Factories Slowed in January: February 11 – 15

Factories pumped out less output in January. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending February 15.  

#1Manufacturing production fell in January. The Federal Reserve reports manufacturing fell a seasonally adjusted 0.9 percent during the month following a 0.8 percent gain in December. Durable goods production slumped 1.7 percent as motor vehicle output plummeted 8.8 percent. Nondurable goods output was unchanged for the month. Compared to a year earlier, manufacturing output has risen 2.9 percent. Overall industrial production fell 0.6 percent in January after having eked out a 0.1 percent increase in December. Industrial production has grown 3.6 percent over the past year. The rise in mining output slowed to a 0.1 percent gain in January after a 1.5 percent jump in December while output at utilities increased 0.4 percent. Factories were slightly less busy in January as capacity utilization dropped by 6/10ths of a percentage point to 78.2 percent. Manufacturing sector capacity utilization fell by 7/10ths of a point to 75.8 percent.Capacity Utilization 021519

#2Retail sales slumped in December (or at least the seasonally adjusted data had). The Census Bureau estimates retail and food services sales were at a seasonally adjusted $505.8 billion during the final month of 2018, down an unexpectedly sharp 1.2 percent from November. The drop appears, at least at first glance, to be a bit of an outlier to the negative side and may be the result of data issues tied to the recent partial federal government shutdown or other factors. A part of the drop was due to declining prices at the pump as sales at gas stations plummeted 5.1 percent. On the flip side, sales at auto dealers/parts stores grew 1.0 percent. Net of sales at both gas stations and auto dealers/parts stores, core retail sales fell 1.4 percent with sales off at most retail categories. Falling were sales at retailers focused on sporting goods/hobbies (-4.9 percent), health/personal care (-2.0 percent), furniture (-1.3 percent), apparel (-0.7 percent), groceries (-0.5 percent), and electronics/appliances (-0.1 percent), along with department stores (-3.3 percent) and restaurants/bars (-0.7 percent). One thing that also makes this report a bit suspect is the reported 3.9 percent slowdown at nonstore retailers (i.e., online retailers)

#32019 starts with little headline inflation, with core measures staying on target. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) was unchanged on a seasonally adjusted basis for a third consecutive month in January, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Energy CPI fell 3.1 percent, pulled down by gasoline prices slumping 5.5 percent. Food prices, however, gained 0.2 percent. Core CPI, which removes both energy and food, increased 0.2 percent for the fifth straight month. Rising were prices for apparel (+1.1 percent), shelter (+0.3 percent), medical care services (+0.3 percent), new vehicles (+0.2 percent), used cars/trucks (+0.1 percent), and medical care commodities (+0.1 percent). Transportation services prices slipped 0.2 percent. Over the past year, CPI has risen 1.6 percent while core inflation has grown 2.2 percent.

Meanwhile, wholesale prices slipped for a second straight month as final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) declined 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis. The core final demand measure of wholesale prices, which removes the impact of energy, food, and trade services, gained 0.2 percent. Falling were producer prices for both energy (-3.8 percent) and food (-1.7 percent). Rising was PPI for services, half of which resulted from wider margins at apparel/jewelry/footwear apparel retailers. Over the past year, headline PPI has risen 2.0 percent while the core wholesale price measure has a 12-month comparable of +2.5 percent

#4The number of job openings bloomed again to record levels as 2018 wrapped up. There were a seasonally adjusted 7.335 million job openings on the final day of 2018, up 166,000 for the month and a whopping 29.4 percent from a year earlier. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also indicates that private sector job openings totaled 6.707 million, up 30.4 percent from the end of 2017, with virtually every industry reporting double-digit percentage increases. Hiring also increased, although not at the same fast pace as employers continue to experience difficulty to find new employees. There were 5.907 million workers hired in December, up 95,000 for the month and 7.1 percent from December 2017. Private sector employers added 5.555 million workers, a 7.4 percent gain from a year earlier. 5.545 million people left their job during the month, off 18,000 from November but up 4.3 percent over the previous year. Voluntarily quits had risen 4.6 percent over the past year to 3.482 million while layoff activity was up 2.5 percent from December 2017 to 1.697 million.

#5Small business owner optimism fell for a fifth straight month in January. The Small Business Optimism Index from the National Federation of Independent Business shed 3.2 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 101.2 (1986=100). This was the measure’s lowest mark since November 2016 when it was at 98.4. Seven of the index’s ten components declined in January, including sharp drops for indices tracking expected economic conditions, expected real sales, plans to increase inventories, plans to increase employment, and whether it is a good time to expand. The press release uses the word “shaky” to describe business owners expectations for business conditions, noting that “the political climate is affecting how they view the future.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending February 9, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 239,000 (+4,000 vs. previous week; +5,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 231,750 (+0.8% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (January 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.5% vs. December 2018, -1.7% vs. January 2018. Nonfuel Imports: -0.2% vs. December 2018, -0.2% vs. January 2018.
Export Prices (January 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.6% vs. December 2018, -0.2% vs. January 2018, Nonagricultural Exports: -0.3% vs. December 2018, -0.2% vs. January 2018.
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (February 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 95.5 (vs. January 2019: 91.2, vs. February 2018: 99.7).
Monthly Treasury Statement (December 2018, Deficit for first 3 months of FY19): -$318.9 billion (vs. first 3 months of FY18: -$225.0 billion).
Business Inventories (November 2018, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.981 trillion (-0.1% vs. October 2018, +4.6% vs. November 2017).

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

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