View from the Ridge
It is the start of a new year and a new decade. Most of the news still centers around the current recession and how bad it is. Housing foreclosures are still happening at an alarming rate and unemployment is still at an average of over 10%. If you listen to the news it can be depressing because they tend to focus on the negative. I’ll give you a peek at the press side and then I comment on what I see.
The L.A. Times just recently had an article on the Hawaiian economy. The article stated that in November hotel occupancy on the Big Island was a meager 40%, and for 2009 occupancy at hotels on the Big Island and Kauai fell to 54% and 60% from 78% over the last three years, says TZ Economics, a local research firm. The number of visitors to the islands in November fell 17% from 2007, and total spending by air visitors for the first 11 months of 2009 decreased $1.3 billion from the same period in 2008. In 2009, more residents left Hawaii than moved here for the first time in a decade, according to census data. Officials are complaining that the state’s unemployment rate has “soared” from three percent to seven percent. Excuse me!!?? Hawaii is complaining about a 7% unemployment rate when most areas are fighting 10 to 15% and higher?
Having just traveled through Sin City, aka Las Vegas, I took the liberty to look up some statistics on that area. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (lvcva) compiles visitor and hotel numbers in a report called the 2009 year to date Executive Summary. According to their data visitor totals for the year (as of Oct.) were down 3.9 % but were up an average of 4% for Sept. and Oct. Occupancy rates have averaged 83% with an average room rate of $93, down 24% from last year. What this tells me is that there are a few less visitors but room rates have decreased more. The biggest decline was in convention attendance, down 26%. Airline passengers were down 9% but auto traffic was down less than 3%. Gambling revenue was down 12%.
I’m sorry but the above numbers are not terminal numbers. It is a down turn, but Vegas and Hawaii will survive. It appears that there are still a lot of people willing to travel and spend money. So let me give you my spin on all of this based on what I observed on my 48 hours in Vegas.
First, as we were driving into the Las Vegas area from the North, the highway is about 1,000 ft higher than the city. The lights are beautiful as they stretch about 20 miles south and 30 miles east and west. I told Jeri then that I will believe this recession is as bad as they say when they start turning lights off in Vegas.
We spent the whole next day getting a tire fixed and locating a new water filter and replacing it. (Long story and if you haven’t already heard it, e-mail me and I will send you a copy.) Since it was late in the day we decided to stay another night and checked into the Oasis RV Park which had been recommended. That was until the young gal checking me in said that it would be an eye popping, jaw dropping $86 for one night! I will sleep under a bridge before I pay that much to park my trailer!! Amazingly there were eight other rigs checking in before me and I was the only one that left. This was a 700 space park and it did not have very many vacant spaces. There were still rigs pulling in when I left.
We drove another 30 miles to Primm, Nevada, and spent the night in a casino parking lot with 10 other rigs, had a buffet dinner and tossed four quarters into a slot machine and saved $58. Thank you very much!
We departed the next morning at 6:30 heading south on I-15. There is very little between Primm and L.A., but that Thursday morning, with the sun barely peeking over the horizon, there already was a steady stream of traffic heading for Vegas. Mind you, from the center of L.A. to Vegas is 270 miles and close to a four hour drive. That means people were leaving the L.A. area very early in the morning to come to a place where they can throw money away. Hey! People! Come throw your money at my place and I will show you deer, elk, coyotes, house and feed you and let you enjoy a natural light show with stars you probably weren’t aware are there!
After an hour we started doing one minute traffic counts and were coming up with 4500 to 5000 cars an hour streaming toward Vegas. This went on for three hours until we left I-15 and headed west toward Pear Blossom.
So, what is the bottom line? No doubt there are certain industries and areas that have seen a significant decline in revenue. A lot of jobs have been lost. A lot of people are hurting through no fault of their own. Some are losing their homes. Those that purchased homes well above their means, with little or nothing down and an interest only loan, sorry folks, I have no sympathy for you. It may be harsh but that was dumb and I hope you learn from it.
Most of our present economic problems come from a government and society that has spent more than it earned. Not by a little, but by a great deal. We have enjoyed a past boom economy based on credit card debt and it has come home to roost, along with the droppings. I am astounded by the number of people who have $50-100 thousand in credit card debt. We have a congress that is printing money like it is free. Reminds me of Germany at the end of WWII when it took a wheel barrow of money just to purchase bread.
What has happened is that this country has gone away from the biblical principles that our ancestors lived by. They lived by Psalm 24:1 where everything belongs to God, but we are responsible for managing it. They practiced Proverbs 21:20 and saved money. They understood 1st Timothy 6:6 and lived on less than they earned. They followed Luke 14:28 and had a plan. And they understood the benefit of giving according to 2nd Corinthians 9:7 and Malachi 3:7-12. Our society is out of control. There are too few of us that understand the above principles. We have to be able to teach our children and our neighbors’ children how to handle money. It appears that it is too late for most adults.
The good news is that in most areas 90% of you are still employed. Most are still spending money. Keep it up, but not on credit! Any economy is based on people consuming. It is what keeps everybody employed. Just spend it wisely. Most could care less if Vegas were to shut down. It is a terrible waste of hard earned money, I don’t care how many people it employs. Look at your buying habits. Cigarettes, liquor and gambling are a waste of money. For Heaven’s sake, have a plan for spending. Do a budget if you have to, but we as a country, government included, have to change the way we do business and spend money. Otherwise we are destined to run headlong into the scene described in Revelation.