Payroll growth surprised to the upside while the trade deficit widened once again. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending March 9.
Employers accelerated their pace of hiring during February. Nonfarm payrolls grew by a seasonally adjusted 313,000 workers during the month, the most jobs added since June 2016. Further, the Bureau of Labor Statistics upwardly revised its estimates of December and January job gains by a combined 54,000. Nonfarm employers have added 2.281 million people to their payrolls over the past year, for a monthly average of 190,083 jobs. Private sector employers added 287,000 jobs to their payrolls in February, split between 100,000 in the goods-producing side of the economy and 187,000 in the service sector. The industries adding the most workers during the month included construction (+61,000), retail (+50,300), professional/business services (+50,000), manufacturing (+32,000), health care/social assistance (+29,100), and financial activities (+28,000). The average workweek inched up by 1/10th of an hour to 34.5 hours (February 2017: 34.4) while average weekly earnings grew by $4.06 to $922.88 (up 2.9 percent over the past year).
Based on a separate survey of households, the employment rate remained at its post-recession low of 4.1 percent for a third consecutive month. An impressive 806,000 people entered the labor force, leading to a 3/10ths of a percentage point increase in the labor force participation rate to 63.0 percent, its highest point since last September. The labor force participation rate for adults aged 25 to 54—arguably a better measure of the number of adults in their prime working years—rose by half of a percentage point to a post-recession high of 82.2 percent. The typical length of unemployment slipped by 1/10th of a week to 9.3 weeks (February 2017: 10.1 weeks). 5.160 million people held a part-time job but were seeking a full-time opportunity, down from the 5.670 million at the same time a year earlier. The broadest measure of labor underutilization published by the BLS—the U-6 series—held firm at 8.2 percent (February 2017: 9.2 percent).
The U.S. trade deficit widened for a fifth consecutive month. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that exports declined 1.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted $200.9 billion while imports shrank by less than 0.1 percent to $257.5 billion. The resulting trade deficit expanded by 5.0 percent to -$56.6 billion. The trade deficit has grown by 16.2 percent over the past year. The goods deficit jumped by $2.8 billion to -$76.5 billion while the services surplus eked out a $0.1 billion increase to +$19.9 billion. The former resulted from a $3.3 billion decrease in exported goods (thanks to a decline in exports of both civilian aircraft and industrial supplies/materials). The U.S. had its largest goods deficits with China (-$35.5 billion), the European Union (-$15.0 billion), Germany (-$6.3 billion), Mexico (-$5.6 billion), and Japan (-$5.6 billion).
The service sector continued growing at a solid if slightly slower rate in February. The headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Non-Manufacturing Report on Business shed 4/10ths of a point to a reading of 59.5. This was the 97th straight month in which the NMI was above a reading of 50.0, indicative of an expanding service sector. The NMI slipped because of a sharp 6.6 point drop in the index component associated with employment (to a still expanding reading of 55.0). Two other index components grew during February (business activity/production (up 3.0 points) and new orders (up 2.1 points)) while that for supplier deliveries held firm. Sixteen of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries expanded during the month, led by education services, transportation/warehousing, and utilities. The press release noted that a “majority of respondents continue to be positive about business conditions and the economy.”
Even with a small upward revision for Q4, productivity gains continued to disappoint. The Bureau of Economic Analysis raised its estimate of nonfarm labor productivity during the final three months of 2017from a 0.1 percent decrease to being unchanged on a seasonally adjusted basis. This was the outcome of output growing 3.2 percent and the number of worked gaining 3.3 percent. Manufacturing sector productivity surged 6.0 percent during Q4, thanks to a 6.6 percent increase in output resulting from a mere 0.5 percent increase in the number of hours worked. Durable goods manufacturing productivity jumped 8.1 percent while that for nondurable goods manufacturing increased 3.4 percent. For all of 2017, nonfarm business productivity gained by a feeble 1.2 percent, which was nevertheless an improvement from being unchanged for all of 2016. Manufacturing sector productivity inched up 0.6 percent during 2017 after having gained by only 0.4 percent and 0.3 percent in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
Consumers took on credit card debt at a slower rate in January. The Federal Reserve indicates that outstanding consumer credit balances (net of any real estate related loans—e.g., mortgages, home equity loans) totaled a seasonally adjusted $3.855 trillion at the end of the month, up $13.9 billion from December and 5.3 percent from a year earlier. Balances of nonrevolving credit (e.g., student loans, college loans) jumped by $12.8 billion during the month to $2.825 trillion (+5.0 percent versus January 2017). Not rising as much were outstanding revolving credit balances (e.g., credit cards), which inched up by $0.7 billion to $1.030 trillion (+6.1 percent versus January 2017). Revolving balances had risen by $6.1 billion and $11.3 billion during December and November, respectively.
Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
– Jobless Claims (week ending March 3, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 231,000 (+21,000 vs. previous week; -21,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 222,500 (-8.6% vs. the same week a year earlier).
– Factory Orders (January 2018, New Orders for Manufactured Goods, seasonally adjusted):$491.7 billion (-1.4% vs. December 2017, -6.6% vs. January 2017).
– Wholesale Trade (January 2018, Inventories of Merchant Wholesalers, seasonally adjusted): $619.1 billion (+0.8% vs. December 2017, +4.8% vs. January 2017).
– Beige Book
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