Retail sales rebounded in January. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending February 18.
Retail sales swelled in January, but much of that gain reflected higher prices. Retail and food services sales totaled a seasonally adjusted $649.8 billion during the month, up 3.8 percent from December and 13.0 percent from a year earlier. Sales during November, December, and January were up 1.7 percent over the prior three-month period and 16.1 percent over the comparable year-ago period. An important caveat is that the Census Bureau data series does not control for price changes, which have been significant recently. After removing auto dealers (+5.7 percent) and gas stations (-1.3 percent), core retail sales jumped 3.8 percent during the month and were 11.4 percent ahead of their year-ago pace. Most retailer sectors saw sales increases: furniture (+7.2 percent), building materials (+4.1 percent), electronics/appliances (+1.9 percent), groceries (+1.2 percent), and apparel (+0.7 percent). Sales declined at sporting goods/hobby retailers (-3.0 percent), health/personal care stores (-0.7 percent)
Manufacturing wobbled in January. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing output increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent during the month, after slipping 0.1 percent in December. Both durable and nondurable goods output grew 0.2 percent, while automobile production fell 0.9 percent. Manufacturing output has risen 2.5 percent over the past year. Overall industrial production surged 1.1 percent in January (+4.1 percent versus January 2021), thanks to mining and utility output rising 1.0 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. (The latter was a data series record resulting from higher demand for heating). Manufacturing factory utilization edged up 1/10th of a percentage point to 77.3 percent, getting ever so closer to the 40-year average of 78.1 percent.
Forward-looking data suggest slower—but still robust—economic growth. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) slumped 0.3 percent in January, following gains in November and December of +0.8 percent and +0.7 percent, respectively. Even with January’s decline, the LEI has risen 2.6 percent over the past six months. Pulling down the LEI were jobless claims and consumer sentiment data. The coincident index grew by a half-point, following two consecutive monthly 0.2 percent advances, with all four index components making positive contributions. The lagging index jumped 0.7 percent, with support from four of its seven components. Per the press release, the Conference Board expects the U.S. economy to expand 3.5 percent this year but notes that there remain “risks to growth in the near term” (such as inflation and labor shortages).
Wholesale prices increased at their fastest pace since last summer. The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand surged a seasonally adjusted 1.0 percent in January following December’s 0.4 percent bump. The core measure (net of foods, energy, and trade services) rose 0.9 percent, ahead of December 0.4 percent gain. Prices for energy and food swelled 2.5 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. Prices jumped for motor vehicles, fuel, beef/veal, and dairy products. Final demand PPI has risen 9.7 percent over the past year, the third straight month with a 12-month comparable near 10 percent. The core measure has increased 6.9 percent since January 2021, just under its record-high achieved in November and December.
Existing home sales rose in January even as inventories fell to a record low. The National Association of Realtors reports that sales of previously owned homes jumped 6.7 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 6.50 million units. Sales improved in all four Census regions, including a 9.3 percent bump in the South. Despite January’s gain, sales were 2.3 percent below year-ago levels. A challenge remains a lack of homes for sale—there were a mere 860,000 homes on the market at the end of January, the equivalent to a 1.6 month supply. The median sales price of $350,300 was up 15.4 percent from a year earlier.
Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
- Jobless Claims (Week ending February 12, 2022, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 248,000, +23,000 vs. the previous week, -599,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 243,250 (-71.2% vs. the same week a year earlier).
- Import Prices (January 2022, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +2.0% vs. December 2021; +10.8% vs. January 2021. Nonfuel Imports: +0.5% vs. December 2021; +6.9% vs. January 2021.
- Export Prices (January 2022, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): +2.9% vs. December 2021; +15.1% vs. January 2021. Nonagricultural Exports: +2.9% vs. December 2021; +14.7% vs. January 2021.
- Housing Starts (January 2022, Privately-Owned Housing Starts, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 1.638 million (-4.1% vs. December 2021; +0.8% vs. January 2021).
- Business Inventories (December 2021, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): $2.207 trillion (+2.1% vs. November 2021; +10.5% vs. December 2020).
- Treasury International Capital Flows (December 2021, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$76.9 billion (vs. November 2021: +103.4 billion; +$97.8 billion vs. December 2020).
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