Dallas Fed: So. Texas still reaping benefits of retail sales

In forecasting a steady economic outlook for Texas in 2020, Keith Phillips of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas on Friday rehashed what happened over the last year. Phillips hit on tariffs, energy, construction, high employment numbers.

And retail.

“Retail was flat because of the crisis at the border,” said Phillips, a senior economist at the bank, which held its 2020 Texas economic outlook. “We had a lot less traffic than normal because of the congestion at the border.”

Not in the Rio Grande Valley, where Sergio Contreras, president of the RGV Partnership, a pro-business organization, had noticed economic development organizations “being aggressive and creating opportunities” throughout the year.

There was significant congestion at international bridges in the Valley in the spring, which the bank detailed in a newly released study that showed the wait times likely led to “higher costs and lost sales,” and “disrupted economic activity.”

Still, with a significant number of shoppers in McAllen and other South Texas cities crossing the border from northern Mexico, McAllen collected more sales tax revenues than ever before, exceeding the previous record of $62.9 million in revenues. And Salvador Contreras, an economist with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said it was an “all around positive year.”

Steve Ahlenius, president and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, had pointed to general optimism and people having extra funds. Ahlenius and economists believe sales tax growth will be flat or steady for McAllen and the Valley region.

“Retail overall is going through a transition,” Phillips said on Friday, “with more and more online shopping, there’s less and less brick and mortar retail.”

But Phillips also touched on a concern for the economy — the coronavirus. On Friday, stocks tumbled as investors “quickly soured on the market in recent days, fearful that the outbreak would have far-reaching implications on the global economy,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Also on Friday, Alex Azar, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced: “I have today declared that the coronavirus presents a public health emergency in the United States.”

In declaring a public health emergency, the Trump administration imposed unusual restrictions on people traveling from China to the U.S.