$8.8 billion from the federal government. Ben Watkins, the director of the Florida Division of Bond Finance, said the state was using the relief money to invest in infrastructure and water quality projects and directing some of its surplus funds to hurricane preparedness.

He described the windfall as staggering.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Mr. Watkins said, “but that doesn’t mean that it’s not excessive.”

States have substantial leeway in how they use the money, though they are prohibited from using the funds to subsidize tax cuts. Several Republican-led states have sued the Treasury Department, arguing that the restriction infringes on state sovereignty.

The lawsuits do not appear to be slowing the delivery of the funds. Ohio failed to win an injunction blocking the restrictions from being enforced this month, and Missouri had its case thrown out of court after a federal judge said the state did not demonstrate that the law caused it harm.

$26 million corporate tax cut last week, and lawmakers have told The Omaha World-Herald that they believe that by keeping the federal funds in a separate account from the state’s general fund, they will be in compliance with the law.

Nicholas Fandos and Dana Goldstein contributed reporting.

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Auto sales helped get the American economy off to a good start in 2021.

In the first months of 2021, what was good for the auto industry was decidedly good for the American economy.

Spending on motor vehicles and parts rose almost 13 percent in the first quarter, making a big contribution to the increase in gross domestic product, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Strong sales of new and used vehicles were propelled by consumers who had delayed purchases earlier in the pandemic and by others who — because of the virus — wanted to rely less on public transit or shared transportation services like Uber.

Two rounds of stimulus payments since late December were a big factor. Low interest rates, readily available credit, rising home values and stock prices, and strong trade-in values for used models also eased the path for consumers.

In fact, demand in the first quarter was robust enough that the auto industry was able to post healthy results despite a shortage of computer chips that forced temporary shutdowns of many auto plants.

Ford Motor reported it made a $3.3 billion profit in the quarter, its highest total since 2011. While it produced 200,000 fewer vehicles in the quarter than it had planned, the average selling price of Ford models rose to $47,858, 8 percent higher than in the first quarter a year ago, Edmunds reported.

The combination of strong consumer demand and tight inventories — partly a result of the chip shortage — has produced something of a dream scenario for auto retailers. At AutoNation, the country’s largest chain of dealerships, many vehicles are being sold near or at sticker price even before they arrive from the factory.

“I’ve never seen so much preselling of shipments,” said Mike Jackson, the chief executive. “These vehicles are coming in and going right out.”

In the first quarter, AutoNation’s revenue jumped 27 percent, to $5.9 billion, and the company reported $239 million in profit. That was a turnaround from a loss a year ago, when the pandemic crimped sales and forced AutoNation to close stores.

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U.S. Economy’s Strong Start Signals a Stellar Year

Consumers shook off the pandemic blues as 2021 began, putting stimulus checks to work buying cars and other goods and helping set the stage for what could be the fastest economic growth in decades.

The initial reading on the country’s first-quarter economic performance, delivered Thursday by the Commerce Department, showed that much remained far from normal. Even with a big jump in personal income, there was only a modest increase in spending on services like travel, dining and even health care.

But economists say that is already changing as more vaccinations are delivered and coronavirus-related business restrictions are eased. With better weather, savings accumulated during a long year of lockdowns, and an itch to make up for forced inactivity, Americans will have plenty of reasons to go out and spend.

“Consumers are now back in the driver’s seat when it comes to economic activity, and that’s the way we like it,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “A consumer that is feeling confident about the outlook will generally spend more freely.”

the first-quarter growth rate was 6.4 percent.

profit more than tripled last quarter to over $8 billion, while sales jumped 44 percent to $108.5 billion.

One striking aspect of the quarter’s economic activity was spending on motor vehicles and parts, which increased by almost 13 percent from the previous three months. Strong consumer demand and tight inventories drove prices higher.

Low interest rates, readily available credit, rising home values and stock prices, and strong trade-in values for used models are also easing the path for consumers.

At AutoNation, the country’s largest dealership chain, many vehicles are being sold near or at sticker price even before they arrive from the factory. “These vehicles are coming in and going right out,” said Mike Jackson, the chief executive.

Even if economic output is back to where it was before last year, as Mr. Daco estimates, it is short of where it would be without the pandemic. What’s more, economists say it is likely to take until sometime next year for employment to regain the ground it lost as a result of the pandemic.

unemployment rate for high school graduates was 6.7 percent in March, while it stands at 3.7 percent for Americans who hold a college degree. Members of minority groups have also suffered heavily, with the jobless rate for Black Americans at 9.6 percent, compared with 5.4 percent for whites.

Still, hiring does seem to be catching up. Last month, employers added 916,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, while initial claims for unemployment benefits have dropped sharply in recent weeks. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that initial claims for state unemployment benefits had fallen to the lowest level of the pandemic for the third consecutive week.

Tom Gimbel, chief executive of LaSalle Network, a recruiting and staffing firm in Chicago, said: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.”

Hiring is stronger for junior to midlevel positions, he said, with strong demand for professionals in accounting, financing, marketing and sales, among other areas. “Companies are building up their back-office support and supply chains,” he said. “I think we’re good for at least 18 months to two years.”

Ample savings and rising consumer optimism are giving businesses the confidence to bet on the future as well. Business investment rose 2.4 percent in the first quarter and surpassed its prepandemic level. Residential construction spending rose 2.6 percent.

Economic growth would have been even stronger had it not been for a fall in inventories, said Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays. Supply chain constraints and shortages of parts like semiconductors are causing halts in production, he said, most notably in the automobile sector.

That should ease in the months ahead, he added, especially as businesses take their cue from more bullish consumers.

“We’re at the opening stages of what could be a very strong six to nine months for the U.S. economy as it emerges from the pandemic,” he said. “The best is still yet to come.”

Ben Casselman, Neal E. Boudette and Sydney Ember contributed reporting.

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The First Names Who Own the Most Valuable Homes, in Every State

What’s in a name? When it comes to home values: A lot.

A Zillow Research analysis of more than 70 million property records showed that homeowners named Alison and Stuart own the most valuable homes across the country.

Homeowners named Anne appear on the list the most, turning up tops in 10 of the 45 states analyzed, from Alabama to Wisconsin. In California, homeowners named Anne also had the most expensive homes, worth about 30 percent more than the median home value. Only 14 first names have median home values above $300,000, well above the national median Zestimate home value of $199,200.

Some homeowner names are also more common than others. To determine the most popular homeowner names by state, the Zillow Research team counted up how many homes are owned by each name nationally, then did the same for the number of homes owned by each name in every state – and then found which name is the most over-represented among homeowners in every state.

In Arizona, Guadalupe is a more popular homeowner name than it is nationally, while the Melvins are the reigning kings of Maryland. Fun fact: Of all the homes owned by Melvins nationwide, five percent are in Maryland.

Willie is more likely to be the name of a homeowner in the Southern states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia. The Pacific Northwest is dominated by Heidi homeowners, while K monikers rule the Midwest – from Kari in Wisconsin to Kristine in Michigan.

“This analysis reveals a lot of interesting – and fun – differences between homeowner names and the relative popularity of less common or non-traditional homeowner names from region to region,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “U.S. homeowners are an incredibly diverse bunch, with a variety of names reflective of many cultural and familial backgrounds.” 

Roughly 64 percent of Americans own their home, with homeownership rates highest in the Midwest, according to the U.S. Census.

See a full breakdown of the data on Zillow Research.

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Source: zillow.com

Economic Sweet Spots for Tech, Finance and Health Care Workers

With Silicon Valley workers living in vans and RVs and interns squatting in corporate offices, it’s clear that even a tech salary does not shield some workers from the vagaries of sky-high housing costs.

The good news is, there are tech jobs outside the Bay Area — and, in some places, workers have thousands of dollars left over each month after paying income taxes and housing costs.

The same is true for finance workers, who no longer have to brave New York City rents to build their careers. And health care workers can do well in markets where jobs in their field are as plentiful as the housing is affordable.

Zillow and LinkedIn analyzed a host of housing and employment data — from salaries to hiring to income tax rates — to determine which markets are well suited to technology, finance and health care workers.

The results held surprises. While the Bay Area doesn’t offer the best mix of employment and affordable housing, tech workers in San Francisco do manage to make up for the stratospheric cost of housing — the median home there is $833,600 — with their higher salaries. The average San Francisco tech worker ends the month with $140 more in disposable income than the average tech worker in Denver, where the median home value is $356,900. Tech renters also fare better in San Francisco than in Denver, with $591 more in monthly disposable income.

Still, Seattle is a better bet overall, with tech workers keeping $5,987 as disposable income if they own their homes, and $5,493 if they rent. Austin and Pittsburgh also pencil out better than the Bay Area.

Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth and Phoenix are sweet spots for finance workers, while Phoenix, Indianapolis and Boston are the best bets for health care workers.

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Source: zillow.com

Nashville Tops the List of Hottest Housing Markets for 2017

In the same year renting becomes more affordable and the homeownership rate bounces back from historical lows, the country’s housing market superstar will be — drumroll, please — Nashville!

Music City has moved beyond its country roots to become a fast-growing economy with employment by the healthcare industry and big corporate names including Nissan, Randstad and Kroger — plus the popular chain of diners, Shoney’s.

Home appreciation is expected to rocket in Nashville this year by 4.3 percent, while incomes recently grew by 1.1 percent and unemployment is a healthy 4 percent.

Nashville is followed in housing market hotness by Seattle; Provo, UT; and Orlando on Zillow’s list of hottest markets for 2017.

“These hot markets are experiencing change as more people discover them,” said Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell.

Zillow’s economic predictions for 2017 include a warning about a possible worsening of labor shortages for new construction if President-elect Trump follows through on his hard-line stances on immigration and immigrant labor.

Other predictions for the year ahead:

For more insights into U.S. real estate and rentals, check out the Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends.

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Source: zillow.com