Inventories and Prices Impair Home Sales: August 21 – 25

Tight inventories were hampering home sales in July. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 25.

#1Existing home sales slipped in July as inventories remained tight. The National Association of Realtors tells us that existing home sales slowed 1.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.44 million units. This was 2.1 percent above the annualized sales rate of a year earlier. Sales grew during July in two Census regions—West (+5.0 percent) and South (+2.2 percent)—but fell in both the Northeast (-14.5 percent) and Midwest (-5.3 percent). Two regions also have positive 12-month sales comparables: West (+5.0 percent) and South (+3.6 percent). Inventories of unsold homes remained very tight, with only 1.92 million homes available for sale at the end of July. This was down 1.0 percent from June, 9.0 percent from a year earlier, and the equivalent to a mere 4.2 month supply. NAR’s press release notes that “the negative effect of not enough inventory to choose from and its pressure on overall affordability [have] put the brakes on what should’ve been a higher sales pace.”Existing and New Home Sales July17-082517.png

#2New home sales also dropped during July. Per the Census Bureau, sales of new single-family homes were at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 571,000 units. This was down 9.4 percent from June and off 8.9 percent from the same month a year earlier. Sales fell in three in four Census regions: Northeast (-23.8 percent), West (-21.3 percent), and South (-4.1 percent). New home sales increased 6.2 percent in the Midwest. Similarly, three of four Census regions have experienced year-to-year sales declines, including the Northeast (-13.5 percent), Midwest (-12.7 percent), and South (-11.7 percent). New home sales were 1.7 percent above their July 2016 rate. Inventories of new homes grew 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted 276,000 units. This translated into a 5.8 month supply of new homes on the market. As a result, the median sales price of new homes sold during the month—$313,700—was 6.3 percent above that of a year earlier.

#3The pace of economic expansion slowed during July. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) shed 17-basis points during the month to slip to a negative -0.01 reading. This was the third time over the past five months in which the CFNAI was negative, indicative of the U.S. economy growing slower than its historical average. The CFNAI is a weighted average of 85 economic measures. During July, 42 of the measures made a positive contribution to the CFNAI during July. Among the four broad categories of economic measures, only those related to employment made a positive contribution (adding nine basis points to the index). Weighing on the index were components associated with consumption/housing (costing six basis points), production (costing two basis points), and sales/orders/inventories (costing a basis point). The CFNAI’s three-month moving average, with smooths some of the month-to-month volatility in the index, lost 14-basis points during the month to -0.05. This was the moving average’s lowest reading since March.

#4A sharp decline in airplane orders weighed heavily on durable goods orders in July. New orders for manufactured durable goods slumped 6.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted $229.2 billion, according to the Census Bureau. This was the largest decline in durable goods orders in almost three years. The drop was partially the product of new orders for civilian aircraft tumbling 70.7 percent (note that aircraft order data tend to be very volatile month-to-month), contributing to 19.0 percent decrease in transportation goods orders (also not helping was a 1.2 percent fall in new orders for motor vehicles). Net of transportation goods, new durable goods orders gained 0.5 percent to $154.8 billion. Rising during the month were orders for electrical equipment/appliances (+2.6 percent), computers/electronics (+1.6 percent), and fabricated metal products (+1.0 percent). New orders fell, however, for machinery (-1.4 percent). A proxy for core business investment—civilian non-aircraft capital goods orders—gained 0.4 percent. Shipments grew for a third straight month (+0.4 percent), unfilled order lost ground for the third time in four months (-0.3 percent), and inventories expanded for the 12th time in 13 months (+0.3 percent).

#5Home prices continue to rise far more quickly than the general rate of inflation. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s purchase-only Home Price Index edged up 0.1 percent during June and has risen by 6.5 percent over the past year. The measure of prices of homes that have been purchased at least twice (hence a repeat purchase index) gained in five of nine Census regions during the month, led by the East South Central (+1.3 percent) and Pacific (+0.7 percent) regions. Prices held firm in the Middle Atlantic but fell in three regions: West South Central (-0.5 percent), South Atlantic (-0.2 percent), and East North Central (-0.1 percent). All nine Census regions have positive 12-month comparables, with prices growing by the largest percentage over the past year in the Pacific (+9.8 percent), Mountain (+7.9 percent), East South Central (+7.1 percent) regions.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 19, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 234,000 (+2,000 vs. previous week; -26,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 237,750 (-9.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Mortgage Delinquencies (2017 Q2, Delinquency Rate of Outstanding Mortgages, seasonally adjusted): 4.24% (vs. 2017Q1: 4.71%, vs. 2016Q2: 4.66%).
Temporary and Contract Workers (2017Q2, Average Number of Temporary and Contract Workers per week): 3.13 million workers (+1.9% vs. 2017Q1, -1.4% vs. 2016Q2).

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

Retail Sales Jumped, Factory Output Slowed in July: August 14 – 18

The summer of 2017 is shaping up better for retail sales than previously believed. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 18.

#1Retail sales heated up in July (and the picture in June was better than previously reported). The Census Bureau tells us that retail/food services sales totaled a seasonally adjusted $478.9 billion, up 0.6 percent from May and 4.2 percent from a year earlier. The same report presented a significant upward revision to its estimate for June, raising the previously reported 0.2 percent sales decline to a 0.3 percent rise. After removing the impact of sales at auto dealers/parts stores (+1.2 percent) and gas stations (-0.4 percent), retail sales increased 0.5 percent during July. Most retail segments enjoyed sales gains during the month, led by home materials/garden stores (+1.2 percent), non-luxury department stores (+1.0 percent), furniture retailers (+0.4 percent), bars/restaurants (+0.3 percent), and sporting goods/hobby retailers (+0.3 percent). Sales slumped 0.5 percent at electronics/appliance stores and 0.2 percent at apparel retailers during July. Nonstore retailers (including web retailers) sales continued to blossom, with sales rising 1.3 percent for the month and 11.5 percent from the same month a year earlier.July17 Retail Sales-081817

#2Factory output slowed in July. The Federal Reserve’s industrial production report finds manufacturing output slipped 0.1 percent during the month, leaving factory output up a modest 1.2 percent from a year earlier. Durable goods production declined 0.5 percent while that of nondurables advanced 0.4 percent. The former was pulled down by a sharp 3.5 percent drop in motor vehicle production, along with decreases in output greater than one percent for both furniture and primary metals. Production increases greater than one percent of both apparel and chemicals led the growth in nondurables output. Overall industrial production grew 0.2 percent, putting it 2.2 percent its July 2016 level. Greater oil and gas extraction led to a 0.5 gain in mining output (+10.2 percent versus July 2016) while higher demand for electricity due to warm summer weather pushed up the production at utilities by 1.6 percent (-0.6 percent versus July 2016). Capacity utilization held steady during the month at 76.7 percent, which remained 3.2 percentage points below the measure’s long-run average.

#3Forward-looking indicators point towards continued economic growth during the remainder of the year. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) added 4/10ths of a point during July to a seasonally adjusted 128.3 (2010=100). The measure has grown 3.9 percent over the past year. Eight of ten components of the LEI made positive contributions, led by the interest rate spread, new manufacturing orders, and consumers’ expectations for future business conditions. The coincident index added 3/10ths of a point to 115.7, up 1.9 percent from a year earlier. All four components of the coincident index made positive contributions, including nonfarm payrolls and industrial production. The lagging index eked out a 1/10th of a point gain to 124.8, up 2.5 percent over the past year. Three of the lagging index’s seven components made positive contributions, led by the prime interest rate charged by banks. The press release said the results imply “the U.S. economy may experience further improvements in economic activity in the second half of the year.”

#4Housing starts slowed during July. Per the Census Bureau, housing starts declined 4.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.155 million units. This was off 5.6 percent from a year earlier. Most of the decline during July came from a sharp 17.1 percent in multi-family units (5+ units) in starts (-35.2 percent from the same month a year ago). Single-family home starts slipped 0.5 percent during July but nevertheless remained 10.9 percent above the July 2016 pace. Looking towards the future, there were 1.223 million issued building permits (SAAR), down 4.1 percent from June but up 4.1 percent from the same month a year ago. While the SAAR for single-family home issued permits held firm during July, they declined 12.1 percent for multi-family home permits. Housing completions slowed 6.2 percent during July to a SAAR of 1.175 million units. This was up 8.2 percent from the July 2016 pace.

#5And yet, homebuilders grew more optimistic during August. The Housing Market Index (HMI) from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) added four points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 68. This was up nine points from a year earlier and represented the 38th consecutive month in which the homebuilder sentiment measure was above a reading of 50, meaning more builders saw the housing market as “good” versus being “poor.” The index grew in all four Census regions: South (up seven points to 70), West (up five points to 79), Northeast (up three points to 51), and Midwest (up a point to 65). All growing during the month were indices for sales of single-family homes (up four points to 74), expected sales of single-family homes (up five points to 78), and the traffic of prospective buyers (up a point to 49). The NAHB attributes builders’ more positive outlook to “ongoing job and economic growth, attractive mortgage rates, and growing consumer confidence.” 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 12, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 232,000 (-10,000 vs. previous week; -29,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 240,500 (-8.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Business Inventories (June 2017, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.869 trillion (+0.5% vs. May 2017, +2.8% vs. June 2016).
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (August 2017-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100, seasonally adjusted): 97.6 (vs. July 2017: 93.4, vs. August 2016: 89.8).
Treasury International Capital Flows (June 2017, Net Purchases of U.S. Securities by Foreign Investors, not seasonally adjusted: +$35.3 billion (vs. May 2017: +$95.5 billion, vs. June 2016: -$1.6 billion).
FOMC Minutes

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

Job Openings Hit a New Record: August 7 – 11.

Employers have many unfilled jobs while inflation remains subdued. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 11.

#1Even with a record level of job openings, the pace of hiring sputtered in June as employers are unable to fill Thomas roles. There were a seasonally adjusted 6.163 million job openings on the final day of June, up 461,000 from May, 11.3 percent from a year earlier, and the most reported in the 17-year history of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data series. This included 5.588 million private sector job openings, which represented a 12.0 percent increase from June 2016. Industries reporting the largest percentage gains in job openings over the past year include construction (+31.6 percent), wholesale trade (+28.5 percent), financial activities (+22.6 percent), professional/business services (+16.0 percent), and accommodation/food services (+11.9 percent). Yet, employers were struggling to fill those positions. Hiring declined by 103,000 during the month to 5.356 million. This was up 3.5 percent from the number of people hired during June 2016. Private sector employers hired 5.026 million people during the month, up 4.3 percent from a year earlier. The industries with the largest year-to-year percentage increases in hiring included manufacturing (+25.2 percent), construction (+15.0 percent), and professional/business services (+14.6 percent). 5.224 million people left their job during June, off by 21,000 for the month, but 5.7 percent the year ago count. 3.314 million people voluntarily quit their jobs (+5.2 percent versus June 2016) while the 1.701 million people laid off was up 5.7 percent from the same month a year earlier.Nonfarm Job Openings 2007-2017 081117

#2Consumer prices eke out a small gain during July. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.1 percent during the month, after having been unchanged during June. Energy CPI declined for the fifth time in six months, albeit with a small 0.1 percent drop. Gasoline prices were unchanged during July while electricity prices grew 0.4 percent. Food prices gained 0.2 percent during July, the fifth time over the past six months with a monthly increase of at least 0.2 percent. Net of energy and food, core CPI gained 0.1 percent for a fourth consecutive month. Growing were prices for medical care commodities (+1.0 percent), medical care services (+0.3 percent), apparel (+0.3 percent), and transportation services (+0.2 percent). Meanwhile, prices for both new and used cars/trucks dropped 0.5 percent. Both headline and core CPI have grown 1.7 percent over the past year, each under the Federal Reserve’s two-percent target rate for inflation.

#3Wholesale prices declined during July. The final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) slipped 0.1 percent during the month, following a 0.1 percent increase in June. The core measure, which nets out energy, food, and trade services, held steady during the month. PPI for final demand goods edged down 0.1 percent. The measure for wholesale energy goods decreased 0.3 percent (wholesale gasoline prices fell 1.3 percent) while that for food was unchanged during July. Meanwhile, final demand PPI for services dropped 0.2 percent, pulled down by declines for transportation/warehousing (-0.8 percent) and trade (i.e., retailer and wholesaler margins, -0.5 percent). Over the past year, both the headline and core measure of final demand PPI has grown just under the Federal Reserve’s target with a 1.9 percent increase.

#4Productivity growth was soft during Q2, which was an improvement over Q1’s stagnation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds nonbusiness labor productivity edged up 0.9 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis during April, May, and June, a gain from the productivity being unchanged during the first quarter. Output grew 3.4 percent during the quarter while hours worked gained 2.5 percent. Unit labor costs edged up 0.6 percent during the quarter. Over the past year, nonfarm productivity grew by a tepid 1.2 percent. The manufacturing sector presented a bright picture with a 2.5 percent productivity gain, led by a sharp 3.8 percent surge in durable goods manufacturing productivity. Productivity of nondurable manufacturing slipped 0.1 percent during Q2.

#5Small Business Owner Sentiment Rebounded During July. The Small Business Optimism Index from the National Federation of Independent Business improved for the first time in six months with a 1.6 point increase to a seasonally adjusted 105.2 (1986 = 100). This was the measure’s best reading since February and up 10.6 points from a year earlier. Seven of the index’s ten components improved from their June readings, led by measures for current job openings (up five points), expected real sales (up five points), plans to increase employment (up four points), and expected future economic conditions (up four points). Only two of the index components declined during the month: plans to make capital outlays (down two points) and expected credit conditions (off a point). The press release noted that “Main Street was buoyed by stronger customer demand despite the dysfunction in Washington, D.C.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 5, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 244,000 (+3,000 vs. previous week; -19,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 241,000 (-8.2% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Consumer Credit (June 2017, Outstanding Consumer Credit Balances (net of mortgages and other real-estate backed debt, seasonally adjusted): $3.856 trillion (+$12.4 billion vs. May 2017, +5.7% vs. June 2016).
Federal Government Treasury Budget (June 2017, Surplus/Deficit): -$42.9 billion (vs. June 2016: -$90.2 billion, July 2017 -$112.8 billion). 1st ten months of FY2017: -$566.0 billion (vs. 1st ten months of FY2016: -$512.0 billion).
Wholesale Inventories (June 2017, Inventories of Merchant Wholesalers, seasonally adjusted): $599.4 billion (+0.7% vs. May 2017, +2.8% vs. June 2016).

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