The U.S. economy chugged along during Q3, albeit at a slower pace than before. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending October 26.
GDP moderated during Q3, propped up in part by inventory gains. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ first estimate of third-quarter 2018 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) finds the U.S. economy expanded 3.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis between July and September. While down from Q2’s 4.2 percent increase, this was the second best quarter for GDP since Q2 2014. The biggest positive contributor to Q3 GDP growth was personal consumption, which added 269-basis points to the final figure. The second largest contributor was the $113.1 billion increase in private inventories, which swelled GDP by 207-basis points. (The large impact of the expansion in inventories may signal a slower GDP growth rate in Q4 as business burn through these stockpiles.) Rising government expenditures contributed 56-basis points to GDP growth while business investment (fixed nonresidential investment) added 12-basis points. Trade became a significant drag on economic growth as falling exports and rising imports led to net exports having a negative GDP contribution of -0.45. Housing also continued to flag with a third straight quarterly negative contribution (-0.16). The BEA will revise its Q3 GDP estimate twice over the next two months.
Economic growth slowed specifically in September. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators, lost ten basis points during the month to a reading of +0.17 (the fourth straight month in which the CFNAI came in with a positive reading). Even though the CFNAI’s three-month moving average slipped by six-basis points to +0.21, the moving average’s continued positive reading was indicative of economic growth above the historical average. Forty-six of the 85 tracked indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI while 36 indicators advanced during the month. Three of four major categories of indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI: production (+0.11), employment (+0.07), and sales/orders/inventories (+0.05). Indicators related to consumption/housing had a negative contribution of -0.05.
Durable goods flew in September because of defense aircraft orders. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured durable goods jumped 0.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $262.1 billion, its third gain in four months. Leading the way was a 1.9 percent gain in orders for transportation goods, boosted by a 119.1 percent surge in orders for defense aircraft and a 1.3 percent rise in orders for motor vehicles. Durable goods orders net of transportation equipment inched up by only 0.1 percent. Rising during the month were orders for machinery (+0.8 percent), and primary metals (+0.1 percent) while orders fell for fabricated metal products (-0.7 percent), electrical equipment/appliances (-0.5 percent), computers (-0.4 percent), and communications equipment (-0.1 percent). Also slumping was a proxy for business investment as non-aircraft civilian capital goods orders slipped 0.1 percent.
New home sales slumped again in September. Sales of single-family homes fell 5.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 553,000 units, per the Census Bureau. Sales declined in three of four Census regions: Northeast (-40.6 percent), West (-12.0 percent), and South (-1.5 percent). Transactions increased by 6.9 percent in the Midwest. Sales were off 13.2 percent from a year earlier, with deals down in the Northeast (-51.3 percent), West (-15.8 percent), and South (-11.4 percent). Again, the Midwest was the exception with a positive 12-month comparable of +4.1 percent. Inventories of new homes continued to grow, with a 2.8 percent increase to 327,000 units (+16.8 percent versus September 2017). This was the equivalent to a 7.1 month supply.
Consumer sentiment flagged ever so slightly in October. The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment pulled back by 1.5 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 98.6 (1966Q1=100). While 4/10ths of a point of drop from the preliminary October reading reported a few weeks ago and 2.1 points below the year-ago reading, the sentiment measure remained near its post-recession highs. The current conditions index shed 2.1 points during the month to 113.1 (October 2017: 116.5) while the expectations index’s decline was smaller, losing 1.2 points to 89.3 (October 2017: 90.5). Partisanship continued to have a significant influence on one’s sentiment—the headline index for those identifying as Republican was 126.4, compared to 81.0 for those identifying as a Democrat and 96.2 for those who view themselves of politically independent.
Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
– Jobless Claims (week ending October 20, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 215,000 (+5,000 vs. previous week; -19,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 211,750 (-11.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
– FHFA House Price Index (August 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +03% vs. July 2018, +6.1% vs. August 2017.
– Beige Book
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