Autos Fuel Retail Sales, Prices Firm: September 9 – 13

Consumers were buying vehicles in August. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending September 13.

#1Auto sales outpaced an otherwise modest retail sales report for August. The Census Bureau reports that retail and food services sales totaled $526.1 billion, up 0.4 percent from July and 4.1 percent from a year earlier. Sales at auto dealers and parts stores jumped 1.8 percent while those at gas stations fell 0.9 percent (due to lower prices at the pump). Net of both, core retail sales grew a tepid 0.1 percent following a 0.9 percent surge in July (12-month comparable: +4.2 percent). Sales rose during the month at building material/garden stores (+1.4 percent), sporting goods/hobby retailers (+0.9 percent), and health/personal care stores (+0.7 percent). Sales slumped, however, at department stores (-1.1 percent), furniture retailers (-0.5 percent), and grocery stores (-0.3 percent).

#2Core consumer prices rose for a third straight month in August. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the third time over the past four months, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Energy CPI fell 1.9 percent (pulled down by a 3.5 percent drop in gasoline prices) while food CPI held steady. Net of both, core CPI grew 0.3 percent for a third consecutive month. Rising were prices for used cars/trucks (+1.1 percent), medical care services (+0.9 percent), transportation services (+0.4 percent), medical care commodities (+0.3 percent), apparel (+2.2 percent), and shelter (+0.2 percent). Prices slipped 0.1 percent for new vehicles. While headline CPI has grown by “only” 1.7 percent over the past year, the core measure of consumer prices has climbed 2.4 percent over the same 12 months.

#3And wholesale prices firmed too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand increased 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in August after rising 0.2 percent in July. The core measure—PPI net of energy, food, and trade services—jumped 0.4 percent after slipping 0.1 percent during the prior month. PPI for final demand goods dropped 0.5 percent, pulled down by declines for both energy (-2.5 percent—gasoline prices plummeted 6.6 percent) and food (-0.6 percent). Core goods PPI was unchanged for the month. PPI for final demand services grew 0.3 percent—but more notable was the core measure (which nets out trade services and transportation/warehousing) growing 0.5 percent. Over the past year, headline PPI has risen 1.8 percent while the 12-month comparable for the core wholesale prices was +1.9 percent.

#4The number of job openings pulled back slightly, but workers continued to quit their jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a seasonally adjusted 7.217 million open jobs on the final day of July. While still near the historical high for the data series, this was off 31,000 from June and 3.0 percent from a year earlier. While both construction (+18.8 percent) and manufacturing (+7.0 percent) had sizable year-to-year percentage increases in job openings, other industries reported negative 12-month comparables: financial activities (-15.3 percent), retail trade (-15.2 percent), and accommodation/food services (-10.2 percent). Hiring picked up during July, rising by 237,000 to 5.953 million (+2.1 percent versus July 2018). 5.759 million people departed their jobs during the same month, up 246,000 from June and 1.5 percent ahead of the year-ago pace. This included 3.592 million people who voluntarily quit their jobs (up 130,000 for the month and 4.3 percent from July 2018), a signal suggesting Americans remain confident about the labor market. 1.799 million left their jobs due to a layoff, up 88,000 for the month but down 3.2 percent from a year earlier.

#5The federal budget deficit crossed the trillion dollar threshold, and the fiscal year is not even over yet. The Department of the Treasury reports that the U.S. government has collected $3.088 trillion in receipts through the first 11 months of FY2019, up 3.5 percent from the same 11-month period last year. Expenditures, however, have grown 7.0 percent over the same period to $4.155 trillion. The resulting budget deficit of $1.067 trillion was 18.9 percent ahead of that from the first 11 months of FY2018. Year-to-date individual income tax revenues were 0.9 percent ahead of that a year earlier while corporate tax receipts have expanded 4.5 percent. Among the notable gainers in expenditures were defense (+9.0 percent), debt service (+9.0 percent), and health & human services (+8.4 percent)

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending September 7, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 204,000 (-15,000 vs. previous week; -4,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 212,500 (+0.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (August 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.5% vs. July 2019, -2.0% vs. August 2018; Nonfuel Imports: Unchanged vs. July 2019, -1.0% vs. August 2018.
– Export Prices (August 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.6% vs. July 2019, -1.4% vs. August 2018; Nonagricultural Exports: -0.4% vs.
NFIB Small Business Optimism (August 2019, Index (1986=100), seasonally adjusted): 103.1 (vs. July 2019: 104.7, August 2018: 108.8).
University Surveys of Consumers (September 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 92.0 (vs. August 2019: 89.8, vs. September 2018: 100.1).
Business Inventories (July 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.043 trillion (+0.4% vs. June 2019, +4.8% vs. July 2018).
Consumer Credit (July 2019, Outstanding Consumer (non-real estate-backed) Loan Balances, seasonally adjusted): $4.123 trillion (+$23.3 billion vs. June 2019, +5.2% vs. July 2018).

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

Job Creation Underwhelmed in August: September 2 – 6

Job creation slowed in August while one measure of manufacturing activity turned negative. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending September 6.

#1Private-sector payrolls growth decelerated in August. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that nonfarm payrolls grew by a seasonally adjusted 130,000 during the month, off from the downwardly revised gains in June and July of 178,000 and 159,000, respectively. The expansion in payrolls also is a bit misleading as 25,000 of net gain is the result of temporary federal government hires to support the 2020 Census. The private sector added 96,000 workers, down from July’s 131,000 net gain and the fewest since May. The industries adding the most jobs in August were professional/business services (+37,000), health care/social assistance (+36,800), financial activities (+15,000), construction (+14,000), and leisure/hospitality (+12,000). Average weekly earnings of $966.98 represented a 2.9 percent increase from a year earlier.private and government payrolls 2017-9 090619.png

A separate survey of households keeps the unemployment rate at 3.7 percent for a third consecutive month. The labor force expanded by a robust 590,000 people, translating into a labor force participation rate of 63.2 percent. The same measure for adults aged 25-54 jumped by 6/10ths of a percentage point to 82.6 percent (tying the post-recession high achieved back in January). The median length of unemployment held steady at 8.9 weeks (August 2018: 9.4 weeks) while the count of part-time workers seeking a full-time job grew by 397,000 to 4.381 million (August 2018: 4.368 million). Finally, the broadest measure of labor underutilization from the BLS (the “U-6” series) increased by 2/10ths of a point to 7.2 percent (August 2018: 7.4 percent).

#2The trade picture improved slightly in July. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimate exports increased by $1.2 billion to a seasonally adjusted $207.5 billion (-0.6 percent versus July 2018) while imports slowed by $0.4 billion to $261.4 billion (virtually unchanged from a year earlier). The resulting deficit of -$54.0 billion was $1.5 billion smaller than that of June but also was 2.9 percent greater than that of a year earlier. Over the first seven months of 2019, the trade deficit has totaled -$373.8 billion, 8.2 percent greater than the gap from the first seven months of 2018. The goods deficit fell by $1.6 billion to -$73.6 billion while the services surplus shrank by $0.1 billion to +$19.7 billion. The U.S. had its largest goods deficits with China, the European Union, and Mexico.

#3Purchasing managers tell us manufacturing slowed in August. The PMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Report on Business, shed 2.1 points during the month to a reading of 49.1. This was the first time in nearly three years in which the PMI fell below a reading of 50.0, indicative of contracting manufacturing sector. Four of five PMI components fell during the month: employment (down 4.3 points), new orders (down 3.6 points), supplier deliveries (down 1.9 points), and production (down 1.3 points). The component for inventories eked out a small gain. Only nine of 18-tracked manufacturing industries reported growth, led by textiles, furniture, and food/beverage/tobacco. The press release noted survey respondents’ comments indicating that “trade remains the most significant issue,” reflected by declining export orders and negative supply chain impacts.

#4…But they also report that service sector activity picked up over the same time. The NMI, the headline index for the Non-Manufacturing Report on Business, ticked up 2.7 points to a reading of 56.4. This was the NMI’s 115th consecutive month with a reading above 50.0 and its best reading since May. Only two of four NMI components increased in August—business activity and new orders—while measures for employment and supplier deliveries each slumped. Sixteen of 18-tracked industries expanded during the month, led by real estate, accommodation/food services, and public administration. The press release noted continued concerns “about tariffs and geopolitical uncertainty,” but also that survey respondents were “mostly positive about business conditions.”

#5Even with the news from above, new factory orders grew in July. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured goods increased 1.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted $500.3 billion. Even though this was the second consecutive monthly increase, factory orders over the first seven months of the year were tracking only 0.4 percent ahead of that from the same months a year earlier. As we learned last week, transportation orders were a significant driver of the increased orders, jumping 7.0 percent thanks to surges for both civilian (+47.8 percent) and defense (+34.3 percent) aircraft. Durable goods orders jumped 2.0 percent while those of nondurables gained 0.8 percent. Orders of civilian non-aircraft capital goods—a proxy for business investment—increased 0.2 percent in July. Shipments fell for the first time in three months with a 0.2 percent decline to $504.0 billion while unfilled orders mostly held steady after three monthly declines at $1.162 trillion. Inventories expanded for the 11th time over the past 12 months by growing 0.2 percent to $696.5 billion.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 31, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 217,000 (+1,000 vs. previous week; +7,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 216.250 (+1.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Productivity (2019Q2, Nonfarm Business Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): +2.3% vs. 2019Q1, +1.8% vs. 2018Q2.
Construction Spending (July 2019, Value of Construction Put in Place, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): $1.289 trillion (+0.1% vs. June 2019, -2.7% vs. July 2018).
Beige Book

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

Consumer Spending Rises, Q2 GDP Growth Narrows: August 26 – 30

Consumers have been a bright spot for the U.S. economy, but their outlook may be tenuous. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 30.

#1Consumers’ spending spree continued in July. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that “real” personal consumption expenditures (PCE) grew 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, up from June’s 0.2 percent advance and matching the increases for both April and May. Spending rose for goods by 0.8 percent, with solid gains for both durable (+1.1 percent) and nondurable goods (+0.6 percent). Services spending grew 0.3 percent. Without adjustments for inflation, nominal PCE rose 0.6 percent. The increased spending outpaced gains in nominal personal income (+0.1 percent), nominal disposable income (+0.3 percent), and real disposable income (+0.1 percent). As a result, the savings rate narrowed by 3/10ths of a percentage point to +7.7 percent. Over the past year, personal spending has risen 2.7 percent as real disposable income advanced 3.0 percent.

#2Q2 GDP growth was smaller than previously believed. The Bureau of Economic Analysis‘ second estimate of Q2 2019 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has the U.S. economy growing at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of +2.0 percent, down from 2.1 percent gain reported a month ago. The downward revision was the product of lower than previously estimated levels of state/local government spending, exports, private inventory accumulation, and fixed residential investment. Counterbalancing those revisions was a higher than previously reported estimate for consumer spending. In fact, consumers were by far the most significant positive contributor to Q2 GDP growth. The same report finds corporate profits rose 5.3 percent during the quarter to an annualized $2.113 trillion. The BEA will revise its Q2 estimates of both GDP and corporate profits again in late September.

#3Economic growth also was modest in July. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) plummeted by 39-basis points during the month to a reading of -0.36. Only 26 of the weighted index’s 85 components made a positive contribution to the CFNAI as only 30 improved from their June marks. All four major categories of index components made negative contributions: production (-25 basis points), personal consumption/housing (-6 basis points), sales/orders/inventories (-5 basis points), employment (-1 basis point). A bright spot is the 16-basis point improvement for the CFNAI’s three-moving average, growing June’s -0.30 reading to -0.16 in July. The moving average’s reading, however, is indicative of below-average economic growth.

#4Aircraft orders boosted durable goods orders in July. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured goods jumped 2.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $250.4 billion, following a 1.8 percent gain in June. Much of the increase came from the 7.0 percent surge in orders for transportation goods, with substantial monthly gains in orders for civilian aircraft (+47.8 percent), defense aircraft (+34.4 percent), and motor vehicles (+0.5 percent). Net of transportation goods, durable goods fell 0.4 percent in July, reversing a 0.8 percent increase during the prior month. Rising were new orders for electrical equipment/appliances (+1.1 percent) and computers/electronics (+0.2 percent). Orders fell for primary metals (-1.0 percent), fabricated metals (-0.9 percent), and machinery (-0.6 percent).

#5Consumer sentiment waned in August. The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment suffered its largest single-month drop in nearly seven years with an 8.6 point decline to a seasonally adjusted 89.8 (1966Q1=100). Whereas the measure tracking current sentiment decreased by 5.4 points to 105.3, it was the huge drop in longer-term optimism that pulled down the headline index. The expectations index plummeted by 10.6 points to 79.9. The press release notes that trade tariffs were the chief cause of weakening confidence, with one in three survey respondents “spontaneously” noting the issue in their comments. Those concerned about tariffs were more likely to “voice higher year-ahead inflation expectations, more frequently expected rising unemployment, and expected smaller annual gains in household incomes.”

The Consumer Confidence from the Conference Board slipped by a more modest 7/10ths of a point to a seasonally adjusted 135.1 (1985=100). The present conditions rose to a nearly 19-year high at 177.2 (up 6.3 points versus July 2019) while the expectations index shed 5.4 points to 107.0. A robust 42.0 percent of survey respondents described current business conditions as “good,” while 51.2 percent said that jobs were “plentiful.” The press release did warn that “if the recent escalation in trade and tariff tensions persists, it could potentially dampen consumers’ optimism regarding the short-term economic outlook.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 24, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 215,000 (+5,000 vs. previous week; Unchanged vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 214,500 (-0.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Pending Home Sales (July 2019, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 105.6 (-2.5% vs. June 2019, -0.3% vs. July 2018).
FHFA House Price Index (June 2019, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. May 2019, +4.8%. vs. June 2018.
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (June 2019, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): Unchanged vs. May 2019, +2.1% vs. June 2018.

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