Tight Inventories, Rising Materials Prices Weigh on Housing: June 18 – 22

Tight inventories continued to hold back the housing market during the spring. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 22.

#1Existing home sales stagnated during May. Sales of previously owned homes slipped 0.4 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.430 million homes. This left the National Association of Realtors’ home sales measure down 3.0 percent from May 2017 levels. Sales grew during the month on in the Northeast (+4.6 percent) while activity fell in three of four regions versus the previous year (Sales held steady versus May 2017 levels in the South). While still very tight, the number of homes on the market grew 2.8 percent during the month to 1.85 million units. This was nevertheless 6.1 percent below the year-ago level of inventories and the equivalent to a 4.1 month supply. As a result, the median sales price for existing homes has grown 4.9 percent over the past year to $264,800. The press release notes that “[i]ncredibly low supply continues to be the primary impediment to more sales.”Existing Home Sales June 2018-062218

#2Activity in the Midwest drives a rise in housing starts. The Census Bureau reports that housing starts grew 5.0 percent during May to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.350 million homes. This was 20.3 percent ahead of the year-ago pace of starts. Single-family home starts grew 3.9 percent during the month to an annualized 936,000 (+18.3 percent versus May 2017) while multifamily units starts jumped 11.3 percent to an annualized 404,000 units (+27.4 percent versus May 2017). Only one region—the Midwest—enjoyed a month-to-month increase in starts. Looking toward the future, the number of issued housing permits of 1.364 million (SAAR), which was off 4.6 percent for the month but still 8.0 percent ahead of the year-ago rate. The annualized rate of housing completions grew 1.9 percent during May to 1.291 million homes. This was up 10.4 percent from the same month a year earlier. 

#3Higher raw material prices weigh on homebuilder sentiment. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index (HMI) lost two points in June to a seasonally adjusted reading of 68. Even with the modest drop, the HMI has been above a reading of 50—where a higher percentage of homebuilders see the housing market as “good” than view it as “poor”—for 48 straight months. During the month, the HMI improved in the Northeast and West but lost ground in the Midwest and South. Indicies for both current (75) and expected sales (76) each lost a point, as did the measure tracking prospective buyers traffic (50). The press release stressed that builders remained optimistic, but also they were “increasingly concerned that tariffs placed on Canadian lumber and other imported products are hurting housing affordability.”

#4Economic indicators suggest continued economic growth for the remainder of the year. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index added 2/10ths of a point in May to a seasonally adjusted reading of 109.5 (2016=100). The measure has grown 6.1 percent over the past year. Seven of the LEI’s ten components made positive contributions during the month, led by new manufacturing orders, the interest rate spread, and consumers’ expectations for business conditions. The coincident index also increased by 2/10ths of a point during May with the 103.7 reading representing a 2.2 percent gain from a year earlier. Three of four coincident index components made positive contributions: nonfarm payrolls, personal income net of transfer payments, and manufacturing & trade sales. The lagging index added a half point to a reading of 105.2 (+2.7 percent versus May 2017). The press release noted that while economic growth would remain “solid,” May’s smaller increase suggests that “economic activity is not likely to accelerate.”

#5Layoff activity remained slow in mid-June. There were a seasonally adjusted 218,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending June 16, down 3,000 from the prior week and 26,000 for the same week a year earlier. The Department of Labor’s jobless claims data can be volatile week-to-week, so analysts frequently look at four-week moving data to spots trends. But the story is much the same—the moving average was at 221,000, which was 10.0 percent below that of a year earlier. Further, the four-week moving average has been below 300,000 for an impressive 172 consecutive weeks.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
FHFA House Price Index (April 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted):  +0.1% vs. March 2018, +6.4% vs. April 2017. 

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

The Fed Moves, Likely to Repeat Twice More in 2018: June 11 – 15

The Fed raises its target for short-term interest rates as inflation moves ever so closer to targeted levels. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 15.  

#1The Fed boosts short-term interest rates and appears ready to do so twice more again this year. The policy statement released following this past week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) characterized economic activity as “rising at a solid rate” and that the labor market “continued to strengthen” with core inflation moving closer to the Fed’s two-percent target rate. The statement also noted that risks to future economic activity as being ”roughly balanced.” As a result, the committee voted unanimously to boost the fed funds rate by 25-basis points to a range between 1.75 and 2.00 percent. This was the FOMC’s second rate hike of 2018 but keeps the short-term interest target in a range the committee views as “accommodative.”

Accompanying the policy statement were the updated economic projections of Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents, which highlight a more optimistic view of near-term conditions. For example, the median forecast for 2018 economic growth increased by 1/10th of a percentage point to +2.8 percent and the expected unemployed rate dropped by 2/10ths of a percentage point to 3.6 percent. The forecasters also see a greater firming of inflation with the core PCE deflator (the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) at +2.1 percent, up from the prior forecast of +1.9 percent. As a result, the median forecast for the fed funds target rate suggests two more quarter-point rate hikes this year (up from a single additional rate bump previously anticipated). Further, the median forecast points to three quarter-point hikes in 2019 and one rate hike in 2020.FOMC Fed Funds Forecast--2018-2020

#2Inflation continued to build steadily in May. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the third time in four months, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Energy prices jumped 0.9 percent, as gasoline prices gained 1.7 percent. Food CPI held steady during the month. Net of energy and food, core CPI increased 0.2 percent and has grown 2.2 percent over the past year. (The 12-month comparable for the headline index was +2.8 percent). Jumping during the month were prices for medical commodities (+1.3 percent), new vehicles (+0.3 percent), and shelter (+0.3 percent) while prices declined during the month for used cars/trucks (-0.9 percent) and medical care services (-0.1 percent).

Meanwhile, the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand soared 0.5 percent (seasonally adjusted), its fastest rate of growth since January. The core measure, which nets out energy, food, and trade services, grew at a more modest 0.1 percent for a second consecutive month. Wholesale prices for final demand goods swelled 1.0 percent, led by the 4.6 percent surge in wholesale energy prices (PPI for gasoline: +9.8 percent). Final demand food PPI eked out a 0.1 percent increase.  Net of energy and food, core final demand goods PPI gained 0.3 percent. PPI for final demand services increased 0.3 percent for the fourth time in five months, which included the impact of a 0.9 percent advance in prices for trade services (reflecting larger retailer and wholesaler margins). Over the past year, final demand PPI has jumped 3.1 percent during which the core wholesale price measure (net of energy, food, and trade services) has risen 2.6 percent.

#3Retail sales surged in May. The Census Bureau estimates retail and food sales were at a seasonally adjusted $502.0 billion, up 0.8 percent from April and 5.9 percent from a year earlier. Motor vehicle sales jumped 0.5 percent while higher prices at the pump resulted in a 2.0 percent rise in gas station sales. Net of sales at auto dealers/parts stores and gas stations, core retail sales rose 0.8 percent to $443.1 billion (+5.1 percent versus April 2017). May was a good month for building material/garden supplies stores (+2.4 percent), department stores (+1.5 percent), apparel retailers (+1.3 percent), restaurants/bars (+1.3 percent), and health/personal care retailers (+0.5 percent). Sales slowed during the month at furniture stores (-2.4 percent) and sporting goods/hobby retailers (-1.1 percent).

#4Manufacturing decelerated in May. Per the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production report, manufacturing output slumped 0.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, leaving it 1.7 percent ahead of its year-ago pace. The report links much of the decline to a “major fire at a parts supplier” that had disrupted truck assemblies. Net of vehicle production, manufacturing slowed by a more modest 0.2 percent. Output of durables fell 1.2 percent (motor vehicles production plummeted 6.5 percent) while that of nondurable slipped 0.1 percent. Overall industrial production decreased 0.1 percent during the month but was up 3.5 percent over the past 12 months. Mining output grew for the fourth straight month (+1.8 percent versus April 2018 and +12.6 percent versus May 2017), led by increased oil and gas extraction. Higher demand for electricity led to a 1.0 percent increase in output at utilities.

#5Small business owners’ optimism blossomed during the spring. The National Federation of Independent Business’ Index of Small Business Optimism jumped by 3.0 points to a seasonally adjusted reading of 107.8. Not only was this a post-recession high for the sentiment measure, it also was its second-best reading in the index’s second-best reading ever (a 45-year history). Eight of the index’s ten components improved from their April readings, led by expected real sales (+10 points), expectations for the economy (+7 points), on whether it is a good time to expand (+7 points), and earning trends (+4 points). While noting difficult in their ability to find qualified workers to hire, the press release stated employers “now have more resources to commit to attracting candidates.” 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending June 9, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 218,000 (-4,000 vs. previous week; -22,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 224,250 (-8.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (May 2018, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. April 2018, +4.3% vs. May 2017. Nonfuel imports: +0.2% vs. April 2018, +1.9% vs. May 2017.
Export Prices (May 2018, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. April 2018, +4.9% vs. April 2018, Nonagricultural Exports: +0.5% vs. April 2018, +4.9% vs. May 2017.
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (June 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment, seasonally adjusted): 99.3 (vs. May 2018: 98.0, June 2017: 95.0).
Business Inventories (April 2018, Manufacturing and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.930 trillion (+0.3% vs. March 2018, +4.4% vs. April 2017).
Monthly Budget Statement (May 2018, U.S. Budget Surplus/Deficit): -$146.8 billion (vs. May 2017: -$88.4 billion). Deficit over first 8 months of FY 2019: -$532.2 billion (vs. +23.0% vs. first 8 months of FY 2018).

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

The Trade Deficit Shrinks, Job Openings Expand: June 4 – 8

The trade deficit narrowed while employers sought even more workers. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 8.

#1A small rise in exports leads to a smaller trade deficit in April. The Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis find exports grew by $0.6 billion during the month to $211.2 billion (+9.9 percent versus April 2016) while imports contracted by $0.4 billion to $257.4 billion (+8.0 percent versus April 2016). As a result, the trade deficit narrowed to its lowest level since last September at -$46.2 billion. The goods deficit shrank by $1.0 billion to -$66.3 billion while the services surplus essentially held steady at +$22.1 billion. The latter was pushed up by a $0.3 billion gain in exported goods (led by industrial supplies, food/beverages) and a $0.7 billion drop in imported goods (driven by a $2.8 billion decline for consumer goods and a $0.9 billion drop for automobiles). The U.S. had its largest goods deficits with China (-$30.8 billion), European Union (-$13.2 billion), Mexico (-$6.0 billion), Japan (-$5.9 billion), and Germany (-$5.6 billion).Trade Deficit 060818

#2There were more job openings in April than the number of people unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were a seasonally adjusted 6.698 million job openings at the end of April, up 65,000 for the month, 9.7 percent from a year earlier, and the most in the 17+ year history of the data series. Further, there were more job openings at the end of the more than that were people unemployed (6.346 million). The number of private sector job openings has grown 10.0 percent over the past year to 6.117 million, with large 12-month comparables for transportation/warehousing (+46.2 percent), professional/business services (+22.9 percent), retail (+22.5 percent), manufacturing (+20.9 percent), and leisure/hospitality (+11.0 percent). Employers hired 5.578 million workers during the month, up 92,000 from March and 6.8 percent from a year earlier, with private sector hiring also rising 6.8 percent from April 2017 levels. 5.408 million people left their jobs during April, up 86,000 for the month and 5.8 percent from a year earlier. This number includes 3.387 million people who had voluntarily quit their jobs (+1.4 percent versus April 2017).

#3The service sector grew even hotter in May. The Institute for Supply Management’s NMI jumped by 1.8 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 58.6. This was the 100th straight month in which the measure has been above a reading of 50.0, indicative of an expanding service sector. All four components of the NMI improved from their April readings: supplier deliveries (+4.0), business activity/production (+2.2), new orders (+0.5), and employment (+0.5). Fourteen of 18 tracked service sector industries expanded during May, led by wholesale trade, mining, and real estate. The press release expressed optimism among survey respondents, but also noted some “concerns about the uncertainty surrounding tariffs, trade agreements and the impact on cost of goods sold.”

#4Fewer aircraft orders slowed factory orders in April. New orders for manufactured goods dropped 0.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $494.5 billion. This represented a 7.4 percent year-to-year increase for the Bureau of Labor Statistics measure. As we saw with the durable goods report a few weeks ago, the headline number was dragged down by a 28.9 percent drop in orders for civilian aircraft. Net of all transportation goods, factory orders gained 0.4 percent during the month and has grown 7.4 percent over the past year. Increasing during the month were orders for furniture (+2.2 percent), fabricated metal products (+1.8 percent), electrical equipment/appliances (+1.8 percent), primary metals (+1.4 percent), computers/electronics (+1.1 percent), motor vehicles (+1.0 percent), and nondurable goods (+0.1 percent). Shipments eked out a less than $0.1 billion gain to $492.8 billion (+7.2 percent versus April 2018) with shipments net of transportation goods up 0.4 percent for the month. Unfilled orders grew for the fifth time in six months (+0.5 percent to $1.153 trillion) while inventories expanded for the 18th straight month (+0.3 percent to $666.9 billion).

#5Productivity was more feeble during Q1 than previously believed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nonfarm productivity grew 2.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis (SAAR) while hours worked grew 2.3 percent during the first three months of 2018. As a result, nonfarm productivity 0.4 percent during the quarter, down from the 0.7 percent previously estimates and below the 1.3 percent productivity growth rate during the final three months of 2017. Nonfarm productivity has grown 1.3 percent over the past year. Manufacturing sector productivity contracted 1.2 percent during the quarter, sharply down from a 0.5 percent gain previously reported. Even with the pullback during Q1, manufacturing sector productivity has surged 4.3 percent over the past year.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending June 2, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 222,000 (-1,000 vs. previous week; -12,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 225,500 (-7.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Consumer Credit (April 2018, Outstanding Consumer Credit Balances (net of mortgages and other real estate backed loans, seasonally adjusted): $3.883 trillion (+$9.2 billion vs. March 2018, +4.8% vs. April 2017).

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