Employers continue having trouble filling open positions. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 11.
Job openings hit an (at least) 17-year high during March while growth in hiring lagged. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a seasonally adjusted 6.550 million available jobs at the end of March, up 472,000 for the month, 16.8 percent above the year-ago count, and the most since the launch of the data series back in December 2000. Private sector employers had 5.928 million job openings, up 16.5 percent from a year earlier. Some of the largest year-to-year percentage increases in job openings were in construction (+38.5 percent), trade/transportation/utilities (+26.4 percent), retail (+24.0 percent), state/local government (+23.9 percent), professional/business services (+20.6 percent), financial activities (+17.2 percent), and leisure/hospitality (+17.0 percent). Employers had difficulty finding people to fill these positions as the 5.425 million hired workers during the month was down 86,000 from February and up a more modest 2.4 percent from a year earlier. Industries with strong year-to-year percentage gains in hiring included arts/entertainment/recreation (+26.0 percent), professional/business services (+13.5 percent), manufacturing (+12.7 percent), transportation/warehousing (+7.0 percent), and wholesale trade (+6.9 percent). 5.291 million people left their jobs during March, up 118,000 from February and 2.3 percent from a year earlier. This included 3.344 million people who quit their jobs (+6.4 percent from a year earlier) and 1.278 million people who were subject to a layoff (down 7.1 percent from March 2017).
Consumer prices grew at a moderate rate in April. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, up from a 0.1 percent decline in March and leaving the measure 2.5 percent ahead of its year-ago mark. Energy prices rebounded 1.4 percent during April following a 2.8 percent pullback in March (gasoline prices increased 3.0 percent). Food prices grew at their fastest rate in 13 months with a 0.3 percent advance (fruits/vegetables, eggs, beer, and dairy products leading the way). Net of energy and food, core CPI saw its smallest gain since last November with a 0.1 percent increase. Helping keep the core measure in check were declining prices for used cars/trucks (-1.6 percent), new vehicles (-0.5 percent), transportation services (-0.4 percent), and medical care commodities (-0.2 percent). Rising were prices for shelter (+0.3 percent), apparel (+0.3 percent) and medical care services (+0.2 percent).
Lower food prices lead to the smallest increase in wholesale prices of the year. The final demand measure of the Producer Price Index (PPI) grew a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent during April following a 0.3 percent increase in March, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The core measure of wholesale prices—final demand PPI net of energy, food, and trade services—increased 0.1 percent following three monthly 0.4 percent gains. Final demand prices were unchanged during April as energy prices edge up 0.1 percent and food prices fell 1.1 percent (including a 17.8 percent drop in vegetable prices). Core final demand goods prices (net of energy and food) grew 0.3 percent for the third time in four months. Final demand PPI for services gained 0.2 percent, reflecting a 0.2 percent gain in trade services PPI and a 0.6 percent jump in transportation/warehousing prices. Over the past year, final demand PPI has grown 2.6 percent while the core measure (net of energy, food, and trade services) has increased 2.5 percent.
Small business owner confidence held firm in April. The Small Business Optimism Index eked out a 1/10th of a point gain to a seasonally adjusted reading of 104.8 (1986=100). This was the 17th consecutive month in which the National Federation of Independent Business’s measure was above a reading of 100. Four of ten index components gained during the month: earnings trends (up three points), plans to make capital outlays (up three points), current inventories (up two points), and expected real sales. Three measures declined from their March readings: plans to increase employment (down four points), expected economic conditions (down two points), and whether it is a good time to expand (off a single point). The press release claims that “[n]ever in the history of this survey have we seen profit trends so high.”
Consumers took on debt at a slower pace in March. The Federal Reserve reports that outstanding consumer credit balances (net of mortgages and other real estate backed debt) grew by $11.7 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $3.875 trillion. This was smaller than the $13.6 billion advance during February and left outstanding debt balances up 5.0 percent over the past year. Revolving credit balances (e.g., credit cards) contracted by $2.6 billion to $1.027 trillion (+4.8 percent versus March 2017). Nonrevolving credit balances (including college and auto loans) increased by $14.2 billion to $2.848 trillion. This represented a 5.1 increase from the same month a year earlier.
Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
– Jobless Claims (week ending May 5, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 211,000 (Unchanged vs. previous week; -26,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 216,000 (-11.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
– Import Prices (April 2018, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.3% vs. March 2018, +3.3% vs. April 2017. Nonfuel Imports: +0.2% vs. March 2018, +1.8% vs. April 2017.
– Export Prices (April 2018, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. March 2018, +3.8% vs. April 2017. Nonagricultural Exports: +0.7% vs. March 2018, +4.0% vs. April 2017.
– U. of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (May 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment, seasonally adjusted): 98.8 (vs. April 2018: 98.8, vs. May 2017: 97.1).
– Wholesale Inventories (March 2018, Inventories of Merchant Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $627.4 billion (+0.3% vs. February 2018, +5.5% vs. March 2017).
– Monthly Treasury Statement (April 2018, Federal Government Budget Surplus/Deficit): +$214.3 Billion (vs. April 2017: +$176.3 billion). The deficit over 1st 7 months of FY2018: -$385.4 billion (vs. 1st 7 months of FY2017: -$344.4 billion).
– Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey (April 2018).
The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.