Payrolls and the Service Sector Bloom, Manufacturing Struggles: January 6 – 10

The U.S. labor market added 22.6 million jobs during the 2010s. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending January 10.

#12019 was the 10th straight year of job gains. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nonfarm payrolls expanded by a seasonally adjusted 145,000 in December. This was the 111th straight month of job gains, although the smallest single-month gain since last May. The 2.11 million jobs added jobs for all of 2019 also was the fewest for a year since 2011 (although 2017’s count of 2.15 million was not much larger). All of December’s payrolls gain came from the service sector, which added 140,000 jobs, while the goods-producing side of the economy shed 1,000 workers. The industries adding the most jobs during the month were retail (+41,200), leisure/hospitality (+40,000), health care/social assistance (+33,900), and construction (+20,000). Manufacturing employment fell by 12,000 in December. The same report notes that average hourly earnings have grown 2.9 percent over the past year to $28.32.

Nonfarm Payrolls 2009-2019 011020

A separate households survey keeps the unemployment rate at a post-recession low of 3.5 percent and finds 209,000 people entering the labor market during the month. The labor force participation rate held steady at 63.2 percent, with the same measure for adults 25-54 eking out a 1/10th of a percentage point increase to 82.9 percent (its highest point since June 2009). The median length of unemployment declined by 2/10ths of a week to 9.0 weeks (December 2018: 9.4 weeks), while the count of part-time workers seeking a full-time job fell to a post-recession low of 4.148 million (December 2018: 4.655 million). The broadest measure of labor underutilization (the U-6 series) slipped by 2/10ths of a point to 6.7 percent (the lowest ever for the 26-year old data series).

#2Service sector business activity remained robust in December. The NMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Nonmanufacturing Report on Business, added 1.1 points to a reading of 55.0. Not only was this the NMI’s best mark since last August, but it also represented the 119th consecutive month in which the measure was above a reading of 50.0, the threshold between a growing and contracting service sector. Two of four NMI components improved in December: business activity/production (up 5.6 points to 57.2) and supplier deliveries (up a full point to 52.5). The other two measures fell: new orders (down 2.2 points to 54.9) and employment (down 3/10ths of a point to 55.2). Eleven of 18-tracked service sector industries reported growth in December, led by retail, arts/entertainment/recreation, and management of companies/support services. 

#3New factory orders continued to struggle in November. The Census Bureau finds new orders for manufactured goods dropped for the third time in four months with a $3.6 billion decrease to a seasonally adjusted $493.0 billion. Durable goods orders fell by $5.2 billion to $242.2 billion, while orders for nondurables grew by $1.6 billion to $250.8 billion. On the bright side, new orders for civilian goods rose 0.7 percent while those for civilian non-aircraft capital goods inched up 0.2 percent. Shipments grew by $1.7 billion to $502.2 billion, with gains for durable and nondurable goods of $0.1 billion and $1.6 billion, respectively. Unfilled orders fell for the second time in three months, shrinking by $4.9 billion to $1.159 trillion while inventories expanded by $2.0 billion to $701.0 billion, its 11th gain in 12 months. 

#4The trade deficit narrowed in November. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis state that exports increased by $1.4 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $208.6 billion (+0.3 percent versus November 2018) while imports fell by $2.5 billion to $251.7 billion (-3.8 percent versus November 2018). The resulting trade deficit of -$43.1 billion was down $3.9 billion from October and its smallest reading in more than three years. The goods deficit narrowed by $3.9 billion to -$63.9 billion while the service surplus mostly held steady at +$20.8 billion. The U.S. had its largest goods deficits with China (down $2.2 billion to -$25.6 billion), European Union (-$13.5 billion), and Mexico (-$8.5 billion).

#5Consumers took on more debt in November, but credit card balances declined. The Federal Reserve estimates consumers had outstanding non-real estate backed credit balances of $4.176 trillion (seasonally adjusted). This represented an increase of $12.5 billion for the month and 4.5 percent from a year earlier. Consumers shed $2.3 billion in outstanding revolving credit—i.e., credit cards—to $1.086 trillion (+2.9 percent versus November 2018). On the flipside, nonrevolving credit balances, including those for student and auto loans, grew by $14.9 billion to $3.090 trillion, up 5.0 percent from a year earlier. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending January 4, 2020, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 214,000 (-9,000 vs. previous week; -7,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 224,000 (+0.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Wholesale Trade (November 2019, Merchant Wholesaler Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $674.9 billion (-0.1% vs. October 2019, +3.3% vs. November 2018).

The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.

Manufacturing Faltered Again in December: December 30 – January 3

Purchasing managers report manufacturing activity slowed for a fifth straight month. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending January 3.

#1A measure of economic activity in manufacturing fell to a more than ten-year low in December. The PMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Report on Business, shed 9/10ths of a point to a reading of 47.2. This reading was the PMI’s lowest point since June 2009 and its fifth straight month under 50.0 (the threshold between an expanding and contracting manufacturing sector). Three of five PMI components fell during the month: production (-5.9 points), employment (-1.5 points), and new orders (-0.4 points). PMI components tied to supplier deliveries (+2.6 points) and inventories (+1.0 point) each climbed. Only three manufacturing industries expanded in December: food/beverage/tobacco, miscellaneous manufacturing, and computer/electronic products. The press release noted that “global trade” remained a key focus area for many manufacturers and that sentiment was “marginally positive regarding near-term growth.”

#2Construction spending grew in November. The Census Bureau places the seasonally adjusted annualized value of construction put into place during the month at $1.324 trillion, up 0.6 percent from October and 4.1 percent from a year earlier. Despite November’s gain, construction spending during the first 11 months of 2019 was 0.8 percent under that of the first 11 months of 2018. The Census Bureau also revised estimates for September and October spending upwards. Private sector expenditures grew 0.4 percent to $985.5 billion (+1.6 percent), including a 1.9 percent bounce in private sector residential spending. Private nonresidential spending fell 1.2 percent. Public sector construction expenditures gained 0.9 percent to $338.6 billion, up 12.4 percent from a year earlier.

#3The Conference Board finds that consumer sentiment “dipped” slightly in December. The Consumer Confidence Index slipped by 3/10ths of a point to a seasonally adjusted reading of 126.5. The present conditions index added 3.4 points to 170.0, while the expectations index lost 2.9 points to 97.4. 38.7 percent of survey respondents said that business conditions were “good” while only 11.1 saw them as being “bad.” An even higher percentage of Americans see jobs as being “plentiful” (47.0 percent) versus being “hard to get” (13.1 percent). The press release cautioned that “there is little to suggest that growth, and in particular consumer spending, will gain momentum in 2020.”

#4Pending home sales rebounded in November. The National Association of Realtors’ measure of home purchase contract signings increased 1.2 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted 108.5 (2001=100). The index jumped 5.5 percent in the West and gained 1.0 percent in the Midwest but edged down in both the South (-0.2 percent) and Northeast (-0.1 percent). The Pending Home Sales Index was 7.4 percent ahead of its year-ago reading with positive 12-month comparables in all four Census regions, including a 14.0 percent jump in the West. The press release noted November’s increase occurred despite “insufficient level of inventory” of homes for sale.

#5Two reports find home prices rose at a moderate pace in October. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s House Price Index increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent during the month. The measure, which tracks prices of homes purchased with a conforming mortgage, gained in six of nine Census regions, led by the West South Central (+0.7 percent), East South Central (+0.7 percent), Pacific (+0.6 percent), and Middle Atlantic (+0.6 percent). Over the past year, the Housing Price Index has risen 5.0 percent, with the largest 12-month comparables in the Mountain (+6.7 percent), South Atlantic (+6.1 percent), and East South Central (+5.8 percent) regions.

The 20-City Case-Shiller Home Price Index grew 0.4 percent (seasonally adjusted) in October, up from a 0.3 percent bump in September. The measure grew in 18 of the 20 tracked cities, with home prices rising 0.7 percent in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The index has risen 2.2 percent over the past year, with positive year-to-year comparables in 19 of 20 cities (San Francisco being the exception). The press release characterized the home price data as “reassuring.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending December 28, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 222,000 (-2,000 vs. previous week; -9,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 233,250 (-5.2% vs. the same week a year earlier).
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The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.

Increased Economic Activity, Decreased Durable Goods Orders: December 23 – 27

The U.S. economy expanded more quickly in November, but durable goods orders faltered. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending December 27.

#1Economic activity accelerated in November. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators, soared by 132-basis points during the month to its best reading since February 2018: +0.56. Fifty of the 85 indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI, with 64 measures improving from their October marks. All four major categories of indicators grew in November. Still, the most significant gains came from indicators tied to production (making a +0.49 contribution to the CFNAI) and employment (making a +0.12 contribution). The three-month moving average of the CFNAI improved by ten basis points to a reading of -0.25. (A moving average ranging between 0.00 and -0.70 is indicative of below-average economic growth.)

#2Durable goods orders fell hard in November. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured goods slumped 2.0 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $242.6 billion, its second decline in three months. A primary culprit was the sharp 72.7 percent drop in orders for defense aircraft. Net of defense goods, durable goods orders rose 0.8 percent. Among major industries segments, orders increased for electrical equipment/appliances (+2.0 percent), motor vehicles (+1.9 percent), fabricated metal products (+0.4 percent), computers/electronics (+0.2 percent). Orders declined for civilian aircraft (-1.8 percent), machinery (-1.6 percent), and primary metals (-0.3 percent). 

#3New home sales gained in November. The Census Bureau finds new single-family home sales grew 1.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 719,000 units. New home sales have risen 16.9 percent over the past year. Sales grew in the Northeast (+52.4 percent), and West (+7.5 percent), held steady in the Midwest, slowed 4.1 percent in the South. Three of four Census regions enjoyed positive 12-month comparables, with only the Midwest experiencing a year-to-year sales decline. There were 323,000 new homes for sale at the end of November (a 5.4 month supply), matching the October count but 3.3 percent below November 2018 levels. The median sales price of $330,800 was up 7.2 percent from a year earlier (it is worth noting that price comparisons are difficult because the mix of homes sold likely differ month-to-month).

#4Jobless claims remained well in check during the final days of 2019. The Department of Labor estimates there were a seasonally adjusted 222,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending December 21. This was down 13,000 from the prior week and 30,000 from two weeks ago (when the late Thanksgiving holiday had messed with seasonal adjustments), but essentially matched the year-ago count of 223,000 first-time claims. The four-week moving average of first-time claims edged up by 2,250 to 228,000. This represented a 3.1 percent increase from a year earlier.

#5Agricultural prices rose in November. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s index of the prices received by farmers increased by 4.6 percent to a reading of 88.6 (2011=100). This left the measure 0.2 percent ahead of its year-ago mark. Prices rose for eggs (+176.9 percent from the prior month), lettuce (+66.6 percent), cattle (+5.6 percent), and milk (+4.8 percent) but fell for corn, broilers, apples, and hogs. Meanwhile, cost pressures were held in relative check as the prices paid by farmers index inched up 0.3 percent to 110.4 (November 2018: 109.8). 

The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.