GDP Growth Downshifted in Q1: Week of April 23 – 27

Slower growth in consumer spending pulls back economic expansion during early 2018. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 27.

#1The U.S. economic growth decelerated during Q1. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ advance estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had the U.S. economy expanding at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of +2.3 percent. While this was the 16th consecutive quarter of GDP growth, it was the most modest pace of economic expansion in a year. The biggest culprit was a slowdown in the growth rate of consumer spending, which contributed only 73-basis points to Q1 GDP growth after having added 275-basis points during the final three months of 2017. Most other GDP components made positive contributions: fixed nonresidential investment (+0.76), change in private inventories (+0.43), net exports (+0.20), and government expenditures (+0.20). The only component that did not make a positive contribution was fixed residential investment, which had made neither a positive or negative contribution. The BEA will release its estimate of Q1 GDP growth twice over the next two months.2018 Q1 GDP contributors-042718

#2Economic indicators point to the economy expanding at a slower rate in March. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted index of 85 economic indicators, shed 88-basis points during the month to a reading of +0.10. Forty-four of the 85 economic indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI. Only two of the four major categories of economic indicators made net positive contributions (those associated with production and sales/orders/inventories) while measures tied to employment and personal consumption/housing pulled down the headline index. Experiencing a far less significant decline was the CFNAI’s three-month moving average, losing four basis points to +0.27. A reading above 0.00 is indicators of economic growth greater than the historical average.

#3Sales of both existing and new homes increased in March. Sales of previously owned homes grew 1.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.60 million units, per the National Association of Realtors. This was 1.2 percent below the year-ago sales pace. Sales grew in the Northeast (+6.3 percent) and Midwest (+5.7 percent) but slowed in the West (-3.1 percent) and South (-0.4 percent). Inventories remained extraordinarily tight but improved during the month—the 1.67 million homes available for sale at the end of March was a 5.7 percent gain from the prior month but still 5.7 percent fewer than that of a year earlier and translated into a mere 3.6 month supply. The median sales price of $250,400 represented a 5.8 percent increase over the previous year. Despite the upturn in home sales activity, the press release noted the “woefully low” supply of homes that was causing prices to rise “above what some would-be buyers can afford.”

The Census Bureau estimates the seasonally adjusted annualized sales pace of new home sales was at 694,000 in March, up 4.0 percent for the month and 8.8 percent over the past year. Virtually all of the month-to-month gain occurred in the West, where new home sales surged 28.3 percent. The 301,000 new homes available for sale at the end of March matched that of February, was 13.2 percent larger than that of a year earlier and was the equivalent to a 5.2 month supply. The median sales price of new homes was $337,200 in March, up 4.8 percent from the same month a year earlier.

#4Two surveys paint slightly different (if still solid) pictures of consumer sentiment. The Conference Board’s Consumer Sentiment Index added 1.7 points during April to a seasonally adjusted 128.7 (1985=100), leaving the measure near its post-recession high achieved in February. The present conditions index added 1.5 points to 159.6 while the expectations index gained 1.9 points to 108.1. 35.2 percent of survey respondents characterized current business conditions as “good” while only 11.3 percent saw them as “bad.” Similarly, 38.1 percent of consumer perceive the availability of jobs as being “plentiful” while 15.2 percent see them as “hard to get.” The press release noted that only six percent of consumers were “expecting their incomes to decline over the coming months,” the lowest percentage saying so since December 2000.

Losing pace was the Index of Consumer Sentiment, as measured by the University of Michigan. The index shed 2.6 points during April to a seasonally adjusted 98.8 (1966Q1=100). This was a full point improvement from the preliminary April reading reported a few weeks earlier and left the measure 1.8 points ahead of its year-ago mark. The current conditions index dropped 6.3 points to 114.9 while the expectations index pulled back by 4/10ths of a point to 88.4. The press release noted the survey respondents mostly had positive opinions about the recently enacted tax reform policies but were more pessimistic about the effects of recently proposed import tariffs.

#5A surge in aircraft orders led to a jump in durable goods orders in March. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured durable goods surged 2.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $254.9 billion. This was the fourth increase in durable orders over the past five months. Civilian aircraft orders swelled 44.5 percent during March, leading to a 7.6 percent increase in overall transportation goods orders. Net of transportation goods, however, new orders were unchanged for the month. Also gaining during the month were new orders for primary metals (+1.4 percent), computer/electronic products (+1.3 percent), and electrical equipment/appliances (+0.1 percent). Falling were new orders for machinery (-1.7 percent) and nondefense capital goods net of aircraft (-0.1 percent). The latter is a proxy for business investment and has declined in three of the past four months.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 21, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 209,000 (-24,000 vs. previous week; -43,000 vs. the same week a year earlier, and the fewest since December 1969). 4-week moving average: 229,250 (-6.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (February 2018, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted):  +0.7% vs. January 2018, +6.8% vs. February 2017.
FHFA House Price Index (February 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. January 2018, +7.2% vs. February 2017.
Agricultural Prices (March 2018, Prices Received by Farmers (Index (2011=100)): 94.9 (+4.5% vs. February 2018, +0.9%).

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

Vehicles Drive Manufacturing and Retail Sales: April 16 – 20

Manufacturing activity grew again in March (albeit at a slower pace than in February) while retail sales had its best month since last November. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 20.

#1Manufacturing output grows at a slower pace during March. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing production increased 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month following a 1.5 percent gain in February, leaving the measure up 3.0 percent over the past year. Production of durable goods gained 0.4 percent—which included the impact of a 2.7 percent surge in motor vehicle output—and has increased 3.8 percent over the past year. Production of nondurables slowed 0.3 percent during the month but remained 2.7 percent ahead of its March 2017 mark. Overall industrial production rose 0.5 percent during March and has jumped 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. Mining output increased 1.0 percent (down from its 2.9 percent increase in February) while production at utilities surged 3.0 percent. The latter helped lead a 3/10ths of a percentage point in capacity utilization (factory utilization) to 78.0 percent, its highest point in three years.Industrial Production Capacity Utilization 042018

#2Retail sales gained in March. Retail and food services sales increased 0.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $494.6 billion, per the Census Bureau. This was the largest single-month percentage increase in retail sales since last November and left the measure up 4.5 percent over the past year. Leading the surge in retail sales was the 2.0 percent jump in sales at auto dealers/parts stores. Net of auto dealer/parts stores, retail sales gained a more modest 0.2 percent in March and was 4.5 percent ahead of the year-ago sales pace. Sales grew at retailers focused on health/personal care (+1.4 percent), furniture (+0.7 percent), electronics (+0.5 percent), general merchandisers (+0.3 percent), and groceries (+0.2 percent). Sales also improved at nonstore retailers (+0.8 percent) and restaurants/bars (+0.4 percent). Slipping were sales at sporting goods/hobby stores (-1.8 percent), building materials retailers (-0.6 percent), gas stations (-0.3 percent), and department stores (-0.3 percent).

#3Forward-looking economic indicators foretell continued economic growth in the coming months. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) added 3/10ths of a point during March to 109.0 (2016=100), rising 6.2 percent over the past year. Six of the ten LEI components made positive contributions to the index, led by the interest rate spread, the new orders index from the Institute for Supply Management, and consumer expectations for future business conditions. The coincident index increased by 2/10ths of a point to 103.4, 2.2 percent ahead of its year-ago reading. All four components of the coincident index made positive contributions, including that for industrial production and personal income net of transfer payments. The lagging index inched up 1/10th of a point to 104.5 (+2.6 percent versus March 2017), with five of seven components making a positive contribution. The press release noted that leading indicators point “to continued solid growth in the U.S. economy for the rest of the year” but that weakness in labor market indicators “bear watching in the future.”

#4Housing starts advanced in March, thanks to gains in multifamily units. The Census Bureau estimates housing starts increased 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.319 million units. This was 10.9 percent ahead of the year-ago rate of starts. Starts of multifamily units (e.g., condos, apartments) jumped 16.1 percent during the month to an annualized 439,000 units while those of single-family homes dropped 3.7 percent to 867,000 units (SAAR). Looking towards future construction activity, the annualized count of issued building permits increased 2.5 percent during March to 1.354 million permits (+7.5 percent versus March 2017). Again, the 22.9 percent bump in permits for multifamily units outpaced the 5.5 percent decline in issued permits for single-family homes. Completions of homes slowed 5.1 percent during the month to 1.217 million homes (SAAR)—this was 1.9 percent ahead of March 2017’s pace of completions.

#5Home builders’ confidence held strong in April. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index (HMI) lost a point to a seasonally adjusted reading of 69. While this was the HMI’s lowest point since last November, it represented the 46th consecutive month with a reading above 50, indicating more homebuilders see the housing market as “good” rather as “poor.” The index slipped in the South and West, held steady in the Midwest, and inched up in the Northeast. Also losing grounds were indices measuring current and expected sales, with the former shedding two points to 75 and the latter slipping by a point to 77. The index for traffic of prospective buyers was unchanged at 51. The press release said that the housing market “remains on solid ground” thanks to “strong demand” with the NAHB expecting “the market to continue to make gains at a gradual pace.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 14, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 232,000 (-1,000 vs. previous week; -15,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 231,250 (-5.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
State Employment (March 2018, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Two states had significant increases in payrolls vs. February 2018. 24 states had significant increases in payrolls vs. March 2017.
Treasury International Capital Flows (February 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$57.9 billion (vs. January 2018: +$62.5 billion; vs. February 2017: +$38.3 billion).
Business Inventories (February 2018, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.929 trillion (+0.6% vs. January 2018, +4.0% vs. February 2017).
Beige Book 

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

Job Openings Fall, Remain Near Record High: April 9 – 13

There were fewer available jobs in February, although employers continued struggling to fill openings. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 13.  

#1The number of job openings shrinks from its all-time high while hiring slightly edged down. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a seasonally adjusted 6.052 million job openings on the final day of February, down 176,000 from January’s 6.228 million openings (itself a data series record) but still 7.7 percent ahead of its February 2017 count. Private sector employers were searching to fill 5.476 million jobs at the end of February, 7.0 percent more than they had been seeking a year earlier. Industries with large percentage year-to-year increases in job openings included transportation (+46.0 percent), state/local governments (+24.0 percent), retail (+21.9 percent), manufacturing (+21.0 percent), construction (+16.0 percent), and finance/insurance (+12.8 percent). Employers hired 5.507 million people during February, down 33,000 from January but still up 4.6 percent from a year earlier. Private sector employers expanded payrolls by 5.161 million workers, a 5.0 percent improvement from a year earlier. Industries with large year-to-year percentage gains in payrolls included manufacturing (+27.9 percent), finance/insurance (+19.2 percent), professional/business services (+12.4 percent), and health care/social assistance (+6.4 percent). Fewer workers left their jobs during February, declining 127,000 from the prior month to 5.192 million (+3.2 percent versus February 2017). This included 3.210 million people who quit their jobs (+6.4 percent versus February 2017) and 1.647 million who were laid off (-0.6 percent versus February 2017).job openings and hiring 041318

#2Core consumer prices remained on target even as gasoline prices fell in March. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) slipped 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month but was still 2.4 percent ahead of year-ago levels. Energy prices slumped 2.9 percent as gasoline prices dropped 4.7 percent. Food prices eked out a 0.1 percent gain. Netting out both energy and food, core CPI increased 0.2 percent during March and has risen 2.1 percent over the past year. Rising were prices for medical care services (+0.5 percent), shelter (+0.4 percent), transportation services (+0.2 percent), and medical care commodities (+0.1 percent). Prices fell during the month for apparel (-0.6 percent) and used cars/trucks (-0.3 percent).

#3Wholesale prices had a sizable gain for the second time in three months. The final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) grew by a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent during March following a 0.2 percent bump in February and a 0.4 percent increase in January. Final demand PPI net energy, food, and trade services (a measure of core wholesale prices) rose 0.4 percent for a third consecutive month. Food PPI jumped 2.2 percent while energy PPI slumped 2.1 percent. Net of energy and food, core wholesale goods prices increased 0.3 percent. PPI for final demand services gained 0.3 percent, with rising wholesale prices for in transportation/warehousing (+0.6 percent) and trade services (+0.3 percent). Over the past year, final demand PPI has jumped 3.0 percent while wholesale prices net of energy, food, and trade services have risen 2.9 percent.

#4Small business owner optimism chilled slightly in the March winds. The Small Business Optimism Index from the National Federation of Independent Business lost 2.9 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 104.7 (1986=100). Even with the decline, this was the 16th straight month in which the measure was above a reading of 100.0. Eight of ten components to the index lost ground from their February readings, including significant drops for future expectations for the economy, expected real sales, and whether it was a good time to expand. Only two index components—plans to increase employment and current job openings—improved in March. The press release noted that March index reading was “among the 20 best in survey history.”

#5Wholesale inventories swelled in February. Merchant wholesalers expanded their inventories 1.0 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $625.6 billion, per the Census Bureau. Wholesale inventories have grown 5.5 percent over the past year. Inventories of durable goods jumped 1.7 percent during February to a seasonally adjusted $240.5 billion (+8.6 percent versus February 2017), including gains for furniture (+4.5 percent), metals (+4.4 percent), machinery (+3.9 percent), and automobiles (+1.4 percent). Nondurable goods inventories expanded by a more modest 0.4 percent to $255.4 billion (+5.2 percent versus February 2017), including sizable gains for apparel (+5.0 percent), farm products (+3.3 percent), alcohol (+2.4 percent), and chemicals (+2.0 percent). The wholesale inventory-to-sales (I/S) ratio held firm during the month at 1.26. This I/S ratio for durable goods shrank by one basis point to 1.58 while that for nondurables inched up by a basis point to 0.96.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 7, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 233,000 (-9,000 vs. previous week; -3,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 230,000 (-7.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (March 2018, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): Unchanged vs. February 2018, +3.6% vs. March 2017. Nonfuel imports: +0.2% vs. February 2018, +2.1% vs. March 2017.
Export Prices (March 2018, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.3% vs. February 2018, +3.4% vs. March 2017. Nonagricultural exports: -0.1% vs. February 2018, +3.4% vs. March 2017.
Monthly Federal Treasury Statement (March 2018, Budget Surplus/Deficit): -$208.7 billion. First 6 months of FY2018: -$599.7 billion (vs. First 6 months of FY2017: -$526.9 billion).
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (April 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment, seasonally adjusted): 97.8 (vs. March 2018: 101.4, vs. April 2017: 97.0).
FOMC Minutes

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