Consumer Spending Pauses, Expectations Ease: June 26 – 30.

Growth in consumer spending moderated during May as had consumer sentiment in June. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 30.

#1Personal spending grew at a sluggish pace during May. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates real consumer personal expenditures (PCE) grew 0.1 percent during the month following two back-to-back months of 0.4 percent gains. Real spending swelled for both nondurable goods (+0.2 percent) and services (+0.1 percent) but slipped for durable goods (-0.1 percent). Real PCE has increased 2.7 percent over the past year, including a strong +7.0 percent year-to-year gain in durable goods spending. Removing the adjustments for price variability, nominal consumer spending also increased 0.1 percent during the month to $13.214 trillion on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis. Growing at a faster rate were personal income (+0.4 percent), nominal disposable income (+0.5 percent), and real disposable income (+0.6 percent). The latter was the largest single-month gain in real disposable income since April 2015. As a result, the savings rate rose to its highest mark since last September with a 4/10ths of a percentage point increase to +5.5 percent. Finally, the PCE deflator, a closely watched measure of inflation, has grown +1.4 percent over the past year, as did the core PCE deflator (which removes both energy and food from the analysis). Both remained below the Federal Reserve’s 2.0 percent inflation target.Real Disposable Income and PCE-063017

#2One possible reason: Consumers appear a bit less confident about the future. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index added 1.3 points during June to a seasonally adjusted 118.9 (1985=100), marked by Americans feeling better about current business conditions but less so about conditions in the coming months. The present conditions index surged 5.7 points to 146.3 (approaching the measure’s best reading since 2001) while the expectations index shed 1.7 points to 100.6. 30.8 percent of surveyed consumers felt current business conditions were “good,” compared to 12.7 percent who saw them as being “poor.” Survey respondents also were more positive about labor market conditions as 32.8 percent of consumers said jobs were “plentiful” while only 18.0 percent felt that they were “hard to get.” The press release noted that “[c]onsumers anticipate the economy will continue expanding in the months ahead, but they do not foresee the pace of growth accelerating.”

On the other hand, the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment lost two full points during June to drop to a seasonally adjusted 95.1 (1966Q1=100). This was the measure’s lowest reading since last fall’s election and was the resulting a deteriorating outlook for the future. The expectations index fell by 3.8 points to 83.9 while the current conditions index edged up by 8/10ths of a point to 112.5. As has been the trend with this survey since last November, Republicans were far more positive about current and future business conditions than were Democrats. The press release indicates that the index readings suggest personal spending will grow by 2.3 percent during 2017.

#3Even with another upward revision, Q1 GDP growth was soft. The Bureau of Economic Analysis now estimates Gross Domestic Product grew at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of +1.4 percent, an improvement from the 1.2 percent gain reported a month earlier and the initial estimate of a 0.7 percent advance. Q1 economic growth was slower than the 2.1 percent and 3.5 percent during the two previous quarters. The most recent upward revision was the product of higher than previously believed levels of personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and exports. The biggest contributors to Q1 GDP growth were nonresidential fixed investment (+123 basis point contribution to GDP growth), exports (+82-basis points), personal consumption expenditures (+75-basis points), and residential fixed investment (+48-basis points). Notable is that the contribution from consumption was down sharply from the previous quarter when PCE added 240-basis points of GDP growth. Also holding back Q1 GDP growth were the negative contributions from private inventory accumulation (-111-basis points), imports (-59-basis points), and government expenditures (-16-basis points). Corporate profits from current production slumped 2.3 percent during Q1 to $2.102 trillion (SAAR). Even with the decline, corporate profits were up 3.3 percent from a year earlier.

#4Economic growth has appeared to have downshifted during May. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators, plummeted by 83-basis points during the month to a seasonally adjusted -0.26. Only 32 of the 85 economic indicators made a positive contribution to the CFNAI. Among the four major categories of indicators, production-related indicators deteriorated by far the most, with its contribution to the headline index falling from +0.53 to -0.16. Also softening from their April contributions were indicators related to employment (down 14-basis points to -0.02) and consumption/housing (off two-basis points to -0.09). The contribution from sales/orders/inventories indicators improved by 3-basis points to +0.02. The three-month moving average for the CFNAI, which smooths some of the month-to-month variability and therefore may be a better indicator of business trends, fell by 17-basis points to +0.04. Nevertheless, the reading above 0.00 suggests that slightly above average economic growth over the past three months (even if the pace of expansion slowed sharply during May).

#5Durable goods orders fell for second consecutive month in May. Per the Census Bureau, new orders for durable goods dropped 1.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted $228.2 billion. This followed a 0.9 percent decline in April. Pulling down the headline measure were large declines in orders for civilian and defense aircraft (-11.7 percent and -30.8 percent, respectively). This resulted in a 3.4 percent decrease in overall transportation goods, even as new orders for vehicles gained 1.2 percent during May. Net of transportation goods, durable goods orders edged up 0.1 percent, its third increase in four months. Orders increased for electrical equipment/appliances (+1.0 percent), machinery (+0.6 percent), and primary metals (+0.3 percent), but fell for computers (-3.2 percent), communications equipment (-3.1 percent), and fabricated metal products (-0.2 percent). A proxy for business investment—civilian capital goods orders net of aircraft—cooled 0.2 percent during May. Durable goods shipments improved for the first time in three months (+0.8 percent). Unfilled orders shrank 0.2 percent while inventories expanded 0.2 percent.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending June 24, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 244,000 +2,000 vs. previous week; -23,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 242,250 (-9.2% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Pending Home Sales (May 2017, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted):  108.5 (vs. April 2017: 109.4, vs. May 2017: 110.4)
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (April 2017, 20-City Home Price Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.3% vs. March 2017, +5.7% vs. April 2016).
Agricultural Prices (May 2017, Prices Received by Farmers, seasonally adjusted): +2.1% vs. April 2017, +4.8% vs. May 2016).

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

Home Sales Remain Firm, Moderate Economic Growth on Target for 2017: June 19 – 23

Home sales improved during May while forward-looking economic indicators suggest moderate economic growth during the rest of this year. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 23.

#1Existing home sales crept up during May. The National Association of Realtors reports that sales of previously owned homes grew 1.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.62 million homes. This was 2.7 percent above the year ago annualized sales pace and just below its post-recession sales peak. Sales grew in three of four Census regions during May: Northeast (+6.8 percent), West (+3.4 percent), and South (+2.2 percent). Sales fell 5.9 percent in the Midwest. The 12-month comparables followed the same pattern, with sales growing in the Northeast, South, and West, but falling in the Midwest. There remained a dearth of homes on the market. A mere 4.2 month supply of homes were available for sale at the end of May, with the 1.96 million homes on the market representing 8.4 percent decline from a year earlier. As a result, the median sales price of existing home sales jumped 5.8 percent from a year earlier to $252,800. The press release noted that “[t]he job market in most of the country is healthy and the recent downward trend in mortgage rates continues to keep buyer interest at a robust level.”

#2New home sales also bounced up during May. The Census Bureau estimates the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate for new homes was at 610,000 units, up 2.9 percent for the month and 8.9 percent from a year earlier. Sales surged in both the West and South by 13.3 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively, but cooled in both the Midwest (-25.7 percent) and Northeast (-10.8 percent). Homebuilders had 268,000 new homes available for sale at the end of May, up 1.5 percent from the previous month and 11.2 percent from a year earlier. This translated into a still tight 5.3 month supply of new homes. The median sales price for new homes jumped 16.8 percent over the past year, although some of the “increase” reflects larger (and therefore more expensive) homes sold.

#3Leading economic indicators point to 2017 economic growth of two percent or more. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index grew 0.3 percent during May to a seasonally adjusted reading of 127.0 (2010 = 100). This was up 3.5 percent from a year earlier. Eight of the leading index’s components made positive contributions to the measure during May, led by the interest rate spread, new orders for manufactured goods, and consumers’ expectations for business conditions. The coincident economic index edged up 1/10th of a point to 115.3 (+2.2 percent vs. May 2016) as three of four index components making positive contributions (personal income net of transfer payments, nonfarm payrolls, and manufacturing/trade sales). The lagging economic index also added 1/10th of a point to 124.2 (+2.1 percent vs. May 2016) with only three of seven index components making a positive contribution during the month. The press release noted that the leading indicators suggest “the economy is likely to remain on, or perhaps even moderately above, its long-term trend of about 2 percent growth for the remainder of the year.”

#4Layoff activity remained light during mid-June. Per the Department of Labor, there were a seasonally adjusted 241,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending June 17, up 3,000 for the week but 21,000 below the number of claims from the same week a year earlier. The jobless claims count has been below 300,000 for 120 consecutive weeks, a feat not seen since 1970(!). The four-week moving average of first-time claims of 244,750 was 8.3 percent below that of a year earlier. 1.817 million people were receiving some form of unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending June 3, 10.2 percent below the count of a year ago.

#5Americans’ household debt service remained relatively low in early 2017. The Federal Reserve indicates that financial obligations represent 15.47 percent of households’ disposable personal income during the first quarter of 2017. The financial obligations ratio was down one basis point from the previous quarter but up a basis point from a year earlier. This ratio has been consistently below 16 percent since 2011 (contrasting with ten years ago when the percentage was consistently nearly 18 percent) and has stayed near 30-year lows. The debt service ratio held steady at 10.04 during Q1 and was up two basis points from a year earlier. By comparison, this measure was above 13 percent ten years ago. Nondebt financial obligations (e.g., rent, leases) represented 5.43 percent of disposable income, down 1-basis point from the previous quarter but keeping the measure near its highest levels in 30 years.Financial Obligations Ratio--06232017

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
FHFA House Price Index (April 2017, Purchase-only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.7% vs. March 2017, +6.8% vs. April 2016.

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

The Fed Moves, Inflation Does Not: June 12 – 16

The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates even though inflation remains below where the Fed wants it to be. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 16.

#1The Federal Reserve bumped up its short-term interest rate target for the second time in 2017. The policy statement released following the conclusion of last week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FMOC) reaffirmed its view that the economy was “rising moderately,” the labor market had “continued to strengthen,” and that risks to economic growth were “balanced.” At the same time, it noted that inflation had “declined recently” and was tracking below the Fed’s two-percent target rate. Nevertheless, the FOMC voted (with one dissension) to raise the fed funds target rate by 25-basis points to a range of +1.00 percent and +1.25 percent, a level that the statement noted was still “accommodative” and would promote “further strengthening in the labor market.” The FOMC also agreed to gradually begin reducing the central bank’s holdings of Treasury securities and agency mortgage-back securities by slowing its reinvestment of the principal payments that it receives on these holdings.

The Fed also released updated economic forecasts from FOMC meeting participants. The group continues to expect modest economic growth over the coming years with median forecasts for annual GDP growth at +2.2 percent, +2.1 percent, and +1.9 percent for 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively. At the same time, they now anticipate low unemployment rates of 4.3 percent this year and 4.2 percent in both 2018 and 2019. The group also expects the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) deflator, a measure of inflation, to be at +1.7 percent for this year before creeping up to +2.0 percent during both 2018 and 2019. Finally, the FOMC meeting participants predict one more hike in the fed funds target rate this year and then three hikes per year in both 2018 and 2019.FOMC Fed Funds Target Forecasts--061617

 #2Inflation took the month of May off. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) slipped 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, leaving it 1.9 percent above its May 2016 reading. The decline was partially the result of a pullback in gasoline prices (-6.4 percent) that weighed on the energy price index -2.7 percent. Meanwhile, food CPI grew 0.2 percent during the month. Net of both energy and food, core CPI eked out a 0.1 percent increase, giving it a 12-month comparable of +1.7 percent. Rising during the month were prices for medical care commodities (+0.4 percent), transportation services (+0.3 percent), and shelter (+0.2 percent). Prices fell for apparel (-0.8 percent), both new and used vehicles (-0.2 percent), and medical care services (-0.1 percent).

Falling wholesale gasoline prices also kept wholesale prices in check during May. Final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) held steady during the month but was still up 2.4 percent from a year earlier. The core measure of final demand wholesale prices (net of energy, food, and trade services) declined 0.1 percent for the month and had a 12-month comparable of +2.1 percent. PPI of final demand goods dropped 0.2 percent as wholesale price declines for energy (-3.0 percent) and food (-0.2 percent) outweighed the 0.1 percent increase in prices for core goods. PPI for final demand services grew 0.3 percent during May as the price index for trade services (i.e., retailer and wholesaler margins) jumped 1.1 percent.

#3Manufacturing output fell in May. The Federal Reserve’s report on industrial production finds manufacturing output declining 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month following a 1.1 percent gain in April. This left manufacturing output growing by an unexceptional 1.4 percent from a year earlier. Durable goods production slumped 0.8 percent during May, with declines across all major product categories, while nondurables output gained 0.3 percent, led by a “large gain” in the production of chemicals. Overall industrial production was unchanged for the month as a drop in manufacturing output was counterbalanced by production gains in mining (+1.6 percent) and at utilities (+0.4 percent)

#4Retail sales sputtered in May. Per the Census Bureau, retail sales declined 0.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $473.8 billion. Nevertheless, sales paced 3.8 percent ahead of their year-ago level. Sales net of those at auto dealers & parts stores (-0.2 percent vs. April 2017) shared the same comparbles of -0.3 percent vs. April 2017 and +3.8 percent vs. May 2016. Some of the decline in retail sales during May was the result of lower gasoline prices that had pushed down sales at gas stations 2.8 percent (this data series does not adjust for price changes). Sales also fell at electronic stores (-2.8 percent), department stores (-1.0 percent), sporting goods/hobby retailers (-0.6 percent), and restaurants/bars (-0.1 percent). Having a better month were furniture stores (+0.4 percent), apparel retailers (+0.3 percent), and grocery stores (+0.1 percent). Consumers continued to shift away from brick and mortar stores to online retailers as sales at nonstore retailers jumped 0.8 percent during the month and were 10.2 percent ahead of their May 2016 pace.

#5Employers expect to expand payrolls during Q3. Twenty-four percent of the more than 11,000 employers Manpower interviewed intend to expand payrolls during the three-month period of July, August, and September, while four percent expect to shed workers. Taking the difference of +20 and adjusting for seasonal variation gives you the Manpower Net Employment Outlook Index of +17, which was unchanged from the second quarter forecast and up two points from the same quarter a year earlier. The index was positive in all 13 industries tracked, with the highest outlook index reading coming in for leisure/hospitality (+25), transportation/utilities (+22), and wholesale/retail trade (+21). The press release said that “[e]mployers across the country are optimistic but don’t want to get ahead of themselves.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending June 10, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 237,000 -8,000 vs. previous week; -36,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 243,000 (-9.5% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (May 2017, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.3% vs. April 2017, +2.1% vs. May 2016. Nonfuel imports: unchanged vs. April 2017, +0.8% vs. May 2016).
Export Prices (May 2017, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted: -0.7% vs. April 2017, +1.4% vs. May 2016.
Housing Starts (April 2017, Housing Starts, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 1.172 million (-2.6% vs. March 2017, +5.7% vs. April 2016).
Housing Market Index (June 2017, Index (>50 = “Good” Housing Market, seasonally adjusted): 67 (vs. May 2017: 69, vs. June 2016: 60).
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (June 2017-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1 = 100), seasonally adjusted): 94.5 (vs. May 2017: 97.1, June 2016: 93.5).
Regional & State Employment (May 2017, States with Significant Changes in Nonfarm Payrolls Vs. Previous Month, seasonally adjusted): Increased in 9 states and the District of Columbia and decreased in 4 states. Vs. May 2016: Increased in 28 states and no states suffered significant declines.
Business Inventories (April 2017, Manufacturing & Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.854 trillion (-0.2% vs. March 2017, +2.3% vs. April 2016).

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