Employers resumed hiring in March while consumers stayed away from stores in February. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 5.
Job creation picked back up in March. Nonfarm payrolls grew a seasonally adjusted 196,000 during the month, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was a big improvement from the upwardly revised, but still weak 33,000 jobs added in February. Private sector employers’ payrolls expanded a net 182,000 workers in March, with 170,000 new jobs in the service sector. Industries adding the most workers were health care/social assistance (+61.200), professional/business services (+37,000), leisure/hospitality (+33,000), and construction (+16,000). The same report places average hourly earnings at $27.70 and average weekly earnings at $955.65, both up 3.2 percent from a year earlier.
Based on a separate household survey, the unemployment rate held steady at 3.8 percent. The labor force shrank by 224,000 people during the month while the labor force participation rate slipped 2/10ths of a percentage point to 63.0 percent. Holding steady, however, was the labor force participation rate for adults aged 25 to 54 at 82.5 percent. The median length of unemployment edged up by 3/10ths of a week to 9.6 weeks while the number of part-time workers seeking a full-time opportunity expanded by 189,000 to 4.499 million. Still at its post-recession low was the broadest measure of labor underutilization (the “U-6” series) at 7.3 percent.
Retail sales disappointed in February. The Census Bureau estimates U.S. retail and food services sales declined 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted $506.0 billion. The same report upwardly revised January’s sales increase from +0.2 percent to +0.7 percent and left retail sales 2.2 percent ahead of that of February 2018. Sales at both auto dealers/parts stores (+0.7 percent) and gas stations (+1.0 percent) both surged during the month. Net of both, core retail sales sank 0.6 percent for the month but have grown 2.9 percent from a year earlier. In February, sales weakened at retailers focused on building materials (-4.4 percent), electronics/appliances (-1.3 percent), furniture (-0.5 percent), and apparel (-0.4 percent). Also losing track were sales at department stores, which decreased 0.5 percent. Retailers focused on health/personal care (+0.6 percent), hobbies/sporting goods (+0.5 percent), and restaurants/bars (+0.1 percent) each enjoyed sales increases. The shift to online stores continued as nonstore retailers’ sales grew 0.9 percent in February and were up 10.0 percent from a year earlier.
Durable orders slumped in February. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured durable goods fell 1.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $250.6 billion. Transportation goods orders declined 4.8 percent, hurt by a sharp 31.1 percent decrease in orders for civilian aircraft and a much smaller 0.1 percent drop in auto orders. Net of transportation goods, core durable goods orders inched up 0.1 percent. Growing were new orders for electrical equipment/appliances (+1.0 percent), primary metals (+0.7 percent), and fabricated metal products (+0.3 percent) while orders slowed 0.3 percent for both machinery and computers/electronics. Durable goods shipments grew for the third time in four months (+0.2 percent). Inventories expanded 0.3 percent while the value of unfilled orders shrank 0.3 percent.
Purchasing managers continued to report economic growth in March. The PMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Report on Business, added 1.1 points during the month to a reading of 55.3. This was the 31st consecutive month in which the measure has been above a reading of 50.0, the threshold between a growing and contracting manufacturing sector. Three of the five PMI components improved from the February readings: employment (up 5.2 points to 57.5), new orders (up 1.9 points to 57.4), and production (up a full point to 55.8). Slipping, however, were measures tracking inventories (off 1.6 points to 51.8) and supplier deliveries (down 7/10ths of a point to 54.2). Sixteen of 18 tracked manufacturing industries expanded during the month, led by printing, textiles, and food/beverages.
Meanwhile, the ISM’s measure of service sector activity lost 3.6 points in March to a reading of 56.1. Despite the decline, this was the 110th straight month in which the NMI was above a reading of 50.0. Three of four NMI components pulled back during the month: business activity (down 7.3 points to 57.4), new orders (down 6.2 points to 59.0), and supplier deliveries (down a full point to 50.0). Sixteen of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries expanded in March, led by construction and professional/scientific/technical services. The press release characterized survey respondents’ comments as “mostly optimistic,” but noted that purchasing managers expressed “concerns about employment resources and capacity constraints.”
Construction spending rose again in February. The Census Bureau reports that the value of construction put in place jumped 1.0 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of $1.320 trillion (+1.1 percent versus February 2018). Private-sector construction spending inched up 0.2 percent to an annualized $994.5 billion, which was nevertheless 1.9 percent below its February 2018 annualized pace. Private residential spending grew 0.7 percent in February while nonresidential expenditures declined 0.5 percent. Public sector construction spending soared 3.7 percent and has risen 12.1 percent over the past year.
Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
– Jobless Claims (week ending March 30, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 202,000 (-10,000 vs. previous week; -29,000 vs. the same week a year earlier; fewest since December 6, 1969). 4-week moving average: 213,500 (-4.2% vs. the same week a year earlier).
– Business Inventories (January 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.014 trillion (+0.8% vs. December 2018, +5.3% vs. January 2018).
– Consumer Credit (February 2019, Outstanding Consumer Credit (non-real estate) Balances, seasonally adjusted): $4.046 trillion (+$15.2 billion vs. January 2019, +5.0% vs February 2018).
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