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.
The 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).
Core 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).
Wholesale 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.
Small 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.”
Wholesale 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
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