Economic Activity Gained During Q2, The Fed Holds Firm: July 24 – 28

Q2 had more than twice the rate of GDP growth than there was during the first three months of 2017. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending July 28.

#1Economic growth picked up during Q2. The Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 2.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR), up from a 1.2 percent annualized growth rate during Q1. This was the fastest pace of economic growth since the third quarter of last year and the second-best growth rate in two years. By far the biggest contributor to Q2 economic growth was consumer expenditures. The 2.8 percent annualized gain in personal consumption expenditures was responsible for 193-basis points in economic growth. Smaller contributions to economic expansion came from nonresidential fixed investment, net exports, and government expenditures. Dragging down GDP growth were residential fixed investment (housing) and the change in private business inventories. The same report contained the annual revisions to previously reported GDP growth rates, with the U.S. economy now believed to have grown 2.6 percent, 2.9 percent, and 1.9 percent in 2014, 2015, and 2016, respectively. This represented an upward revision for 2014 and 2015, but a downgrade for 2016. BEA will update its Q2 GDP estimate twice over the next two months.GDP Growth 2012-2017-0722817

#2The Fed leaves its short-term interest rate target alone. The policy statement released following last week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) notes that the “labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising moderately so far this year.” Further, while spending at households and business was growing, inflationary pressures had cooled below its two-percent target rate. As a result, the FOMC members voted unanimously to keep the fed funds target rate at a range between 1.00 and 1.25 percent following the quarter point hike at the previous meeting. The statement also said that the Federal Reserve would continue its policy to reinvest principal payments made on its agency debt and mortgage-back securities holdings “for the time being.” The words in the quotes are read by some to suggest that the policy will be rolled back as soon as the next FOMC meeting in September.

#3Existing home sales cooled slightly in June while those of new homes crept up. The National Association of Realtors tells us that sales of previously owned homes decreased 1.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.52 million units. The SAAR has been within a tight range of 5.3 and 5.7 million units over the past year. Sales slowed during June in three of four Census regions: South (-4.7 percent), Northeast (-2.6 percent), and West (-0.8 percent). Existing home sales grew 3.1 percent during the month in the Midwest. Even with the decline, existing home sales were up 0.7 percent over the past year, although only two regions (West and Northeast) have positive 12-month comparables. Inventories remained very tight: the 1.96 million homes available for sale at the end of June was off 0.5 percent from May, 7.1 percent below the year ago count, and was the equivalent of a mere 4.3 month supply. As a result tight supply of homes for sale, the median sales price of $263,800 was 6.5 percent above that of a year earlier.

Per the Census Bureau, new home sales edged up 0.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 610,000 units, up 9.1 percent from a year earlier. New home sales gained in both the West (+12.5 percent) and Midwest (+10.0 percent), fell in the South (-6.1 percent), and held steady in the Northeast. Three of four Census regions have positive 12-month sales comparables: Northeast, West, and South. The count of new homes available for sale increased 1.1 percent to 272,000. Even though this was 11.9 percent above the number of homes on the market back in June 2016, it reflected a still tight 5.4 month supply.

#4Durable goods orders rose in June as aircraft orders surged. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for durable manufactured goods totaled $245.6 billion, up 6.5 percent from May after two monthly declines. Orders for transportation goods jumped 19.0 percent as civilian aircraft orders blossomed by 131.2 percent (aircraft orders tend to be volatile month-to-month). Motor vehicle orders slipped 0.2 percent during June. Net of transportation goods, durable goods orders grew 0.2 percent during the month. Increasing during the month were new orders for communications equipment (+1.6 percent), fabricated metal products (+0.7 percent), machinery (+0.2 percent), and primary metals (+0.1 percent). Falling were new orders for electrical equipment/appliances (-1.7 percent), computers (-0.2 percent), and non-aircraft civilian capital goods (-0.1 percent).

#5Two surveys show consumers are more confident about current business conditions than they have been in more than a decade. The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index added 3.8 points in July to a seasonally adjusted reading of 121.1 (1985 = 100), its first increase in four months. Views improved for both current and expectation business conditions. The present situation index grew by 3.9 points to 147.8 (a 16-year high) while the expectations index added 3.7 points to 103.3. A third of survey respondents characterized current business conditions as “good” while only 13.5 percent saw them as “bad.” Similarly, 34.1 percent said that jobs were “plentiful” while 18.0 percent stated that they were “hard to get.” The press release noted that “consumers foresee the current economic expansion continuing well into the second half of this year.”

The Index of Consumer Sentiment from the University of Michigan declined 1.7 points in July to a seasonally adjusted reading of 93.4 (1966Q1 = 100). The same measure was at 90.0 a year earlier, but the index has lost 5.1 points since its postrecession peak in January. The index for current business conditions added 9/10ths of a point to 113.4, its highest reading since July 2005 (July 206: 109.0). The expectations index shed 3.4 points during the month to 80.5 (July 2016: 77.8). There were great differences in expectations by survey respondents’ political views: the expectations index for Republicans was 108.7 while that for Democrats was at 63.7. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending July 22, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 244,000 (+10,000 vs. previous week; -19,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 244,000 (-5.6% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Chicago Fed National Activity Index (June 2017, Index (0.00=U.S. Economy Growing at its Historical Average, not seasonally adjusted): +0.13 (vs. May 2017: -0.30; vs. June 2016: +0.03).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (May 2017, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.1 vs. April 2017, +5.7% vs. May 2016.
FHFA House Price Index (May 2017, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.4% vs. April 2017, +6.9% vs. May 2016.

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

Housing Starts Rebound in June, Leading Economic Indicators Gain: July 17 – 21

Housing construction rebounded in June while leading economic indicators point towards accelerated economic activity during the latter half of this year. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending July 21.

#1Housing construction jumped in June. Per the Census Bureau, housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.215 million units, up 8.3 percent from May, 2.1 percent from a year earlier and its highest point since February. This had followed three consecutive monthly declines in starts. The annualized rate of single-family home starts grew 6.3 percent during the month to 849,000 units (+10.3 percent) while that for multifamily units surged 15.4 percent to 359,000 (off 10.7 percent from the year ago pace). Looking towards the future, the number of issued building permits jumped 7.4 percent during the month to 1.168 million permits (5.1 percent above the June 2016 rate). Housing completions increased 5.2 percent during June to an annualized rate of 1.144 million units. This was 8.1 percent ahead of the completions rate of a year earlier.Housing Starts-2006-2017-072117

#2Homebuilders were (slightly) less confident in July. The Housing Market Index (HMI) from the National Association of Home Builders shed two points to a seasonally adjusted reading of 64. While this was the HMI’s lowest mark since last November, it was still up six points from a year earlier and the 37th straight month in the measure was above a reading of 50, indicating more builders described housing conditions as “good” rather than “poor.” The HMI fell in two of four Census regions—South (down five points to 68) and Midwest (down four points to 64) but gained in the West (up three points to 74) and the Northeast (up two points to 48). Shedding two points were indices for both current and expected sales (to 70 and 73, respectively) while the measure of prospective buyers traffic slipped a point to 48. The press release described overall confidence as “solid,” but noted that homebuilders were “growing increasingly concerned over rising material prices, particularly lumber” that was “hurting housing affordability even as consumer interest in the new-home market remains strong.”

#3Forward looking economic indicators suggests greater economic growth for the rest of this year. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) jumped by 8/10ths of a point during June to a seasonally adjusted 127.8 (2010=100). This represented nearly a four percent increase over the past year. Eight of the LEI’s ten component made a positive contribution to the index, led by housing building permits, manufacturing new orders, and the interest rate spread. Both the coincident index and the lagging index added 2/10ths of a point to 115.5 and 124.4, respectively. All four components of the coincident index made positive contributions, including nonfarm payrolls and industrial production. Four of seven components to the lagging index made positive contributions, led by the average prime rate charged by banks. The press release said the Conference Board expects “continued growth in the U.S. economy and perhaps even a moderate improvement in GDP growth in the second half of the year.”

#4Employers added workers in 14 states during June. Detailed state-level employment data from June released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds nonfarm payrolls grew by a statistically significant amount in 14 states but were “essentially” unchanged in the other 36 states and the District of Columbia. States with the largest payroll gains during June were Texas (+40,200), Georgia (+27,400), New York (+26,000), and Maryland (+13,300). Thirty-nine states enjoyed significant employment gains over the past year but held steady in the other 11 states and in the District of Columbia. The states with the largest year-to-year percentage gains in nonfarm payrolls were Nevada (+3.8 percent), Utah (+3.0 percent), and Florida (+2.9 percent).

#5Bankruptcy filings continue to decline. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reports that there were 796,037 bankruptcy filings during the 12 month period through June 30, 2017. This was off 2.8 percent from the same 12-month period a year earlier and down 30.0 percent from the 12-month count of four years earlier. There were 23,443 business bankruptcy filings during the 12-month period ending June 30, 2017 (down 7.1 percent from a year ago) and 772,594 non-business filings (down 2.7 percent from a year earlier). 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending July 15, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 233,000 (-15,000 vs. previous week; -25,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 2435,750 (-6.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (June 2017, not seasonally adjusted):  -0.2% vs. May 2017, +1.5% vs. June 2016. Nonfuel imports: +0.1% vs. May 2017, +1.0% vs. June 2016.
Export Prices (June 2017, not seasonally adjusted):  -0.2% vs. May 2017, +0.6% vs. June 2016. Nonagricultural exports: unchanged vs. May 2017, +1.1% vs. June 2016.
Treasury International Capital Flows (May 2017, Net Foreigner Purchases of Domestic Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$95.5 billion (vs. April 2017: +$3.8 billion, vs. May 2016: +$16.3 billion).

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

Retail Sales and Inflation Both Take a Summer Break: July 10 – 14

The summer has not been sizzling (so far) for retailers while inflation takes June off for vacation. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending July 14. 

#1June was another weak month for retail sales. The Census Bureau estimates retail sales were at $473.5 billion during the month, down 0.2 percent from May and up a moderate 2.8 percent from a year earlier. After removing data at auto dealers/parts stores (which inched up 0.1 percent) from the analysis, core retail sales also fell 0.2 percent for the month and were up an even more tepid 2.4 percent. June’s sales decline follows a 0.1 percent drop in May. Sales improved at building materials retailers (+0.5 percent), general merchandisers (+0.4 percent), health/personal care stores (+0.3 percent), electronics/appliance retailers (+0.1 percent), and furniture stores (+0.1 percent). Sales weakened at gas stations (-1.3 percent, largely due to lower gas prices), department stores (-0.7 percent), sporting goods/hobby retailers (-0.6 percent), restaurants/bars (-0.6 percent), and grocery stores (-0.5 percent). Sales gains were also modest at what has been the hot spot in recent years for retail: nonstore (i.e., web) retailers, where sales grew “only” 0.4 percent during June. Sales at nonstore retailers nevertheless still have grown 9.2 percent over the past year.Retail Sales June 17-071717

#2One reason for the weak retail data may be the lack of inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) was unchanged in June, following 0.1 percent slip during May. Energy prices slumped for the fourth time in five months with a 1.6 percent drop as gasoline prices fell 2.7 percent. Food prices held steady during the month. Net of energy and food goods, core CPI inched up 0.1 percent for the third consecutive month. Growing during the month were prices for medical care commodities (+0.7 percent), medical care services (+0.3 percent), shelter (+0.2 percent), and transportation services (+0.2 percent). Prices declined for both new and used vehicles (-0.3 percent and -0.7 percent, respectively) and for apparel (-0.1 percent). Over the past year, CPI has grown 1.6 percent while the 12-month comparable for core CPI was +1.7 percent.

The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand eked out a 0.1 percent increase during June after having held steady in May. The core measure—final demand PPI less energy, food, and trade service—gained 0.2 percent. Wholesale prices for energy dropped 0.5 percent as final demand gasoline PPI fell 1.1 percent. Food PPI jumped 0.6 percent (its biggest gain since February), led by a 5.5 percent bump in the wholesale price of meats. Net of energy and food, core final demand core producer prices gained 0.1 percent during June. Prices for final demand services increased 0.2 percent, its smallest increase since February. The 12-month comparables for both headline final demand PPI and core final demand PPI were +2.0 percent.

#3Manufacturing enjoyed a soft rebound in June. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing output grew 0.2 percent during the month following a 0.4 percent decline in May. Manufacturing output has increased 1.2 percent over the past year. Production of durable goods gained 0.4 percent while that of nondurables held firm with their May readings. All the key categories of durable goods enjoyed production gains during June while the bright spot for nondurables was rubber/plastic products. Overall industrial production increased 0.4 percent during June following a 0.1 percent increase in May and was 2.0 percent above its June 2016 level. Mining output jumped 1.6 percent during the month (with gains in oil/gas extraction, coal mining, and drilling/support activities) while utilities’ output was unchanged (higher electric utility production counterbalanced a drop at gas utilities).

#4The number of job openings shrank, but the number of people hired blossomed in May. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were a seasonally adjusted 5.666 million job openings at the end of May. While this was down 301,000 from April, it remained 1.5 percent above the year ago count and was still near its post-recession high. Some of the sharpest month-to-month declines in job openings were professional/business services, financial activities, health care/social assistance, transportation/warehousing, and construction. On the positive side, there were 5.472 million people hired during May, up 429,000 from April and 6.2 percent from the May 2016 pace. Industries reporting the largest year-to-year percentage increases in hiring were manufacturing, construction, financial activities, and transportation/warehousing. Finally, the count of job separations grew by 251,000 during the month to 5.259 million (+3.1 percent versus May 2016). The number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs—3.221 million—was up +7.2 percent from a year earlier, suggesting workers’ success in finding new jobs. The count of layoffs—1.661 million—was 4.6 percent below that of May 2016.

#5Small business owners’ optimism slipped again in June. The Small Business Optimism Index lost 9/10ths of a point during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 103.6 (1986=100), its fourth drop in five months. Even with the downward trend, the National Federation of Independent Business measure has maintained much of the surge it experienced following last November’s election and was still 9.1 points above its year ago reading. Pulling down the index were declining readings of index components tracking expectations for the economy (down six points), expected real sales (down five points), current job openings (down four points), plans to increase employment (down three points), and whether it is a good time to expand (down two points). Four of the index’s ten components improved during the month: current inventories (up three points), plans to increase inventories (up three points), plans to make capital outlays (up two points), and expectations for credit conditions (up a point). The press release said the index’s decline was “no doubt in part due to the mess in Washington, D.C.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending July 8, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 247,000 (-3,000 vs. previous week; -7,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 245,750 (-5.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Business Inventories (May 2017, Manufacturing and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.860 trillion (+0.3% vs. April 2017, +2.4% vs. May 2016).
Consumer Credit (May 2017, Outstanding Balances of Non-Real Estate Backed Loans, seasonally adjusted): $3.843 trillion (+$18.4 billion vs. April 2017, +5.8% vs. May 2016).
Treasury Budget (June 2017, Surplus/Deficit): -$90.2 billion (vs. May 2017: -$88.4 billion; vs. June 2016: +$6.3 billion). For the first 9 months of FY2017: -$523.1 billion (+31.0% vs. first 9 months of FY2016).
Beige Book
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (July 2017-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment, seasonally adjusted): 93.1 (vs. June 2017: 95.1, vs. July 2016: 90.0).

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