The Fed Holds Still…For Now: November 5 – 9

The Federal Reserve finds the U.S. economy continuing to strengthen.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending November 9.

#1The Fed paused last week but appears primed to move again next month. The statement released following this week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) followed that of prior statements in noting the “the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a strong rate.” Also “strong” was consumer spending but the statement indicates that business fixed investment had “moderated.” The committee expects these vibrant business conditions will remain over the “medium term.” So, while the FOMC voted unanimously to keep the fed funds target rate in a range between 2.0 and 2.25 percent, the statement reaffirmed expectations for “further gradual” rate increases. In fact, the general expectation is for a quarter-point rate boost at the final 2018 FOMC meeting next month.

#2The number of available jobs slipped in September but remained near record levels. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were 7.009 million job openings (seasonally adjusted) on the final day of September. Even though this represented a drop of 284,000 from the prior month, the count of job openings has grown 12.5 percent over the past year. By comparison, 5.964 million people were unemployed in September. Private sector job openings totaled 6.407 million, up 11.9 percent from September 2017. The biggest year-to-year percentage gains in job openings were seen in construction (+55.3 percent), accommodation/food services (+38.3 percent), health care/social assistance (+17.9 percent), and wholesale trade (+17.3 percent). Hiring also slowed in September, dropping by 162,000 to 5.744 million. Despite September’s decline, hiring remained 6.9 percent ahead of the year-ago pace. Private sector employers hired 5.393 million workers (+7.2 percent), with large 12-month comparables in health care/social assistance (+16.0 percent), retail (+15.1 percent), and financial activities (+14.7 percent). 5.667 million people left their jobs during September, up 6.0 percent from a year earlier. This included 3.648 million people leaving their jobs voluntarily (+10.6 percent versus September 2017) and 1.700 million layoffs (-3.6 percent versus September 2017).

#3Wholesale prices for energy, food, and services rose in October. Final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) jumped 0.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, its largest single-month gain for the Bureau of Labor Statistics measure since late 2012. More than 60 percent of the surge in wholesale prices can be linked to the 1.6 percent jump in PPI for trade services—i.e., retailer and wholesaler margins—that itself appears to be linked to retailers rising prices just prior to the holiday sales season. Also gaining were wholesale prices for energy (+2.7 percent) and food (+1.0 percent). Gasoline PPI rose 7.6 percent, with higher prices also seen for diesel fuel, vegetables, and beef. Net of energy, food, and trade services, core final demand PPI increased 0.2 percent during October, half of the previous month’s gain. Over the past year, final demand PPI has risen 2.9 percent, while the core measure has a 12-month comparable of +2.8 percent.

#4The service sector expanded at a slightly slower rate in October. The headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Non-Manufacturing Report on Business—the NMI—shed 1.3 points during the month to a reading of 60.3. Despite the decline, this was the NMI’s second best reading of 2018 and was the 105th time the measure was above a reading of 50.0 (indicative of an expanding service sector). Three of four NMI component declined during the month: business activity (down 2.7 points), employment (down 2.7 points), and new orders (off 1/10th of a point). The supplier deliveries measure added a half point. Seventeen of 18 tracked industries expanded during the month, led by real estate, information, and transportation/warehousing. While most survey respondents’ comments were “positive,” the press release noted “continued concerns about capacity, logistics, and tariffs.”

#5Wholesale inventories expanded again in September. The Census Bureau estimates inventories of merchant wholesalers widened 0.4 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $644.6 billion. This matched August’s 0.4 percent gain and left wholesale inventories up 5.2 percent from a year earlier. Wholesale durable goods inventories grew 0.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $393.4 billion (+6.8 percent versus September 2017) while inventories of nondurables contracted 0.4 percent to $251.2 billion (+2.8 percent versus September 2017). Inventories grew for every major category of durable goods while the nondurables figure was pulled down by shrinking inventories of farm goods, drugs, and paper. The inventory-to-sales ratio for wholesalers held firm during September at 1.26, although this represented a three-basis point decline from a year earlier. Rising a basis point was the I/S ratio for durable goods (1.59) while shedding a basis point was the I/S ratio for nondurables (0.95).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending November 3, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 214,000 (-1,000 vs. previous week; -23,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 213,750 (-8.6% vs. the same week a year earlier).
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (November 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100, seasonally adjusted): 98.3 (vs. October 2018: 98.6; vs. November 2017: 98.5).
Consumer Credit (September 2018, Outstanding Consumer Credit Balances (net of real estate-backed loans), seasonally adjusted): $3.950 trillion (+$11.0 billion vs. August 2018, +4.8% vs. September 2017).

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

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