Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Memphis Index

A user-friendly consumer guide to rate how Memphis is doing.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 17, 2008 at 4:00 AM

This is the week that individuals have to finish their income taxes and city government presents its budget for next year.

So how are we doing, individually and collectively?

According to the Memphis Flyer's first-ever Memphis Index of food, finance, fuel, and fun, not too bad, not too good.

An index should be simple, local, and useful. The ones produced by economists and academics tend to be national, overly complicated, or focused on a single industry such as housing. The Flyer's Memphis Index has a little something for everyone.

The Gallon Index. A gallon of milk ($4.40) plus a gallon of gas ($3.22) costs $7.62 today compared to $6.15 a year ago, when gas was $2.82 and milk was $3.33. Needless to say, it costs more just to get by every week. Net indicator: negative.

The Memphis Skyline Index. The combined stock price of two big downtown financial firms, First Horizon ($12) and Regions Morgan Keegan ($19), is $31 compared to $74 a year ago, when First Horizon was $40 and Regions was $34. Two good corporate citizens in the dumps is bad news for sponsorships, employment, retailers, and the housing market. Net indicator: negative.

The Government Index. The city of Memphis budget surplus, according to Division of Finance Director Roland McElrath, should be $79 million at the end of the fiscal year in June, up $2.5 million in the last year and up $47 million in the last two years. Still, Mayor Willie Herenton asked for a property-tax increase this week and wants to cut libraries and community centers. Net indicator: neutral.

The Memphis Fortune 500 Index. The combined stock price of the three Fortune 500 companies with headquarters in Memphis, namely FedEx ($93), International Paper ($27), and AutoZone ($118), is $238 this week compared to $277 a year ago. All three stocks are down at least 10 percent. Corporate stock-market wealth impacts executive bonuses, housing, philanthropy, business expansion, and civic involvement. Net indicator: negative.

The Mortgage/Savings Index. The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage from loan brokers and financial institutions in Memphis is 6 percent this week (you can do better or worse if you shop around), compared to 6.4 percent a year ago. Lower interest rates mean lower monthly payments. But they also mean lower returns on savings accounts and certificates of deposit, now mostly under 4 percent, whereas they were above 4 percent a year ago. Net indicator: neutral.

The Small Business Index. The number of pages in this newspaper last week was 64, compared to 72 pages a year ago. Like most newspapers, the Flyer sets the number of news pages in each issue based on the amount of display and classified advertising. Local businesses are the backbone of our business. Net indicator: negative.

The Music Index. The 2008 Beale Street Music Festival offers a three-day pass for $63.50, the same price as last year. Net indicator: positive.

The Fan Index. The Memphis Grizzlies average attendance for 41 home games this season was 12,770, compared to 14,654 a year ago. The Grizzlies were second-to-last in attendance this year and last in 2006-2007, indicating that overall NBA attendance is down. A disgruntled owner, a bad team, another Calipari powerhouse, and a bad economy could mean even lower attendance next year. Net indicator: negative.

The Cheap Thrills Index. The cheapest ticket to a Memphis Redbirds game inside AutoZone Park is $7, or $5 on the bluff — same as last year. A movie ticket for an adult at Malco's Paradiso is $9, compared to $8.50 a year ago. Net indicator: negative.

The Civic Wellness Index. Memphis gets a point for the University of Memphis Tigers' run to the NCAA Final Four, another point for the upcoming Memphis in May celebration, including the Beale Street Music Festival, and another point for the end of Operation Tennessee Waltz. Memphis loses a point for the tornado that severely damaged Hickory Ridge Mall and left its future in doubt. The mergers this year of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines with Northwest Airlines (based in Minnesota but with a hub in Memphis) and International Paper with Weyerhaeuser's packaging business cancel each other out. Net indicator: positive.

Grand tally of 10 indicators: six negative, two positive, two neutral.

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