Spring Had Sprung for Retailers in March: April 15 – 19

Retail sales rebounded while manufacturing sputtered in March. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 19.  

#1Retail sales surged in March. The Census Bureau places total U.S. retail and food services sales at a seasonally adjusted $514.1 billion. The 1.6 percent increase from February was the largest single-month percentage gain in retail sales since the fall of 2017 and left sales up 3.6 percent from a year earlier. A part of the increase was thanks to improved sales at both auto dealers/parts stores (+3.1 percent) and gas stations (+3.5 percent), the latter the product of higher gasoline prices. Core retail sales rose a still robust 0.9 percent for the month, reversing February’s 0.7 percent sales decline and placing the measure 3.6 percent ahead of that from a year earlier. Sales activity rose at retailers focused on apparel (+2.0 percent), furniture (+1.7 percent), groceries (+1.2 percent), electronics/appliances (+0.5 percent), building materials (+0.3 percent), and health/personal care (+0.2 percent), along with a 0.8 percent bounce at restaurants and bars. The only major retailer category to suffer a sales decline during the month was sporting goods/hobby stores with a 0.3 percent drop while department store sales were flat.

#2Manufacturing output was flat in March. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing production was unchanged during the month after having increased 0.3 percent in February, leaving output up a soft 1.0 percent over the past year. Durable goods output slipped 0.1 percent, with output falling sharply for wood products and automobiles but growing for primary metals and electronics/computers. Nondurable goods production eked out a 0.1 percent increase, boosted by gains for textiles, petroleum/coal products, and chemicals. Overall, industrial production declined 0.1 percent in March, reversing February’s 0.1 percent gain. Mining output dropped 0.8 percent while that at utilities inched up 0.2 percent. The former has risen 10.5 percent over the past year while the latter’s 12-month comparable was +3.8 percent.

#3The trade deficit narrowed in February. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis report that exports grew by $2.3 billion to $209.7 billion (+2.3 percent versus February 2018) while imports inched up by $0.6 billion to $259.7 billion (-0.5 percent versus February 2018). As a result, the trade deficit contracted by $1.8 billion to -$49.4 billion, its smallest reading since last June. The goods deficit shrank by $1.2 billion to -$72.0 billion while the services surplus grew by $0.5 billion to +$22.6 billion. The former was the result of higher exports of civilian aircraft and automobiles/parts and a decline in imports of industrial supplies/materials. The U.S. had its biggest goods trade deficits with China, the European Union, and Mexico.

#4Forward-looking economic indicators improved in March. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) added 4/10ths of a point in March to a reading of 111.9 (+3.1 percent versus March 2018). Eight of ten LEI components made positive contributions, led by first-time unemployment insurance claims and consumers’ expectations for the economy. The coincident index grew by 1/10th of a point to 105.8 (+2.1 percent versus March 2018), with three of four components making positive contributions (industrial production was the exception). The lagging index also added 1/10th of a point as it grew to 107.0 (+2.9 percent versus March 2018), with four of seven components improving from their February readings. The press release notes that even with March’s gain, the LEI “continues to moderate, suggesting that growth in the US economy is likely to decelerate toward its long-term potential of about 2 percent by year end.”

#5Housing starts and building permits declined in March. The Census Bureau estimates housing starts slipped 0.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.139 million units. This was 14.2 percent below the March 2018 rate and the measure’s lowest mark since May 2017. Starts of single-family homes slowed 0.4 percent to an annualized 785,000 while multi-family unit starts slumped 3.4 percent. Looking towards the future, the number of issued building permits declined 1.3 percent to an annualized 1.269 million permits (-7.8 percent versus March 2018), with declines for single-family and multi-family homes of 1.1 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively. The annualized count of completed homes also fell, with a 1.9 percent drop to 1.338 million homes, which was nevertheless up 6.8 percent from a year ago.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 13, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 192,000 (-5,000 vs. previous week; -35,000 vs. the same week a year earlier; fewest since September 6, 1969). 4-week moving average: 201,250 (-10.8% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Housing Market Index (April 2019, Index (>50=greater percentage of homebuilders viewing housing market as “good” versus being “poor,” seasonally adjusted): 63 (vs. March 2019: 62, April 2018: 68).
State Employment (March 2019, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted) Vs. February 2019: Grew in 1 state, essentially unchanged in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Vs. March 2018: Grew in 22 states, essentially unchanged in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
Business Inventories (February 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.017 trillion (+0.3 percent versus January 2019, +4.9% vs. February 2018).
Treasury International Capital Flows (February 2019, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$42.4 billion (vs. January 2019: -$19.6 billion, vs. February 2018: +$57.6 billion.
Beige Book

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Gas Prices Rise, Core Prices Held in Check: April 8 – 12

Prices rose at the gas pump in March but moderated elsewhere. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 12.

#1Headline consumer prices rose in March, core prices not so much. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) jumped 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was the biggest single-month increase for CPI in 14 months, leaving the measure up 1.9 percent over the past year. Energy CPI surged 3.5 percent as gasoline prices swelled 6.5 percent. Food prices gained 0.3 percent, including a 0.4 percent bounce in the price of food at home. Net of energy and food, core CPI inched up a modest 0.1 percent and has risen 2.0 percent over the past year. Prices increased during March for shelter (+0.4 percent), new vehicles (+0.4 percent), and medical care services (+0.3 percent). Falling were prices for apparel (-1.9 percent) and used cars/trucks (-0.4 percent).

#2Wholesale prices also jumped in March. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) grew a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent, its largest one-month increase since last October. Core final demand PPI, which removes the impact of energy, food, and trade services, was unchanged, however. Sixty percent of the rise in headline PPI was because of the 16.0 percent surge in wholesale gasoline prices. Final demand energy PPI rose 5.6 percent while that for foods grew a far more modest 0.3 percent. Trade services PPI—measuring retailer and wholesaler margins—jumped 1.1 percent for its biggest gain since last October. Over the past year, headline final demand PPI has risen 2.2 percent while the 12-month comparable for the core measure was +2.0 percent. 

#3The number of job openings contracted (yet remained near record highs) in February. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there were a seasonally adjusted 7.087 million nonfarm job openings on the final day of February, down 538,000 from January but still 8.5 percent ahead of the February 2018 count. Among the industries showing the most substantial year-to-year percentage increases in job opening were construction (+44.4 percent), professional/business services (+24.9 percent), manufacturing (+9.4 percent), and health care/social assistance (+8.5 percent). Hiring also pulled back slightly, dropping by 133,000 to 5.696 million (up 1.8 percent versus February 2018). Industries with the most significant 12-month percentage gains in hires were transportation/warehousing (+8.9 percent), wholesale trade (+7.5 percent), retail (+6.8 percent), and health care/social assistance (+5.7 percent). 5.556 million people left their jobs in February, essentially matching the 5.532 million that had done so in January and up 5.4 percent from a year earlier. Versus the previous year, the number of people who quit their job rose 9.6 percent to 3.480 million while the count of workers laid off was off 1.2 percent to 1.742 million

#4New factory orders fell for the fourth time in five months in February. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured goods declined 0.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $497.5 billion. Durable goods orders slumped 1.6 percent while those for nondurable goods gained 0.6 percent. New orders net of transportation goods increased 0.3 percent while those of civilian non-aircraft capital goods (a proxy for business investment) slipped 0.1 percent. Shipments grew for the first time in five months with a 0.4 percent gain to $505.5 billion, with increases of 0.2 percent and 0.6 percent for durable and nondurable goods, respectively. The value of unfilled orders fell for the fourth time in five months, off 0.3 percent to $1.178 trillion while inventories widened for the 27th time in 28 months (up 0.3 percent to $687.8 billion).

#5Small business owner sentiment held steady in March. The Small Business Optimism Index, from the National Federation of Independent Business, eked out a 1/10th of a point increase during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 101.8 (1986=100). While 2.9 points below its March 2018 reading, the index has been above a reading of 100.0 for 27 consecutive months. Four of the index’s ten components improved from their February readings (led by measures tracking both current job openings and plans to increase employment) while three declined in March (including a four-point drop for current inventories). The press release said the measures indicate the U.S. economy will enjoy “solid growth… with no signs of a recession in the near term.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 6, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 196,000 (-8,000 vs. previous week; -31,000 vs. the same week a year earlier; fewest since October 4, 1969). 4-week moving average: 207,000 (-7.6% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (March 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. February 2019, Unchanged vs. March 2018. Nonfuel Imports: -0.2% vs. February 2019, -0.8% vs. March 2018.
Export Prices (March 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted):  +0.7% vs. February 2019, -2.3% vs. March 2018. Nonagricultural Exports: +0.7% vs. February 2019, +1.0% vs. March 2018.
Monthly Treasury Statement (March 2019, Budget Deficit): First Six Months of FY2019: -$691.2 trillion (vs. First Six Months of FY2018: $599.7 billion).
FOMC Minutes

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

Hiring Rebounded in March: April 1 – 5

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.  

#1Job 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.Nonfarm Payrolls 2010-19 040519

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.

#2Retail 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. 

#3Durable 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.

#4Purchasing 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.”

#5Construction 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).

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