Retail Sales and Inflation Took August Off: September 10 – 14

Retail sales and inflation moderated their trajectory as summer wrapped up. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending September 14.  

#1Retail sales cooled a bit from their recent torrid pace during August. The Census Bureau estimates retail and food services sales totaled $509.0 billion, up 0.1 percent for the month and 6.6 percent ahead of its August 2017 sales levels. July’s sales were revised upward to 0.7 percent gain (had been reported previously as a 0.5 percent gain). Slumping were sales at car dealers, where activity fell 0.8 percent. Higher prices at the pump led to a 1.7 percent sales gain at gas stations. Net of auto dealers and gas stations, core retail sales edged up 0.2 percent following a 0.9 percent jump in July. Growing were sales at retailers focused on health/personal care (+0.5 percent), electronics/appliances (+0.4 percent), sporting goods/hobbies (+0.2 percent), and general merchandisers (+0.1 percent). Sales also grew 0.2 percent at bars/restaurants. August was not a strong sales month at apparel retailers (-1.7 percent), department stores (-1.0 percent), and furniture stores (-0.3 percent).Retail Sales July-August 2018 091418

#2Core inflation slowed in August. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This matches July’s 0.2 percent gain and left CPI up 2.7 percent over the past year. Energy CPI grew for the first time in three months with a 1.9 percent gain—gasoline prices rose 3.0 percent in August and have surged 20.3 percent over the past year. Food CPI increased 0.1 percent. Net of energy and food, core CPI grew by 0.1 percent, its smallest gain since April. Rising were prices for used cars/trucks (+0.4 percent), shelter (+0.3 percent), transportation services (+0.3 percent). Prices fell for apparel (-1.6 percent), medical commodities (-0.3 percent), and medical care (-0.2 percent). Even with the slight slowdown, core CPI has risen 2.2 percent over the past year.

Final demand wholesale prices dropped 0.1 percent in August on a seasonally adjusted basis, the first decline in the Producer Price Index (PPI) since February 2018 and follows a flat report for July. The core PPI measure—which removed energy, food, and trade services—inched up 0.1 percent.  The former has grown 2.8 percent over the past year while the latter has a 12-month comparable of +2.9 percent. PPI for final demand goods was flat for August, including a 0.6 drop for PPI for final demand foods (including the impact of falling prices for fruits/melon, meats, and eggs) and a 0.4 percent gain for final demand energy (including rises for residential electricity and gasoline). Final demand PPI for services slipped 0.1 percent as trade services PPI (measuring wholesaler and retailer margins) slumped 0.9 percent and that for transportation/warehousing fell 0.6 percent.   

#3The number of job openings continued to rise this summer. There were a seasonally adjusted 6.939 million open jobs at the end of July, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was up 117,000 from June, 11.9 percent ahead from a year earlier, and higher than the 6.234 million people that had indicated being unemployed. Private sector employers reported having 6.319 million job openings (+11.3 percent versus July 2017), with the industries enjoying the largest year-to-year percentage gains being manufacturing (+29.4 percent), leisure/hospitality (+21.1 percent), retail (+15.6 percent), and trade/transportation/utilities (+14.9 percent). Hiring was flat during July at 5.679 million (+3.3 percent versus July 2017 (+3.3 percent versus July 2017), with private sector hiring at 5.339 million. Hiring has grown the greatest over the past year on a percentage basis in manufacturing (+15.9 percent), retail (+14.2 percent), trade/transportation/utilities (+10.7 percent), and accommodation/food services (+7.7 percent). Also flat during the month were the number of separations as 5.534 million people left their jobs during the month (+2.4 percent versus July 2017). The number of people voluntarily departing their jobs continued to rise, growing by 106,000 during July to 3.583 million (up 10.6 percent over the past year) while layoffs dropped by 50,000 to 1.602 million (-11.8 percent versus July 2017).

#4Manufacturing output grew at a slower pace in August. The Federal Reserve reports that manufacturing output increased 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, down from gains of 0.7 percent and 0.3 percent during June and July, respectively. Production in the manufacturing sector has grown 3.1 percent over the past year. Production of durable goods jumped 1.0 percent, boosted by strong output increases for motor vehicles, primary metals, and machinery. Production of nondurables slumped 0.5 percent as only textiles were the only segment to report an output gain. Overall industrial production increased 0.4 percent during August, matching July’s gain but off from June’s 0.6 percent increase. Industrial production has soared 4.9 percent over the past year. The oil and gas sectors led a 0.7 percent bounce in mining output (+14.1 percent versus August 2017) while hotter weather pushed up utility output 1.2 percent (+4.8 percent versus August 2017).

#5Small business owner optimism rises to an at least 45-year high. The Small Business Optimism Index from the National Federation of Independent Business grew by 9/10ths of a point in August to 108.8 (1986=100), up 3.5 points from the same month a year earlier and representing the highest reading for the index since its launch in 1983. Six of the 10 index components improved from their July readings, led by plans to expand inventories (up six points), plans to increase employment (up three points) and plans to make capital outlays (up three points). Falling were index components linked to expected real sales (down three points), expected credit conditions (down two points), and expectations for the economy to improve (down one point).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending September 8, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 204,000 (-1,000 vs. previous week; -63,000 vs. the same week a year earlier, lowest since December 1969). 4-week moving average: 208,000 (-19.6% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (August 2018, All Imported Goods, not seasonally adjusted): -0.6% vs. July 2018, +3.7% vs. August 2017.  Nonfuel Imports: -0.1% vs. July 2018, +0.9% vs. August 2017.
Export Prices (August 2018, All Exported Goods, not seasonally adjusted): -0.1% vs. July 2018, +3.6% vs. August 2017. Nonagricultural Exports: -0.2% vs. July 2018, +4.1% vs. August 2017.
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (September 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 100.8 (vs. August 2018: 96.2, vs. September 2017: 95.1).
Business Inventories (July 2018, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.950 trillion (+0.6% vs. June 2018, +4.3% vs. July 2017).
Consumer Credit (July 2018, Outstanding Consumer Credit (Non-Real Estate) Balances, seasonally adjusted): $3.918 trillion (+$17.6 billion vs. June 2018, +4.6% vs. July 2017).
Beige Book

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

Employment and Paychecks Grew in August: September 3 – 7

Employers added workers again as wage inflation appears to be building a bit. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending September 7.

#1The jobs market (and wages) heated up in August. Nonfarm employment grew by a seasonally adjusted 201,000 workers during the month, up from a 147,000 jobs gain in July, and the 95th straight month of expanding payrolls. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also indicates that private sector employers added 204,000 workers during the month, split between 26,000 in the goods-producing side of the economy and 178,000 in the service sector. Industries adding the most workers during the month included professional/business services (+53,000), health care/social assistance (+40,700), construction (+23,000), wholesale trade (+22,400), and transportation/warehousing (+20,200). The average number of hours worked held steady for the month at 34.5 hours (August 2017: 34.4 hours). Average weekly earnings grew by $3.45 to $937.02, up 3.2 percent from a year earlier, the 5th time the 12-month comparable was at or above 3.0 percent in 2018. For much of this economic recovery, the year-to-year percentage gains ranged between 1.5 and 2.5 percent.Wage Gains 2012-2018 090718

Based on a separate survey of households, the unemployment rate held steady at 3.9 percent, just above the current economic recovery low reading of 3.8 percent achieved in May. At the same time, the labor force contracted by 469,000, resulting in the labor force participation rate slipping by 2/10ths of a percentage point to 62.7 percent. The labor force participation rate for adults aged 25 to 54 was at 82.0 percent, down 1/10th of a point for the month. The typical length of unemployment shrank by 4/10ths of a week to 9.1 weeks (August 2018: 10.3 weeks) while the number of part-time workers seeking a full-time job shrank to another post-recession low at 4.379 million people (August 2017: 5.209 million). The broad measure of labor underutilization by the BLS (the U-6 series) also contracted to a post-recession low of 7.4 percent. A year earlier, the same measure was at 8.6 percent.

#2The trade deficit widened to its largest reading since February. The Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis tell us that exports dropped by $2.1 billion to $211.1 billion (+8.2 percent versus July 2017) while imports grew by $2.2 billion to $261.2 billion (+9.1 percent versus July 2017). The resulting trade deficit of $50.1 billion was up $4.3 billion for the month, a 13.3 percent increase from a year earlier, and the largest trade deficit in five months. The goods deficit surged by $4.2 billion to $73.1 billion (+11.8 percent versus July 2017) while the services surplus slipped by $0.1 billion to +$23.1 billion (+8.7 percent versus July 2017). The former fell in part because of lower exports of civilian aircraft and soybeans and increased imports of computers/accessories, fuel/crude oil and automotive vehicles. The U.S. had its largest goods deficits with China (-$34.1 billion), European Union (-$14.5 billion), and Mexico (-$6.4 billion).

#3Factory orders softened in July but remained well ahead of year-ago levels. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured goods dropped 0.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $497.8 billion (+9.0 percent versus July 2017). New orders for transportation goods slumped 5.2 percent, pulled down by declines for both civilian (-35.4 percent) and defense (-34.4 percent) aircraft. Net of transportation goods, orders inched up 0.2 percent to $414.7 billion (+8.4 percent versus July 2017). New orders for civilian capital goods net of aircraft (a measure of business investment) increased 1.6 percent. Shipments improved for the 14th time in 15 months, albeit with a gain of less than 0.1 percent to $501.7 billion (+8.1 percent versus July 2017). The value of unfilled orders of manufactured goods also grew by less than 0.1 percent to $1.165 trillion while inventories expanded by 0.8 percent to $675.8 billion (the 21st straight monthly gain).

#4Purchasing managers describe strengthening in both the manufacturing and service sectors. The Institute for Supply Management reports that the headline index from its Report on Business in manufacturing (PMI) jumped by 3.2 points during August to a seasonally adjusted 61.3. The measure has been above a reading of 50.0—indicative of an expanding manufacturing sector—for 24 straight months. All five components of the PMI improved during the month: new orders (+4.9 points), production (+4.8 points), supplier deliveries (+2.4 points), inventories (+2.1 points), and employment (+2.0 points). Sixteen of 18 tracked manufacturing industries reported growth, led by computers/electronics, apparel, and textile mills. The press release notes that manufacturers were “overwhelmingly concerned” about impacts of tariffs will have on their business.

The ISM’s measure of nonmanufacturing activity (NMI) added 2.8 points during August to a seasonally adjusted 58.5, the 103rd consecutive month above the expansion/contraction threshold of 50.0. All four NMI components grew from their July readings: business activity/production (+4.2 points), new orders (+3.4 points), supplier deliveries (+3.0 points), and employment (up 6/10ths of a point to 56.7). Sixteen of 18 nonmanufacturing industries gained during August, led by construction, transportation/warehousing, and retail. Per the press release, survey respondents “remain positive about business conditions and the economy” but also report that “logistics, tariffs and employment resources” having an impact on their business.

#5Vehicle sales held modest in August. Light vehicle retail sales were at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 16.72 million units during the month, according to individual automaker sales reports tabulated by Autodata. This was off 0.3 percent from July and up 0.8 percent from a year earlier (although it is worth noting that year ago sales were suppressed by Hurricane Harvey making the 12-month comparable even less impressive). The light truck/SUV sales story improved—growing 2.5 percent during the month to 9.37 million units SAAR (+9.2 percent versus August 2017). Weakness continued on the car side of the market as sales slumped 4.1 percent to 3.77 million units (-15.5 percent versus August 2017).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending September 1, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 203,000 (-10,000 vs. previous week; -90,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 209,500 (-16.5% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Construction Spending (July 2018, Value of Construction Put in Place, seasonally adjusted annualized rate: $1.315 trillion (+0.1% vs. June 2018, +5.8% vs. July 2017).
Productivity (2nd Quarter 2018-revised, Nonfarm Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): +2.9% vs. 2018Q1, +1.3% vs. 2017Q2.

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


Consumers Spend, Prices Hit a Target: August 27 – 31

Consumers focused their spending on nondurable goods and services during July. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 31.  

#1Consumers continued spending in July while inflation hits the Fed’s target. Real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased at a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent rate during the month. This was down from the 0.3 percent gains reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis for the three prior months. Spending on goods and services each grew by 0.2 percent during July, with the latter split by a 0.6 percent bump in nondurable goods spending and a 0.5 percent drop in durable goods spending. Nominal (non-price adjusted) PCE grew 0.4 percent for a second consecutive month. Nominal personal and disposable income gained 0.3 percent, with real disposable income rising 0.2 percent. The savings rate slipped by 1/10th of a percentage point to +6.7 percent. Over the past year, real disposable income has increased 2.9 percent while real PCE has expanded 2.8 percent. The same report includes data on inflation—the PCE deflator growing 0.1 percent during July with the core PCE deflator (removing energy and food) gained 0.2 percent. Over the past year, the two price measures have grown by 2.3 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively, with the latter matching the Federal Reserve’s two-percent inflation target.Consumer Spending April - July 2018 083118

#2GDP expanded a smidge faster than previously believed during Q2. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ second estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) for the months of April, May, and June has the U.S. economy expanding 4.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis. This was up from the 4.1 percent gain reported a month earlier and was the best quarter for GDP growth since the third quarter of 2014. The small upward revision was the result of higher than previously believed levels of business investment and private inventory accumulation partially offset by lower than the previously thought level of consumer spending. The sectors of the economy making positive contributions to GDP growth were (in declining order of contribution) were: personal spending (+255-basis points), fixed nonresidential investment (+107-basis points), exports (+110-basis points), government expenditures (+41-basis points), and imports (+7-basis points). Negative contributions came from private inventory accumulation (-97-basis points) and fixed residential investment (-6-basis points).

#3Economic growth “moderated” in July. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) lost 35-basis points to +0.13 (June 2017: -0.18). Since the CFNAI is a weighted averaged 85 economic measure indexed such that a reading of 0.00 is indicative of the U.S. economy growing at its historical rate, July reading suggests the economy continued to expand during the month but at a slower pace than it had in June. Thirty-four of the 85 indicators improved during the month while 51 had weakened. The components related to production made a total contribution to CFNAI of +0.05 (versus a +0.45 contribution in June). Also making positive contributions were measures related to employment (+0.12 versus a +0.03 contribution in June) and sales/orders/inventories (+0.03 versus a +0.06 contribution in June). The measures linked to personal consumption/housing had a negative contribution of -0.07 (versus -0.06 in June). The CFNAI’s three-month moving average remained positive at +0.05 despite losing 15-basis points from June (June 2017: -0.07).

#4One measure of consumer sentiment surged to an 18-year high while another pulled back. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index jumped 5.5 points in August to a seasonally adjusted 133.4 (1985=100). The index has not been this high since October 2000. Measures tracking both current and expected business conditions improved—the current conditions index increased from 166.1 to 172.2 while the expectations index added 5.4 points to 107.6. 40.3 percent of survey respondents described current business conditions as “good” while only 9.3 percent see them as “bad.” Similarly, 42.7 percent of respondents saw the availability of jobs as “plentiful” with only 12.7 percent described jobs as being “hard to get.” The press release states that the strong sentiment among consumers “should continue to support healthy consumer spending in the near-term.

Meanwhile, the Index of Consumer Sentiment from the University of Michigan lost 1.7 points during August to a seasonally adjusted 96.2 (1966Q1=100), its worst reading since January. While down 6/10ths of a point from a year earlier, this was a 9/10ths of a point improvement from the preliminary August reading reported several weeks ago. The measure tracking current business conditions shed 4.1 points to its lowest points since November 2016 at 110.3 (August 2017=110.9) while the expectations index slipped by only 2/10ths of a point to 87.1 (August 2017=87.7).

#5Contract signings to purchase a home slipped in July. The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index lost 8/10ths of a point to a seasonally adjusted reading of 106.2 (2001=100), leaving the measure 2.3 percent below its July 2017 reading. The index, which tracks contracts signed to purchase a previously owned home but have not yet closed, improved during the month in the Northeast (+1.0 percent) and Midwest (+0.3 percent), but lost ground in the South (-1.7 percent) and West (-0.9 percent). The index has negative 12-month comparables in all four Census regions: West (-5.8 percent), Northeast (-2.3 percent), Midwest (-1.5 percent), and South (-0.9 percent). NAR’s press release continued to express concern about “inadequate supply” leading to many homebuyers being “unable to afford” homes in some markets.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 25, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 213,000 (+3,000 vs. previous week; -25,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 212,250 (-10.9% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Agricultural Prices (July 2018, Prices Received by Farmers): -3.8% vs. June 2018, -4.3% vs. July 2017).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (June 2018, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.1% vs. May 2018, +6.3% vs. July 2017). 

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