Thursday, August 28, 2008

SAT Scores

Total mean SAT scores for New Mexico college bound high school seniors dropped for the third year in 2008, according to the annual report of SAT scores from the College Board, which runs SAT testing. The report covered 2,336 takers of the SAT through March 2008. It was released Tuesday.
Scores peaked in 2005 average total for males hitting 1,051. That was the highest since 1972 when the reading and math averages totaled 1,058. The 2008 score for the guys was 1,037—504 on reading and 533 on math.
The recent peak for the girls was 1,009, also in 2005. This year the girls scored 1,000—500 for both reading and math. That put the girls 33 points behind the boys in math,
On the writing test, now in its third year of having reported results, the boys averaged 488 and the girls 501.
The top score range—from 750 to 800—had 72 students for the writing test this year—34 male and 38 female. For math, the top range had 69 students—45 male and 24 female.
The University of New Mexico got SAT scores from 1,031 students, the most of any university. New Mexico got 510 scores with 172 sent to NM Tech. The University of Texas at Austin was the most popular out of state school with 156 scores followed by Stanford, 153, and University of Colorado at Boulder,140. MacAlester College, a private liberal arts school in Minnesota, attracted the fewest scores—48.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Real Estate:Homes Prices & Housing Units

In terms of price change, the metro Albuquerque real estate market ranks just about the middle among 273 metros around the nation from June 2007 through June 2008, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO).
During the one-year period, the average metro home increased 0.95% in price. During the second quarter of 2008, prices dropped one percent.
OFHEO gets these numbers come from conforming, conventional mortgages
provided by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for both purchases and refinancing. Higher value “non-conforming” loans, are not included.

Metro Albuquerque Housing units as of 7-1-2007
County Housing Units / Change Since 7-1-2000
Bernalillo 275,424 / + 35,870 +15%
Sandoval 43,723 / + 8,443 +24%
Valencia 26,583 / + 1,848 +7%
Torrance 7,632 / + 341 +5%
Metro Total 353,362 / + 46,682 +15%

Metro Albuquerque had 353,000 housing units on July 1, 2007, according to a new report from the Census Bureau. That’s 41% of the state’s housing units and an increase of 46,500 units or 15% from July 1, 2000. Metro Albuquerque is home to 835,000 people or 42% of New Mexicans.
Over the seven years since the census in 2000, Sandoval County, which is mostly Rio Rancho, added 8,443 housing units for a total of 43,700. That was 24% of the metro new housing units during the period.
A “housing unit,” the Census Bureau explains, is a place with its own entrance where people live separately from others. A boat can be a housing unit. So can a railroad car.
The state's four metro areas, together, had 537,484 housing units, or 62% of the state total on July 1, 2007. The metro's total population was 1,299,293, which means that 66% of New Mexico's 1.97 million people are urban. Having a higher percentage of people than housing units suggests the urban areas have more people per housing unit.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Jobs: July

New Mexico's job picture continues to deteriorate. But, hey, take heart, "The state's unemployment rate remained below the national rate of 5.7%," said the Department of Workforce Services in its news release yesterday.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate cracked the 4% barrier in July, rising to 4.1% from 3.9% in June and 3.8% in May. Folks, this is a trend, not a single data point. The unemployment rate is up by about a third since the record low of 3.1% in January.
Job growth statewide was 0.9% from July 2007 to July 2008. The job growth rate had dropped from 1% in June and 1.1% in May. But, hey, DWS again says, for July, "New Mexico ranked twelfth highest among all states for job growth."
In the four-county Albuquerque metro, wage jobs have increased 0.3% over the July-to-July year. This July rate is actually a tenth of a point above the June-to-June annual increase of 0.2%.
Santa Fe scored its second month of year-over-year job losses, down 0.6% from July 2007.
For Farmington, annual job growth was 3.3%. For Las Cruces, it was 1.2%.
Perspective Matters
"We're doing OK," says one expert who watches the job numbers. DWS, as noted above, compares New Mexico favorably to the nation. My reaction: So?
DWS also says, "Overall, the Santa Fe job market has stagnated, (from July 2007 to July 2008) with only three of the area's 12 industries adding jobs." Yet Santa Fe has lost jobs, on an annual basis, for two months that are two of the three big tourist months. It's too soon to say Santa Fe is in a recession, one trustworthy wizard says. Four months of job losses would allow a recession proclamation, maybe from the steps of the Palace of the Governors where attendance has dropped 85% in 25 years.
My further reaction: Quibbling about the detail of a number isn't especially useful. (So says the numbers guy.)
What is clear is that the Albuquerque/Santa Fe "megapolitan" economy is treading water at best. And outside of Farmington, Las Cruces and Lea and Eddy counties, little is happening in the rest of the New Mexico economy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


It's always lovely when a favorite tool of a group is turned against that group. The group tends neither to get the irony or think the reverse tactic is funny.
So it is with bicyclists in San Francisco. A "local gadfly," as the Wall Street Journal called him yesterday, Rob Anderson, wants an environmental impact review of a bike plan that was 527 pages when unveiled in 2004. The Economist has an article in the August 2 issue surveying conflict between cyclists and the rest of the world.
My sympathies are with Mr. Anderson. To overstate, bicyclists are about as sanctimonious holier-than-thou bunch as there is. Further, and this is just a hunch, I suspect that cyclists are a tiny minority that is heavily subsidized by the rest of us. Yes, I do have a bicycle, which I ride mostly for exercise and once in a great while to get somewhere. Fear is one reason I don't ride more. That fear stems, in part, from two motorcycle accidents. Bicycles are even more vulnerable than motorcycles. Sure, I'm damning the civil majority for the unseemly behavior of some, but too bad.
First, remember that bicycle riders are bound by the rules of the road, just like any other driver. That means stopping at stop signs, signaling and other boring stuff. A bicyclist also is entirely justified in riding down the middle of a lane, however slowly, not that this is exactly smart.
I've noted a few incidents of cyclist behavior that leaves me wondering about the mix of arrogance and stupidity. Just in general, there is the common problem of being unable to see bicyclists at twilight or at night, much less during the day when a cyclist doesn't exactly stand out unless wearing a bright vest. Here are some specifics. Also in general, for cyclists, stop signs and lights are a matter of convenience and signals of intent are seldom.
* The arterial near my house has a wide, asphalt-covered median that is the same level as the street. A vest-wearing cyclist was in the median maintaining just enough momentum so as to not be required to put a foot down. Having no idea what he might do, I slowed as I drove by. In any case, the median is a dumb place for bicycle tires because it is home all the glass, nails and screws flipped from the roadway.
* Three cyclists, riding in a triangle formation. One was outside the bike lane. Cars sometimes travel 55 mph in this 40 mph zone.
* At night, on an arterial, a cyclist dressed in dark clothing is riding on the sidewalk. A parked car blocked the sidewalk. The cyclist quickly swerved around the car, which meant the cyclist swerved into the street, out of nowhere and into view of the driver of a following car. The driver hit the brakes, wondering what the cyclist might do next. There were no signals from the cyclist.
* The cyclist, heading west on an arterial in a 40 mph zone, takes a quick look over the shoulder and with no further signal, turns left, swerving across two lanes.
There is a practice of turning four-lane street too narrow for a bike lane into one with two driving lanes, a center turning lane and bike lanes. I suspect this cuts the vehicle capacity. Until I see credible numbers to the contrary, I'll stay with the position that in addition to being sanctimonious, cyclists are pro pollution and, therefore, pro global warming.

Energy: Uranium Economic Impact

The final version of an economic impact study of uranium mining potential in New Mexico has been released. To get a copy, email George Byers at Neutron Energy Inc:
The title is "The Economic Impact of Proposed Uranium Mining and Milling Operations in the State of New Mexico." The work was done under contract through the Arrowhead Center, Inc. Office of Policy Analysis at New Mexico State University. As one big on considering the source of information, I should add that I know the NMSU folks and have great respect for them. The NMSU contract was with the law firm of Comeau, Maldegen, Templeman & Indall, LLP of Santa Fe.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bank of Albuquerque

A week ago (August 12) I wrote about the loss inflicted on BOK Financial from the implosion of a Tulsa energy firm. BOK is the parent of the Bank of Albuquerque. Jesse Boudlette, BOK corporate communications director, finally returned my call inquiring about the effect on the Albuquerque bank of the BOK loss. No effect, he said. BOK is strongly capitalized, he said, and continues its program of measured growth.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Area Codes

Today I happened to call two people in Annapolis, Maryland, who worked in the same office in the same building. I thought they did, but they had different area codes, so I asked, suspecting that one perhaps had a home office or cell phone.
It turned out that, when faced with a new area code recently, the metro Annapolis part of Maryland chose to have to the new and the old area codes overlap, an "opportunity" offered to New Mexico with the appearance of the 575 area code. The result, the woman in Annapolis said, is confusion and a general pain in the neck. By keeping the area codes geographically separate, New Mexico made the correct choice.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Income: Wealth and "Inequality"

In The Economist (, the London-based news and business weekly that calls itself a newspaper, a department called "Economics Focus" offers one page of theory that usually is clearly enough written to be mostly understandable.
In the July 26 column, the story was that the long-term rise in American income inequality may be less than originally reporter. Two professors at the University of Chicago business school have challenged the conventional wisdom. Christian Broda and JOhn Romalis argue that standard income inequality measures don't reflect how the rich and poor spend their money. Different sets of goods and services have different rates of inflation, they say. Accounting for these differences removes most of the increased differences in income inequality. Low cost imports from China offset more than 25% of the measured increase in income inequality claimed since 1994. Ah, globalization.
Now that the real world of real estate prices has caught up with metro Albuquerque—the average home price was down 2.9% during the first half of 2008—Willem Buiter's thoughts, in the August 9 edition, on a wealth effect" from changing housing values are worth note. A wealth effect means that as the value of something such a home increases, we each feel wealthier and tend to spend some of that paper profit. And vice versa. A shift in the overall value of housing does not affect household wealth in the aggregate, Buiter says. Here I didn't quite get the explanation, but whatever. If there has been a housing bubble, which was the case in a good many places around the nation, landlords will lose the part of the housing value that did not reflect housing fundamentals. Also, lenders may cut credit access, which indeed seems to be happening. But there is some good news. If housing prices drop, more people can afford to buy a home.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Energy: SemGroup LP Bankruptcy

SemGroup is the Tulsa firm that last month "filed for bankruptcy after running up $2.4 billion in trading debts," as the Tulsa World ( put it. While "Who cares?" may be a reasonable New Mexico reaction, there may be two effects here.
First, World business editor John Stancavage wonders if SemGroup's hedging activity may have had something to do with oil prices heading north of $140/bbl. A Houston hedge fund manager, John Olson, confirmed for Stancavage that SemGroup likely was speculating. Stancavage said, "Speculating is... where a trader bets on oil prices in hope of making big profits but doesn't actually have a corresponding position to make good on the gamble if prices move unexpectedly." Oil prices started dropping as soon as SemGroup hit the bankruptcy court.
Second, SemGroup's bank was and presumably is BOK Financial, parent of the Bank of Oklahoma, the Bank of Albuquerque and others. The SemGroup situation turned a nice $43.7 million second quarter profit into a loss, the World reports today.
In an August 8 Form 10-Q filing with the the SEC, BOK said, "BOK Financial Corporation reported a net loss of $1.2 million or $0.02 per diluted share for the second quarter of 2008.... Net income for the six months ended June 30, 2008 totaled $61.1 million or $0.90 per diluted share... The Company recognized $87.0 million of pre-tax charges for loan and energy derivative credit exposure to SemGroup LP in the second quarter of 2008. These charges reduced net income by approximately $57.0 million or $0.84 per diluted share... At June 30, 2008, BOK Financial had credit exposure to SemGroup LP and related entities of approximately $147 million consisting of $97 million from energy derivative contracts and $50 million from loans and loan commitments..... BOK Financial recognized a
$26.3 million charge to increase its provision for loan losses and a $60.7 million charge against trading revenue to reduce the estimated fair value of energy derivative contracts."
The World said today that "Thomas S. Kivisto, the former president and CEO of SemGroup LP, resigned from the board of directors of BOK Financial and Bank of Oklahoma on July 16."
Via phone and email, I have requested comment on the effect, if any, on Bank of Albuquerque from BOK Financial corporate communications director Jesse Boudiette. No responses as of 7:50 PM today, August 12. I'll post Mr. Boudiette's response, if any.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Diplomacy Bill Richardson's James Taranto jumped on Gov. Bill Rchardson today for having what Taranto called a "very bad" idea about how to handle Russia's invasion of Georgia. Basically, Richardson said, according to Taranto, work through the United Nations Security Council. Taranto, a UN skeptic, argues that would be futile. Richardson's thoughts graced ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Health Care Costs

It is generally acknowledged that exotic technology is a big factor in the increasing cost of health care. But here is something small and boring.
In June my wife fell and both dislocated her shoulder and broke it. Actually she broke her arm. Presbyterian Health Services took marvelous, if not exactly speedy, care of her. Today we got seven envelopes in the mail from Presbyterian Insurance Company, her insurance provider. It cost 32.4 cents to mail each envelope. The ten envelopes contained, among them, ten statements about a particular treatment activity. Each had a number. With each statement there was a sheet headed, "This is not a Bill," and explaining "how your bill was processed." Except for the number in the upper right hand corner, each of the ten sheets was the same.
Somehow the Pres computer figured out how to put three of the sheets into an envelope containing a second sheet. But why, I wonder, couldn't the computer figure out how to put all ten statements into one envelope and then to enclose one additional sheet, perhaps with ten numbers on it? Perhaps, more than one treatment item could have been put onto a single sheet. It seems to me that the treatment statements could have been collected onto two sheets. Each item could have that all important number. Then a single sheet containing all ten numbers could explain that, "This is not a bill."
Savings? Not much in dollars. Maybe $3.00 in postage, plus nine envelopes and possibly 17 8.5" x 11" sheets of paper. The total cost of the paper would be almost nothing. But Pres could run an ad saying it saved trees. In today's piously green environment, that might be important. A nice billboard along the interstate. The offset would the cost of some programming that should have been done in the first place.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Border Water

A report I produced in 1995 talked about needing to understand the water resources of the two-country, three-state area that is Las Cruces, El Paso, and Ciudad Juarez. The problem is that the relevant basins don't pay attention to the human-imposed political borders.
Over the weekend came the notice, via the July issue of "Divining Rod," the newsletter of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, that the scientists don't know what is going on with the water situation in the area. The article said researchers don't know if the United States and Mexico are running out of water along the border "because little is known about the common underground basins both countries tap into." Gosh!
Without getting into the details of how long it has taken, WRRI researchers have scored $500,000 from the "United States-Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Act" that became law in late 2006, nearly two years ago, I note. But whatever.
The articles says that El Paso expects 65,000 more residents by 2013—that's five years—due to base realignment.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Uranium, Oil and Gas

Thursday's Cilbola County Beacon ( headlined, "Residents campaign to support uranium mining." Here is the beginning of the story,
"GRANTS - The Cibola Communities Economic Development Board hosted a 'grassroots action' meeting on Tuesday morning in an effort to help push uranium mining forward in Cibola County. “We (CCED) recognized a void and residents were requesting assistance,” said Lawrence Sanchez, president of the organization and local business owner. “I think people felt blindsided by certain issues that arose and the reason for the 'grassroots action' meeting is to educate residents about uranium mining so they have a voice and can control their own and their children's destiny.”

Sanchez said he knows that Mount Taylor's recent temporary status as a state registered as a cultural property was a direct effort against uranium mining.
“CCED supports uranium mining,” Sanchez added. “The industry is viable and sound, and it is economically safe.”
"Sanchez said that he realizes the uranium mining legacy is not good and things were done that should've never been done, “but the industry today is much different, it is done responsibly and we need the jobs.”

The Farmington Daily Times ( today had a long roundup of local reactions to the drop in the price of natural gas. Find the story in the Most Viewed box on the right side of the screen. The headline said,
"Gas price drop could trigger production slowdown." Cornelia de Bruin was the reporter. Here is the beginning of the story,
"FARMINGTON — Recent drops in natural gas prices, combined with high drilling costs and anticipated pit rule-related costs to local producers, may result in an industry slowdown in New Mexico.
"I think we could be in for a big slowdown," D.J. Simmons Inc. President and CEO John Byrom said. "Drilling rates in New Mexico are already way down compared to other states."
"The rig count in the San Juan Basin, including the Colorado side, stood at 43 one week ago. Of that number, 35 rigs were working. Bureau of Land Management spokesman Bill Papich said the statistics are from last week, the most recent available information.
"Work-over rigs, used to restore or increase a well's production, numbered 147, of which 125 were working.
"Papich said the Farmington Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management has issued 413 application to drill permits, or APDs, to date this fiscal year, compared with 509 this time last year."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Infrastructure: Highways in Tulsa

The city of Tulsa is having a partly useful public conversation with itself about roads. The good news is that the city is talking and in public locales such as the front page of the morning daily, the Tulsa World. This is different from Albuquerque and New Mexico at the state level. The further good news is that the discussion is about doing things, as opposed to the standard Albuquerque/New Mexico approach of complaining about things not done such as maintenance, and in the Tulsa debate price tags are attached. The bad news is that specifics will be left to "experts" such as traffic engineers. The newest proposal, from Mayor Kathy Taylor, is to spend $451.6 million over five years. But the spending categories are only for the most general categories such as streets. (Which streets, Tulsa officials?) There also is a $270 million approach and a $2 billion, 11-year proposal that includes the city taking over street maintenance. (In very, very conservative Tulsa?)
Mayor Taylor said she backed away from the $2 billion plan because she figured the voters would not approve. Tulsa's money for all this will come from extending current "special" taxes and imposing new taxes. Well, maybe. Maybe not.
Given that Tulsa is about the same size as Albuquerque, the Tulsa debate suggests parameters of a potential Albuquerque debate.
In Albuquerque, a standard part of mayoral politics is to say that the city is way behind on capital spending—hundreds of millions. During the last campaign it dawned on me that the city functions decently well without all this "needed" spending. I think that if Tulsa officials and, gosh, New Mexico officials talked to the citizens about real and specific needs, as opposed to micro-driven and/or bureaucratic "wants," they might get a surprisingly wise response.
For the one-page spreadsheet very broadly outlining Mayor Taylor's proposal see