Litterdale, “Energy Price Volatility and Forecast Uncertainty,” October 2009 at

7 Energy Information Administration, Short-term Energy Outlook, “Market Prices and Uncertainty Report,” December 8, 2015 at

8 Looking back through 45 years of domestic drilling activity, the key driver for activity has alternated between oil and natural gas prices. Right now, oil is critical. In the early stages of fracking, it was the price of natural gas that mattered. In either case, it comes back to how many drilling projects are underway, how much management and engineering is required, and how many crews are in the field. The number of working rigs brings us a step closer to Houston employment than either oil or gas prices alone.

9 The forecast presented here are much like those presented at the IRF Fall Symposium in November. Differences arise from the fact that we can now completely discount any V-shaped recovery, from the rig count having dropped to near 700 working rigs, and from the shape of these curves describing the recovery of the rig count.

10 Prior to 2003, a one percent increase in the rig count would increase Houston’s energy employment by 0.08 percent over the next two quarters. After 2003, the same increase in the rig count meant an increase in energy jobs of 0.11 percent, or 22 percent more. Presumably this reflects the much more capital-intensive nature of fracking, and the need for more engineering than a typical vertical well. The vertical well might be less than a million dollars, while horizontal drilling and fracturing might cost $6-$8 million.

11 See references in notes 2 and 3 above.

12 Mark Agerton, Peter Hartley, Kenneth Medlock III and Ted Temzelides, “Employment Impacts of Upstream Oil and Gas Investment in the United States,” IMF Working Paper/15/28 (February, 2015) at

13 R.W. Gilmer, “Houston: America’s Oil Headquarters,” Tierra Grande, Texas A&M Real Estate Center, Publication 20151 (January, 2014), at

Written by:
Robert W. Gilmer, Ph.D.
Institute for Regional Forecasting
December 31, 2015


Houston Economic Update from the Greater Houston Partnership via

Year Jobs* Year Jobs*

’91 -8,100 ’03 -11,600
’92 18,700 ’04 39,300
’93 44,300 ’05 91,100
’94 53,400 ’06 107,000
’95 54,400 ’07 90,700
’96 53,000 ’08 21,.600
’97 106,000 ’09 -110,600
’98 92,800 ’10 49,700
’99 17,800 ’11 82,900
’00 59,700 ’12 118,500
’01 1,300 ’13 89,900
’02 -1,700 ’14 104,700
*December to December
Source: Texas Workforce Commission

May 2014 Newsletter for Accounting Professionals in Houston

May 2014

Industry News and Updates

Houston, we have a problem! While most economists consider full employment to be 5.5%, Houston has dropped to below 5% (not adjusted). This can mean only one thing: a giant talent shortage. We’ve actually already started to run into this problem quite frequently. But what does this mean for you? As a hiring manager, its important to do your best to preserve the talent you already have on staff. As a job seeker, you have a plethora of opportunities available to you. And as recruiters, we cannot find enough candidates to share with our clients. You might think that I should be excited about such a low level of unemployment (and trust me, its so much better than the 8.8% we experienced only a few years ago), but identifying and attracting great talent is actually much more difficult these days. So, if you’ve been considering a move recently, this may be the perfect time to throw your hat in the mix. When great talent is hard to find, it only means good things for the candidates! However, because Houston has boomed so much lately, I don’t think that we can continue down the same path of such explosive growth. If we do, that only means one thing… more traffic!

Local Statistics:

· National / Houston Unemployment rate: 6.8/5.2

· Price of Oil: $102.50 (last year $91)

· Oil Rig Count: 1835 (last year 1755)

· Industries hiring: Oil & Gas Field Services, Chemicals, E&P, Construction and E&C

· Positions in demand: Tax, Audit, Controller, Senior Accountants & Accounting/ Financial Analysts

Local Searches
Director of Accounting – SW Houston – High growth, high visibility (SEC, GL, Treasury)
Tax Manager ready for Partner!!!!! Existing book of business
Staff Accountant – Public Accounting – Greenspoint
Controller – Real Estate / Funds – 100 to 140K
Financial Reporting Analyst (SEC/POC) – Woodlands – 85K
Auditor – less than 20% travel, DT and Galleria
Management Training Program – NEED RECENT MBA or Masters
CFO, Healthcare, PE Portfolio Company, AUSTIN, Texas, Base, Bonus & Equity
Accounting Manager – Northwest Houston, Mandarin Speaker, 60 to 80K
CFO/Controller – North Houston, PE Portfolio Company, Distribution – 100 to 130K
Bookkeeper, 60 to 75K, public accounting background a MUST
Senior Production Accountant – West Houston – 90 to 100K
FCPA Auditor – Galleria
Senior International Accounting – Mgr track – DT – 90ish
Senior Project Accountant (foreign currency / consolidations) – 85ish
Senior Accountant (heavy excel), Katy
Senior Expatriate Tax Supervisor – Galleria
Auditor – E&P – West Houston (Audit or E&P experience needed)
Senior Audit Manager – DT – Public Accounting – 120 to 150K
IT Auditor, Galleria
FP&A Analyst – NW Houston
Staff Tax Accountant – Oil & Gas – Galleria
Corporate Accounting Manager – Oil & Gas – Galleria
ONRR Senior Accountant – DT
Accounting Analyst – NW Houston
Accounting Analyst – Galleria
Controller – Aviation – San Antonio
SEC Reporting Manager and Senior – San Antonio
Inventory Accountant, Katy
Staff and Senior Auditor, Public Accounting Firm, Galleria
Staff Accountant, Property Management, Greenway &DT
Controller, Manufacturing, SW Houston, 100-130k
CFO – non profit
AP Lead, Katy –
Senior Accountant, Galleria, SAP/BPC – 80 to 85K
Revenue Accountant – DT
Auditor – less than 30% travel!

News and Resources
19 Reasons Why This Is An Excellent Resume – Vivian Giang – Business Insider
Click here:
Why Bother Becoming A CPA? By Roger Philipp
Click here: