Hiring Rebounds in April, The Fed Stays Put for Now: May 1 – 5

After pausing in March, employers picked up the pace of hiring in April. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 5.

#1The labor market regained its momentum in April. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nonfarm payrolls expanded by a seasonally adjusted 211,000 during the month, sharply up from the 79,000 net hires in March and much closer to February’s 232,000 job gain. Private sector employers added 194,000 jobs during April, split between 173,000 net hires in the service sector and 21,000 in the goods-producing sector of the economy. Industries with the biggest payroll gains included leisure/hospitality (+55,000), professional/business services (+39,000), health care/social assistance (+36,800), and financial services (+19,000). Even the retail sector, which had been shedding workers in recent months, manage to add 6,300 jobs during March. The average number of hours worked edged up by 1/10th of an hour to 34.4 hours (April 2016: 34.4 hours) while average weekly earnings have grown 2.5 percent over the past year to $900.94.

A separate survey of household finds the unemployment rate dropping by 1/10th of a percentage point to 4.4 percent, off 6/10ths of a point from a year earlier and its lowest point in ten years. Only 12,000 people entered the labor force during the month while the labor force participation rate inched down by 1/10th of a percentage point to 62.9 percent. The typical length of unemployment slipped 1/10th of a week to 10.2 weeks (April 2016: 11.2 weeks). The count of part-time workers seeking a full-time job fell by 281,000 to another post-recession low of 5.272 million (April 2016: 5.970 million). Finally, the broadest measure of labor underutilization (the U-6 series) fell to post-recession low of 8.6 percent (down 3/10ths of a percentage point from March and 1.1 percentage points from a year earlier). The U-6 measure had peaked during the last recession at 17.1 recent back in April 2010.Unemployment Labor Underutilization 2000-2017-050517

#2The Federal Reserve holds its short-term interest target rate, as expected, but does not appear concerned about recent weak economic data. The policy statement released following the conclusion of this week’s Federal Open Market Committee notes that economic activity had “slowed,” but also highlights that the labor market “continued to strengthen” including a comment that job gains were “solid.” Further, while household spending increased “only modestly,” the statement noted that “the fundamentals underpinning the continued growth of consumption remained solid.” Also, inflation was closing in on the Fed’s two-percent target rate. Finally, the statement noted that near-term risks to economic growth were “roughly balanced.” As a result, the committee voted unanimously to keep the fed funds target at between 0.75 percent and 1.00 percent, a rate that statement characterizes as being “accommodative.” Despite some recent weak economic data (the employment data above notwithstanding), the statement was largely unchanged from that following the March FOMC meeting. This would seem to suggest that the committee members appear to be ready for another bump in short-term rates at its next meeting at June.

#3The trade deficit was virtually unchanged even as both exports and imports slowed during March. Per the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, exports and imports each declined $1.7 billion during the month leaving the goods and services deficit at -$43.7 billion. The trade deficit for goods grew by $0.4 billion while the surplus in services grew by a matching $0.4 billion. Exports of goods contracted by $2.1 billion, pulled down by a $1.8 billion decline in exports of industrial supplies/materials and a $0.9 decrease in automotive vehicles. Imports of goods decreased by $1.7 billion resulting from falling imports of capital goods and industrial supplies/materials. The U.S. had its largest goods deficits with China (-$31.4 billion), the European Union (-$10.0 billion), Mexico (-$6.5 billion), Japan (-$6.5 billion), and Germany (-$5.0 billion).

#4Real personal spending grows for the first time in 2017 during March. The Bureau of Economic Analysis finds that “real” personal consumption expenditures (PCE) grew 0.3 percent during the month, following declines of 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent during February and January, respectively. Real spending on goods edged up 0.1 percent during the month as a 1.5 percent gain in spending of nondurable goods just outpaced the 2.5 percent drop in durables. Real spending on services grew 0.4 percent during March (although this partially reflects a weather-related increase in utility spending). Over the past year, real personal consumption expenditures have grown 1.8 percent, smaller than the +2.1 percent and +1.9 percent 12-month comparables reported for February and January, respectively. Without adjustments for inflation, nominal consumer spending was unchanged during March. Nominal personal income and disposable income both grew at a 0.2 percent rate during March (their smallest monthly gains since last November) while real disposable income jumped 0.5 percent. Real disposable income has grown 2.4 percent over the past year, its best 12-month comparable since last November. Meanwhile, the savings rate grew by 2/10ths of a percentage point to +5.9 percent, its highest point since last August.

#5Construction Spending, particularly that for nonresident structures and in the public sector, slowed during March. The Census Bureau reports that the seasonally adjusted annualized rate of construction put in place slipped 0.2 percent during the month to $1.218 trillion. This was up 3.6 percent from a year earlier. Private sector construction spending was unchanged from February at $940.2 billion (SAAR), which was nevertheless 7.0 percent above that of March 2016. Private sector residential construction spending jumped 1.2% during the month, with much of the gain coming from a 2.0 percent bump in spending of new multi-family properties. Private sector non-residential spending declined 1.3 percent during March, pulled down by lower construction spending for the commercial, office, educational, religious, amusement/recreation, transportation, and power properties. Public construction spending declined 0.9 percent to a SAAR of $278.1 billion. This was off 6.5 percent from the same point a year earlier. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 29, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 238,000 (-19,000 vs. previous week; -38,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 243,000 (-7.6% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Factory Orders (March 2017, New Orders for Manufactured Goods, seasonally adjusted): $478.2 billion (+0.2% vs. February 2017, +5.8% vs. March 2016).
Vehicle Sales (April 2017, Vehicle Retail Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 16.88 million units (+1.6% vs. March 2017, -3.0% vs. April 2016.
Productivity (1st Quarter 2017-preliminary, Nonfarm Business Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted): -0.6% vs. Q4 2016, +1.1% vs. Q1 2016.
ISM Manufacturing Report on Business (April 2017, Purchasing Managers Index (>50=Growth in Manufacturing, seasonally adjusted): 54.8 (vs. March 2017: 54.8).
ISM Nonmanufacturing Report on Business (April 2017, NMI (>50=Growth in Nonmanufacturing, seasonally adjusted): 57.5 (vs. March 2017: 55.2).
Consumer Credit (March 2017, Outstanding Non-Real Estate Back Consumer Loan Balances, seasonally adjusted):  $3.806 trillion (+$16.4 billion vs. February 2017, +6.0% vs. March 2016).

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

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