The Fed Moves, Inflation Does Not: June 12 – 16

The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates even though inflation remains below where the Fed wants it to be. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 16.

#1The Federal Reserve bumped up its short-term interest rate target for the second time in 2017. The policy statement released following the conclusion of last week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FMOC) reaffirmed its view that the economy was “rising moderately,” the labor market had “continued to strengthen,” and that risks to economic growth were “balanced.” At the same time, it noted that inflation had “declined recently” and was tracking below the Fed’s two-percent target rate. Nevertheless, the FOMC voted (with one dissension) to raise the fed funds target rate by 25-basis points to a range of +1.00 percent and +1.25 percent, a level that the statement noted was still “accommodative” and would promote “further strengthening in the labor market.” The FOMC also agreed to gradually begin reducing the central bank’s holdings of Treasury securities and agency mortgage-back securities by slowing its reinvestment of the principal payments that it receives on these holdings.

The Fed also released updated economic forecasts from FOMC meeting participants. The group continues to expect modest economic growth over the coming years with median forecasts for annual GDP growth at +2.2 percent, +2.1 percent, and +1.9 percent for 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively. At the same time, they now anticipate low unemployment rates of 4.3 percent this year and 4.2 percent in both 2018 and 2019. The group also expects the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) deflator, a measure of inflation, to be at +1.7 percent for this year before creeping up to +2.0 percent during both 2018 and 2019. Finally, the FOMC meeting participants predict one more hike in the fed funds target rate this year and then three hikes per year in both 2018 and 2019.FOMC Fed Funds Target Forecasts--061617

 #2Inflation took the month of May off. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) slipped 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, leaving it 1.9 percent above its May 2016 reading. The decline was partially the result of a pullback in gasoline prices (-6.4 percent) that weighed on the energy price index -2.7 percent. Meanwhile, food CPI grew 0.2 percent during the month. Net of both energy and food, core CPI eked out a 0.1 percent increase, giving it a 12-month comparable of +1.7 percent. Rising during the month were prices for medical care commodities (+0.4 percent), transportation services (+0.3 percent), and shelter (+0.2 percent). Prices fell for apparel (-0.8 percent), both new and used vehicles (-0.2 percent), and medical care services (-0.1 percent).

Falling wholesale gasoline prices also kept wholesale prices in check during May. Final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) held steady during the month but was still up 2.4 percent from a year earlier. The core measure of final demand wholesale prices (net of energy, food, and trade services) declined 0.1 percent for the month and had a 12-month comparable of +2.1 percent. PPI of final demand goods dropped 0.2 percent as wholesale price declines for energy (-3.0 percent) and food (-0.2 percent) outweighed the 0.1 percent increase in prices for core goods. PPI for final demand services grew 0.3 percent during May as the price index for trade services (i.e., retailer and wholesaler margins) jumped 1.1 percent.

#3Manufacturing output fell in May. The Federal Reserve’s report on industrial production finds manufacturing output declining 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month following a 1.1 percent gain in April. This left manufacturing output growing by an unexceptional 1.4 percent from a year earlier. Durable goods production slumped 0.8 percent during May, with declines across all major product categories, while nondurables output gained 0.3 percent, led by a “large gain” in the production of chemicals. Overall industrial production was unchanged for the month as a drop in manufacturing output was counterbalanced by production gains in mining (+1.6 percent) and at utilities (+0.4 percent)

#4Retail sales sputtered in May. Per the Census Bureau, retail sales declined 0.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $473.8 billion. Nevertheless, sales paced 3.8 percent ahead of their year-ago level. Sales net of those at auto dealers & parts stores (-0.2 percent vs. April 2017) shared the same comparbles of -0.3 percent vs. April 2017 and +3.8 percent vs. May 2016. Some of the decline in retail sales during May was the result of lower gasoline prices that had pushed down sales at gas stations 2.8 percent (this data series does not adjust for price changes). Sales also fell at electronic stores (-2.8 percent), department stores (-1.0 percent), sporting goods/hobby retailers (-0.6 percent), and restaurants/bars (-0.1 percent). Having a better month were furniture stores (+0.4 percent), apparel retailers (+0.3 percent), and grocery stores (+0.1 percent). Consumers continued to shift away from brick and mortar stores to online retailers as sales at nonstore retailers jumped 0.8 percent during the month and were 10.2 percent ahead of their May 2016 pace.

#5Employers expect to expand payrolls during Q3. Twenty-four percent of the more than 11,000 employers Manpower interviewed intend to expand payrolls during the three-month period of July, August, and September, while four percent expect to shed workers. Taking the difference of +20 and adjusting for seasonal variation gives you the Manpower Net Employment Outlook Index of +17, which was unchanged from the second quarter forecast and up two points from the same quarter a year earlier. The index was positive in all 13 industries tracked, with the highest outlook index reading coming in for leisure/hospitality (+25), transportation/utilities (+22), and wholesale/retail trade (+21). The press release said that “[e]mployers across the country are optimistic but don’t want to get ahead of themselves.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending June 10, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 237,000 -8,000 vs. previous week; -36,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 243,000 (-9.5% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (May 2017, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.3% vs. April 2017, +2.1% vs. May 2016. Nonfuel imports: unchanged vs. April 2017, +0.8% vs. May 2016).
Export Prices (May 2017, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted: -0.7% vs. April 2017, +1.4% vs. May 2016.
Housing Starts (April 2017, Housing Starts, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 1.172 million (-2.6% vs. March 2017, +5.7% vs. April 2016).
Housing Market Index (June 2017, Index (>50 = “Good” Housing Market, seasonally adjusted): 67 (vs. May 2017: 69, vs. June 2016: 60).
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (June 2017-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1 = 100), seasonally adjusted): 94.5 (vs. May 2017: 97.1, June 2016: 93.5).
Regional & State Employment (May 2017, States with Significant Changes in Nonfarm Payrolls Vs. Previous Month, seasonally adjusted): Increased in 9 states and the District of Columbia and decreased in 4 states. Vs. May 2016: Increased in 28 states and no states suffered significant declines.
Business Inventories (April 2017, Manufacturing & Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.854 trillion (-0.2% vs. March 2017, +2.3% vs. April 2016).

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

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