Increased Economic Activity, Decreased Durable Goods Orders: December 23 – 27

The U.S. economy expanded more quickly in November, but durable goods orders faltered. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending December 27.

#1Economic activity accelerated in November. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators, soared by 132-basis points during the month to its best reading since February 2018: +0.56. Fifty of the 85 indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI, with 64 measures improving from their October marks. All four major categories of indicators grew in November. Still, the most significant gains came from indicators tied to production (making a +0.49 contribution to the CFNAI) and employment (making a +0.12 contribution). The three-month moving average of the CFNAI improved by ten basis points to a reading of -0.25. (A moving average ranging between 0.00 and -0.70 is indicative of below-average economic growth.)

#2Durable goods orders fell hard in November. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured goods slumped 2.0 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $242.6 billion, its second decline in three months. A primary culprit was the sharp 72.7 percent drop in orders for defense aircraft. Net of defense goods, durable goods orders rose 0.8 percent. Among major industries segments, orders increased for electrical equipment/appliances (+2.0 percent), motor vehicles (+1.9 percent), fabricated metal products (+0.4 percent), computers/electronics (+0.2 percent). Orders declined for civilian aircraft (-1.8 percent), machinery (-1.6 percent), and primary metals (-0.3 percent). 

#3New home sales gained in November. The Census Bureau finds new single-family home sales grew 1.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 719,000 units. New home sales have risen 16.9 percent over the past year. Sales grew in the Northeast (+52.4 percent), and West (+7.5 percent), held steady in the Midwest, slowed 4.1 percent in the South. Three of four Census regions enjoyed positive 12-month comparables, with only the Midwest experiencing a year-to-year sales decline. There were 323,000 new homes for sale at the end of November (a 5.4 month supply), matching the October count but 3.3 percent below November 2018 levels. The median sales price of $330,800 was up 7.2 percent from a year earlier (it is worth noting that price comparisons are difficult because the mix of homes sold likely differ month-to-month).

#4Jobless claims remained well in check during the final days of 2019. The Department of Labor estimates there were a seasonally adjusted 222,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending December 21. This was down 13,000 from the prior week and 30,000 from two weeks ago (when the late Thanksgiving holiday had messed with seasonal adjustments), but essentially matched the year-ago count of 223,000 first-time claims. The four-week moving average of first-time claims edged up by 2,250 to 228,000. This represented a 3.1 percent increase from a year earlier.

#5Agricultural prices rose in November. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s index of the prices received by farmers increased by 4.6 percent to a reading of 88.6 (2011=100). This left the measure 0.2 percent ahead of its year-ago mark. Prices rose for eggs (+176.9 percent from the prior month), lettuce (+66.6 percent), cattle (+5.6 percent), and milk (+4.8 percent) but fell for corn, broilers, apples, and hogs. Meanwhile, cost pressures were held in relative check as the prices paid by farmers index inched up 0.3 percent to 110.4 (November 2018: 109.8). 

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