Factories and Consumers Were Active in April: May 14 – 18

Manufacturing rebounded while retail held firm in April. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 18.

#1Manufacturing output picked up in April. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing production gained 0.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month after being unchanged in March. Manufacturing output has increased 1.8 percent over the past year. Durable goods production grew 0.4 percent during the month while that for nondurables expanded 0.5 percent. Leading the former were substantial increases for machinery, aerospace equipment, electrical equipment/appliances, and computers/electronics. Boosting the latter were apparel and petroleum/coal. Overall industrial production increased 0.7 percent in April, matching March’s gain and having risen 3.5 percent over the past year. Production at utilities jumped 1.8 percent during April while mining output swelled 1.1 percent (with oil/gas extraction leading the latter).Industrial Production 2016-18 051818

#2Retail sales remained stout in April even as gas prices rise. The Census Bureau reports that retail and food services sales totaled a seasonally adjusted $497.6 billion, up 0.3 percent for the month and 4.7 percent from the April 2017 sales pace. Sales at auto dealers and parts stores inched up 0.1 percent while that as gas stations rose 0.8 percent (because of higher prices at the pump). Net of both, core retail sales increased 0.3 percent during April. Reporting higher sales during the months were retailers focused on apparel (+1.4 percent), furniture (+0.8 percent), groceries (+0.5 percent), and building materials (+0.4 percent). Sales slowed at health/personal care stores (-0.4 percent), restaurants/bars (-0.3 percent), electronics/appliance retailers (-0.1 percent), and sporting goods/hobby stores (-0.1 percent). Nonstore retailers (e.g., internet retailers) saw sales grow 0.6 percent during April and rise 9.6 percent over the past year.

#3Housing starts slowed in April, with less activity for multi-family units. The Census Bureau pegs the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of housing starts for April at 1.287 million units, off 3.7 percent for the month but still 10.5 percent ahead of the year-ago pace. Dragging down the measure was the 12.6 percent drop in starts of multifamily units (to an annualized 374,000 units). Single-family home starts edged up 0.1 percent to an annualized 894,000 units. Looking towards future activity, there were an annualized 1.352 million issued permits to build new homes. While this represented a 1.8 percent decrease from March, it was 7.7 percent above April 2017 levels. Single-family home permits were 0.9 percent higher than that of March. Home completions increased 2.8 percent during the month to an annualized 1.257 million units (+14.8 percent versus April 2017).

#4Homebuilders remained confident about the housing market during May. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index (HMI) added two points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 70. This was the 47th consecutive month with an HMI above a reading of 50 (indicative of a greater percentage of builders viewing the housing market as “good” as opposed to “bad”) and places the sentiment measure ahead of its 12-month average of 68.6. While the HMI improved in the Midwest, it lost ground in the both in the South and West and was unchanged in the Northeast. The index measuring current sales of single-family homes added two points (to 76) while measures of expected sales over the next six months (77) and traffic of prospective buyers (51) matched their April readings. The press release notes that demand for homes should remain strong due to “[t]ight housing inventory, employment gains and demographic tailwinds.”

#5Forward-looking indicators suggest continued economic growth for the remainder of 2018. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index added 4/10ths of a point in April to a reading of 109.4 (2016=100). The LEI has increased 6.4 percent over the past year. Eight of the ten components to the LEI made positive contributions, led by the interest rate spread and the average number of hours worked in manufacturing. The coincident index gained by 3/10ths of a point to 103.5 (+2.2 percent versus April 2017), with all four components of the coincident index making positive contributions in April. Also adding 3/10ths of a point was the lagging index, with the 104.7 reading being 2.5 percent ahead of that from a year earlier. The press release stated that the leading indicators data “suggest solid growth should continue in the second half of 2018.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending May 12, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 222,000 (+11,000 vs. previous week; -16,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 213.250 (-12.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).
State Employment (April 2018, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): 3 states experienced significant increases in payrolls vs. March 2018. 28 states experienced significant payrolls increases vs. April 2017 while 1 experienced a significant decline.
Business Inventories (March 2018, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.930 trillion (Unchanged vs. February 2018, +3.8% vs. March 2017).
Treasury International Capital Flows (March 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$18.6 billion (vs. February 2018: -$57.7 billion, vs. March 2017: -$35.5 billion).

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

Job Openings Rise to Another Record: May 7 – 11

Employers continue having trouble filling open positions. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 11.

#1Job openings hit an (at least) 17-year high during March while growth in hiring lagged. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a seasonally adjusted 6.550 million available jobs at the end of March, up 472,000 for the month, 16.8 percent above the year-ago count, and the most since the launch of the data series back in December 2000. Private sector employers had 5.928 million job openings, up 16.5 percent from a year earlier. Some of the largest year-to-year percentage increases in job openings were in construction (+38.5 percent), trade/transportation/utilities (+26.4 percent), retail (+24.0 percent), state/local government (+23.9 percent), professional/business services (+20.6 percent), financial activities (+17.2 percent), and leisure/hospitality (+17.0 percent). Employers had difficulty finding people to fill these positions as the 5.425 million hired workers during the month was down 86,000 from February and up a more modest 2.4 percent from a year earlier. Industries with strong year-to-year percentage gains in hiring included arts/entertainment/recreation (+26.0 percent), professional/business services (+13.5 percent), manufacturing (+12.7 percent), transportation/warehousing (+7.0 percent), and wholesale trade (+6.9 percent). 5.291 million people left their jobs during March, up 118,000 from February and 2.3 percent from a year earlier. This included 3.344 million people who quit their jobs (+6.4 percent from a year earlier) and 1.278 million people who were subject to a layoff (down 7.1 percent from March 2017).Job Openings and Hiring 2008-2018 051118

#2Consumer prices grew at a moderate rate in April. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, up from a 0.1 percent decline in March and leaving the measure 2.5 percent ahead of its year-ago mark. Energy prices rebounded 1.4 percent during April following a 2.8 percent pullback in March (gasoline prices increased 3.0 percent). Food prices grew at their fastest rate in 13 months with a 0.3 percent advance (fruits/vegetables, eggs, beer, and dairy products leading the way). Net of energy and food, core CPI saw its smallest gain since last November with a 0.1 percent increase. Helping keep the core measure in check were declining prices for used cars/trucks (-1.6 percent), new vehicles (-0.5 percent), transportation services (-0.4 percent), and medical care commodities (-0.2 percent). Rising were prices for shelter (+0.3 percent), apparel (+0.3 percent) and medical care services (+0.2 percent).

#3Lower food prices lead to the smallest increase in wholesale prices of the year. The final demand measure of the Producer Price Index (PPI) grew a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent during April following a 0.3 percent increase in March, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The core measure of wholesale prices—final demand PPI net of energy, food, and trade services—increased 0.1 percent following three monthly 0.4 percent gains. Final demand prices were unchanged during April as energy prices edge up 0.1 percent and food prices fell 1.1 percent (including a 17.8 percent drop in vegetable prices). Core final demand goods prices (net of energy and food) grew 0.3 percent for the third time in four months. Final demand PPI for services gained 0.2 percent, reflecting a 0.2 percent gain in trade services PPI and a 0.6 percent jump in transportation/warehousing prices. Over the past year, final demand PPI has grown 2.6 percent while the core measure (net of energy, food, and trade services) has increased 2.5 percent.

#4Small business owner confidence held firm in April. The Small Business Optimism Index eked out a 1/10th of a point gain to a seasonally adjusted reading of 104.8 (1986=100). This was the 17th consecutive month in which the National Federation of Independent Business’s measure was above a reading of 100. Four of ten index components gained during the month: earnings trends (up three points), plans to make capital outlays (up three points), current inventories (up two points), and expected real sales. Three measures declined from their March readings: plans to increase employment (down four points), expected economic conditions (down two points), and whether it is a good time to expand (off a single point). The press release claims that “[n]ever in the history of this survey have we seen profit trends so high.”

#5Consumers took on debt at a slower pace in March. The Federal Reserve reports that outstanding consumer credit balances (net of mortgages and other real estate backed debt) grew by $11.7 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $3.875 trillion. This was smaller than the $13.6 billion advance during February and left outstanding debt balances up 5.0 percent over the past year. Revolving credit balances (e.g., credit cards) contracted by $2.6 billion to $1.027 trillion (+4.8 percent versus March 2017). Nonrevolving credit balances (including college and auto loans) increased by $14.2 billion to $2.848 trillion. This represented a 5.1 increase from the same month a year earlier.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending May 5, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 211,000 (Unchanged vs. previous week; -26,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 216,000 (-11.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (April 2018, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.3% vs. March 2018, +3.3% vs. April 2017. Nonfuel Imports: +0.2% vs. March 2018, +1.8% vs. April 2017.
Export Prices (April 2018, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. March 2018, +3.8% vs. April 2017. Nonagricultural Exports: +0.7% vs. March 2018, +4.0% vs. April 2017.
U. of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (May 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment, seasonally adjusted): 98.8 (vs. April 2018: 98.8, vs. May 2017: 97.1).
Wholesale Inventories (March 2018, Inventories of Merchant Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $627.4 billion (+0.3% vs. February 2018, +5.5% vs. March 2017).
Monthly Treasury Statement (April 2018, Federal Government Budget Surplus/Deficit): +$214.3  Billion (vs. April 2017: +$176.3 billion).  The deficit over 1st 7 months of FY2018: -$385.4 billion (vs. 1st 7 months of FY2017: -$344.4 billion).
Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey (April 2018).

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

The Unemployment Rate Drops Below 4%: April 30 – May 4

Employers continued to add workers while the unemployment rate fell to its lowest point since 2000. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 4.  

#1The unemployment rate dropped to a 17.5 year low, but job creation lags a bit. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has nonfarm payrolls growing by a good, but not great 164,000 during April (seasonally adjusted), following increases of 135,000 and 324,000 in March and February. Private sector employers added 168,000 workers during the month, split by 49,000 jobs in the goods-producing side of the economy and 119,000 in the service sector. Industries adding the most workers to their payrolls during April were professionals/business services (+54,000), health care/social assistance (+29,300), manufacturing (+24,000), leisure/hospitality (+18,000), and construction (+17,000). The average workweek remained at 34.5 hours while average hourly earnings added four cents to $26.84. As a result, average weekly earnings grew by $1.38 to $925.98 (+2.8 percent versus April 2018).

Based on a separate household survey, the unemployment slipped by 2/10ths of a percentage point to 3.9 percent, its lowest point since December 2000. Taking some of the steam from this news was that 239,000 people left the labor force during the month, resulting in the labor force participation rate slipping by 1/10th of a percentage point to 62.8 percent. Falling by the same amount was the labor force participation rate for adults aged 25-54 (to 82.0 percent). The median length of unemployment jumped by 7/10ths of a week to 9.8 weeks (April 2017: 10.3 weeks). The BLS’s broadest measure of labor underutilization (the U-6 series) hit another post-recession low with a 2/10ths of a percentage point decline to 7.8 percent.Unemployment Rate 1998-2018 050418

#2The Fed stays put in May, likely to act in June. The policy statement released following this past week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) continued to characterize economic growth as “moderate” and job gains as “strong.” Further, while household spending had “moderated,” business investment continued to grow “strongly.” Finally, core inflation measures continued to approach the Fed’s two-percent target. The FOMC voting members voted unanimously to keep the fed funds target rate between 1.5 and 1.75 percent, a rate the committee considers to be “accommodative.” The statement notes that conditions likely will “warrant further gradual increases” in its short-term interest rate target. The general consensus has the next rate hike at its June 12-13 meeting.

#3Personal spending rebounds in March. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) rose 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month following declines in both January and February. Real spending on durable goods jumped 1.1 percent while expenditures for nondurables and services each gained 0.3 percent. As prices were flat during the month, nominal PCE also grew 0.4 percent during the month. The increased spending was prompted a 0.3 percent gain in both nominal personal income and disposable income. After adjusting for inflation, real disposable income grew by 0.2 percent. Funding the difference was the 2/10ths of a percentage point drop in the savings rate to +3.1 percent. Over the past year, real PCE has increased 2.4 percent while disposable income has gained 1.7 percent.

#4Aircraft exports prompt a sharp narrowing of the trade deficit in March. Per the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis, exports increased by $4.2 billion during the month to $208.5 billion (+8.8 percent versus March 2017) while imports slowed by $4.6 billion to $257.5 billion (+8.9 percent versus March 2017). As a result, the trade deficit contracted by 15.2 percent during the month to -$49.0 billion, which was still 9.5 percent larger than that of a year earlier. The goods deficit shrank by $7.5 billion to -$69.5 billion while the services surplus expanded by $1.3 billion to +$20.5 billion. The former was boosted by increased exports of civilian aircraft (+1.9 billion), foods/feeds (+$1.0 billion), and industrial supplies/materials (+$0.9 billion) and decreased imports of capital goods (-$3.6 billion), consumer goods (-$0.9 billion), and crude oil (-$0.5 billion). The U.S. had its biggest goods deficits with China (-$35.4 billion), the European Union (-$12.4 billion), and Mexico (-$7.0 billion).

#5Factory orders grew for the seventh time in eight months during March. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured goods increased 1.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $507.7 billion (+8.1 percent versus March 2017). Transportation goods—and, in particular, civilian aircraft—were a major reason for the increase. Net of transportation goods, factory orders increased 0.3 percent during the month and was 6.6 percent ahead of its year-ago pace. Durable goods orders jumped 2.5 percent during March while those for nondurables gained 0.5 percent. Shipments increased for the 15th time in 16 months with 0.4 percent growth to $502.8 billion. Non-transportation goods shipments gained 0.2 percent. The value of manufacturers’ unfilled orders gained 0.8 percent to $1.154 trillion (its sixth increase in seven months) while inventories expanded 0.3 percent to $677.3 billion (its 16th increase over the past 17 months). 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 28, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 211,000 (+2,000 vs. previous week; -31,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 221,500 (-9.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Productivity (Q1 2018-preliminary, Nonfarm Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted): +0.7% vs. Q3 2017, +1.3% vs. Q1 2017).
ISM Report on Business-Manufacturing (April 2018, PMI (Index (>50=expanding manufacturing sector)), seasonally adjusted): 57.3 (-2.0 points vs. March 2018).
ISM Report on Business-Nonmanufacturing (April 2018, NMI (Index (>50=expanding service sector)), seasonally adjusted): 56.8 (-2.0 points vs. March 2018).
Construction Spending (March 2018, Value of Construction Put in Place, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): $1.285 trillion (-1.7% vs. February 2018, +3.6% vs. March 2017).
Vehicle Sales (April 2018, Light Vehicle Retail Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 17.17 million units (-1.8% vs. March 2018, +0.8% vs. April 2017).
Pending Home Sales (March 2018, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 107.6 (+0.4% vs. February 2018, -3.0% vs. March 2017).

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