Economic Growth Moved Forward in Q1: April 22 – 26

The U.S. economy grew faster than expected during the first three months of this year. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 26.  

#1GDP rebounded in Q1. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ initial estimate of first quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has the U.S. economy expanding at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 3.2 percent. This up from Q4 2018’s 2.2 percent growth rate, but below the Q2 and Q3 paces of expansion of +4.2 percent and +3.4 percent, respectively. The biggest positive contributors to Q1 GDP were personal consumption (adding 82-basis points to the growth rate), change in private inventories (contributing 65-basis points), imports (58-basis points), exports (45-basis points), government expenditures (41-basis points), and nonresidential fixed investment (38-basis points). Dragging down Q1 GDP was residential fixed investment, which cost 11-basis points in economic growth. The BEA will revise its estimate of Q1 GDP twice over the next two months.GDP Growth 2015-2019 042619

#2Economic data suggest business activity picked up in March. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted index of 85 economic measures, improved by 16-basis points during the month to a reading of -0.15, its best reading since last December. (The CFNAI is designed such that a 0.00 reading indicates the U.S. economy is growing at its historical average.) Thirty-seven CFNAI components made positive contributions to the headline index, with 47 others making negative contributions and one with a neutral contribution. Among the four major categories of indicators, three of four made improved contributions in March: sales/orders/inventories made a +0.05 contribution (up from +0.01 in February), employment improved by 12-basis points to -0.03, and production improved by two-basis points to -0.10. Losing a basis point was the contribution from personal consumption/housing (to -0.07). The CFNAI’s three-month moving average slumped by six basis points to -0.24, which suggests below average economic growth.

#3Existing home sales pulled back in March following February’s bounce. The National Association of Realtors indicates that sales of previously owned homes dropped 4.9 percent during March to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.21 million units. This followed an 11.2 percent sales surge in February. Sales fell in all four Census regions: Midwest (-7.9 percent), West (-6.0 percent), South (-3.4 percent), and South (-2.1 percent). Existing home sales were 5.4 percent behind their March 2018 pace, with negative 12-month comparables in all four Census regions. There were 1.68 million homes on the market at the end of March, which was the most since last November, up 2.4 percent from a year earlier, and the equivalent to a 3.9 month supply. The press release noted that sales were “underperforming in relation to the strength in the jobs markets.

#4But new home sales rose in March. The Census Bureau reports that sales of single-family homes increased 4.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 692,000 units. This was 3.0 percent ahead of the March 2018 sales pace. Sales grew during the month in three of four Census regions—Midwest (+17.6 percent), West (+6.7 percent), and South (+3.6 percent—but dropped 22.2 percent in the Northeast. There were 344,000 new homes available for sale at the end of March, up 13.2 percent from a year earlier and the equivalent to a 6.0 month supply.

#5Consumer confidence eased slightly in April. The Index of Consumer Sentiment lost 1.2 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 97.2 (1966Q1=100), per the University of Michigan. While the measure was off 1.6 points from a year earlier, it has stayed within a relatively narrow ten-point range (91.2 to 101.4) since November 2016. Losing a full point was the current conditions index to 112.3 (April 2018: 114.9) while the expected conditions index shed 1.4 points to 87.4 (April 2018: 88.4). The press released noted that the “data indicate that inflation-adjusted personal consumption expenditures will grow by 2.5 percent in 2019.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 20, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 230,000 (+37,000 vs. previous week). 4-week moving average: 206,000
Durable Goods Orders (March 2019, New Orders for Manufactured Durable Goods, seasonally adjusted): $258.5 billion (+2.7% vs. February 2019).
Bankruptcy Filings (12-Month Period through March 31, 2019, Business and Non-Business Filings): 772,646 (-0.9% vs. March 31, 2018).- FHFA House Price Index (February 2019, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.3% vs. January 2019, +4.9% vs. February 2018.

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

Spring Had Sprung for Retailers in March: April 15 – 19

Retail sales rebounded while manufacturing sputtered in March. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 19.  

#1Retail sales surged in March. The Census Bureau places total U.S. retail and food services sales at a seasonally adjusted $514.1 billion. The 1.6 percent increase from February was the largest single-month percentage gain in retail sales since the fall of 2017 and left sales up 3.6 percent from a year earlier. A part of the increase was thanks to improved sales at both auto dealers/parts stores (+3.1 percent) and gas stations (+3.5 percent), the latter the product of higher gasoline prices. Core retail sales rose a still robust 0.9 percent for the month, reversing February’s 0.7 percent sales decline and placing the measure 3.6 percent ahead of that from a year earlier. Sales activity rose at retailers focused on apparel (+2.0 percent), furniture (+1.7 percent), groceries (+1.2 percent), electronics/appliances (+0.5 percent), building materials (+0.3 percent), and health/personal care (+0.2 percent), along with a 0.8 percent bounce at restaurants and bars. The only major retailer category to suffer a sales decline during the month was sporting goods/hobby stores with a 0.3 percent drop while department store sales were flat.

#2Manufacturing output was flat in March. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing production was unchanged during the month after having increased 0.3 percent in February, leaving output up a soft 1.0 percent over the past year. Durable goods output slipped 0.1 percent, with output falling sharply for wood products and automobiles but growing for primary metals and electronics/computers. Nondurable goods production eked out a 0.1 percent increase, boosted by gains for textiles, petroleum/coal products, and chemicals. Overall, industrial production declined 0.1 percent in March, reversing February’s 0.1 percent gain. Mining output dropped 0.8 percent while that at utilities inched up 0.2 percent. The former has risen 10.5 percent over the past year while the latter’s 12-month comparable was +3.8 percent.

#3The trade deficit narrowed in February. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis report that exports grew by $2.3 billion to $209.7 billion (+2.3 percent versus February 2018) while imports inched up by $0.6 billion to $259.7 billion (-0.5 percent versus February 2018). As a result, the trade deficit contracted by $1.8 billion to -$49.4 billion, its smallest reading since last June. The goods deficit shrank by $1.2 billion to -$72.0 billion while the services surplus grew by $0.5 billion to +$22.6 billion. The former was the result of higher exports of civilian aircraft and automobiles/parts and a decline in imports of industrial supplies/materials. The U.S. had its biggest goods trade deficits with China, the European Union, and Mexico.

#4Forward-looking economic indicators improved in March. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) added 4/10ths of a point in March to a reading of 111.9 (+3.1 percent versus March 2018). Eight of ten LEI components made positive contributions, led by first-time unemployment insurance claims and consumers’ expectations for the economy. The coincident index grew by 1/10th of a point to 105.8 (+2.1 percent versus March 2018), with three of four components making positive contributions (industrial production was the exception). The lagging index also added 1/10th of a point as it grew to 107.0 (+2.9 percent versus March 2018), with four of seven components improving from their February readings. The press release notes that even with March’s gain, the LEI “continues to moderate, suggesting that growth in the US economy is likely to decelerate toward its long-term potential of about 2 percent by year end.”

#5Housing starts and building permits declined in March. The Census Bureau estimates housing starts slipped 0.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.139 million units. This was 14.2 percent below the March 2018 rate and the measure’s lowest mark since May 2017. Starts of single-family homes slowed 0.4 percent to an annualized 785,000 while multi-family unit starts slumped 3.4 percent. Looking towards the future, the number of issued building permits declined 1.3 percent to an annualized 1.269 million permits (-7.8 percent versus March 2018), with declines for single-family and multi-family homes of 1.1 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively. The annualized count of completed homes also fell, with a 1.9 percent drop to 1.338 million homes, which was nevertheless up 6.8 percent from a year ago.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 13, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 192,000 (-5,000 vs. previous week; -35,000 vs. the same week a year earlier; fewest since September 6, 1969). 4-week moving average: 201,250 (-10.8% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Housing Market Index (April 2019, Index (>50=greater percentage of homebuilders viewing housing market as “good” versus being “poor,” seasonally adjusted): 63 (vs. March 2019: 62, April 2018: 68).
State Employment (March 2019, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted) Vs. February 2019: Grew in 1 state, essentially unchanged in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Vs. March 2018: Grew in 22 states, essentially unchanged in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
Business Inventories (February 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.017 trillion (+0.3 percent versus January 2019, +4.9% vs. February 2018).
Treasury International Capital Flows (February 2019, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$42.4 billion (vs. January 2019: -$19.6 billion, vs. February 2018: +$57.6 billion.
Beige Book

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Gas Prices Rise, Core Prices Held in Check: April 8 – 12

Prices rose at the gas pump in March but moderated elsewhere. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 12.

#1Headline consumer prices rose in March, core prices not so much. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) jumped 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was the biggest single-month increase for CPI in 14 months, leaving the measure up 1.9 percent over the past year. Energy CPI surged 3.5 percent as gasoline prices swelled 6.5 percent. Food prices gained 0.3 percent, including a 0.4 percent bounce in the price of food at home. Net of energy and food, core CPI inched up a modest 0.1 percent and has risen 2.0 percent over the past year. Prices increased during March for shelter (+0.4 percent), new vehicles (+0.4 percent), and medical care services (+0.3 percent). Falling were prices for apparel (-1.9 percent) and used cars/trucks (-0.4 percent).

#2Wholesale prices also jumped in March. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) grew a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent, its largest one-month increase since last October. Core final demand PPI, which removes the impact of energy, food, and trade services, was unchanged, however. Sixty percent of the rise in headline PPI was because of the 16.0 percent surge in wholesale gasoline prices. Final demand energy PPI rose 5.6 percent while that for foods grew a far more modest 0.3 percent. Trade services PPI—measuring retailer and wholesaler margins—jumped 1.1 percent for its biggest gain since last October. Over the past year, headline final demand PPI has risen 2.2 percent while the 12-month comparable for the core measure was +2.0 percent. 

#3The number of job openings contracted (yet remained near record highs) in February. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there were a seasonally adjusted 7.087 million nonfarm job openings on the final day of February, down 538,000 from January but still 8.5 percent ahead of the February 2018 count. Among the industries showing the most substantial year-to-year percentage increases in job opening were construction (+44.4 percent), professional/business services (+24.9 percent), manufacturing (+9.4 percent), and health care/social assistance (+8.5 percent). Hiring also pulled back slightly, dropping by 133,000 to 5.696 million (up 1.8 percent versus February 2018). Industries with the most significant 12-month percentage gains in hires were transportation/warehousing (+8.9 percent), wholesale trade (+7.5 percent), retail (+6.8 percent), and health care/social assistance (+5.7 percent). 5.556 million people left their jobs in February, essentially matching the 5.532 million that had done so in January and up 5.4 percent from a year earlier. Versus the previous year, the number of people who quit their job rose 9.6 percent to 3.480 million while the count of workers laid off was off 1.2 percent to 1.742 million

#4New factory orders fell for the fourth time in five months in February. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured goods declined 0.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $497.5 billion. Durable goods orders slumped 1.6 percent while those for nondurable goods gained 0.6 percent. New orders net of transportation goods increased 0.3 percent while those of civilian non-aircraft capital goods (a proxy for business investment) slipped 0.1 percent. Shipments grew for the first time in five months with a 0.4 percent gain to $505.5 billion, with increases of 0.2 percent and 0.6 percent for durable and nondurable goods, respectively. The value of unfilled orders fell for the fourth time in five months, off 0.3 percent to $1.178 trillion while inventories widened for the 27th time in 28 months (up 0.3 percent to $687.8 billion).

#5Small business owner sentiment held steady in March. The Small Business Optimism Index, from the National Federation of Independent Business, eked out a 1/10th of a point increase during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 101.8 (1986=100). While 2.9 points below its March 2018 reading, the index has been above a reading of 100.0 for 27 consecutive months. Four of the index’s ten components improved from their February readings (led by measures tracking both current job openings and plans to increase employment) while three declined in March (including a four-point drop for current inventories). The press release said the measures indicate the U.S. economy will enjoy “solid growth… with no signs of a recession in the near term.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 6, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 196,000 (-8,000 vs. previous week; -31,000 vs. the same week a year earlier; fewest since October 4, 1969). 4-week moving average: 207,000 (-7.6% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (March 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. February 2019, Unchanged vs. March 2018. Nonfuel Imports: -0.2% vs. February 2019, -0.8% vs. March 2018.
Export Prices (March 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted):  +0.7% vs. February 2019, -2.3% vs. March 2018. Nonagricultural Exports: +0.7% vs. February 2019, +1.0% vs. March 2018.
Monthly Treasury Statement (March 2019, Budget Deficit): First Six Months of FY2019: -$691.2 trillion (vs. First Six Months of FY2018: $599.7 billion).
FOMC Minutes

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