Tame Inflation in September: October 7 – 11

The running theme of last week’s economic data was softness. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending October 11.

#1Consumer prices held steady in September. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) failed to increase for the first time since January and was up by “only” 1.7 percent over the past year, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food prices edged up 0.1 percent while energy prices fell 1.4 percent (gasoline prices: -2.4 percent versus September 2018). Net of food and energy, core CPI grew 0.1 percent, its smallest increase since May. Despite the softness, the core measure has risen 2.4 percent over the past year. Prices jumped 0.4 percent for health care services and 0.3 percent for shelter and transportation services. Prices slumped for used trucks/cars (-1.6 percent), health care commodities (-0.6 percent), apparel (-0.4 percent), and new vehicles (-0.1 percent).

#2…While wholesale prices slid. The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand fell 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in September, its biggest decline since January. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ core measure—which removes food, energy, and trade services—held steady during the month after rising 0.4 percent in August. Wholesale energy prices fell 2.5 percent versus August (gasoline: -7.2 percent), while food prices increased (boosted in part by higher meat prices). Core goods prices slipped 0.1 percent. Over the past year, PPI has risen 1.4 percent while the core measure also remained below the two percent target at +1.7 percent.

#3The number of available jobs fell to a 1.5-year low in August. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a seasonally adjusted 7.051 million open jobs at the end of the month, down 123,000 from July and 4.0 percent from a year earlier. (Some context: even with the drop, the number of openings remained quite strong by historical standards.) The private sector was responsible for 6.320 million job openings, off 4.4 percent from August 2018 levels. Weighing down the number of job openings were year-to-year drops in wholesale trade (-17.9 percent), financial activities (-16.3 percent), accommodation/food services (-10.7 percent), professional/business services (-8.4 percent), retail (-8.2 percent), and manufacturing (-3.4 percent). Hiring also slowed—falling by 199,000 jobs to 5.779 million (-0.8 percent versus August 2018)—as did separations, with 228,000 fewer people departing their jobs in August (and off 2.4 percent from a year earlier). The count of people leaving their jobs—a proxy for workers’ confidence in the labor market—slowed by 142,000 during the month (but still 1.5 percent ahead of the year-ago pace) to 3.526 million. Layoffs, however, were essentially unchanged for the month at 1.787 million (-1.2 percent versus August 2018).

#4Small business owner sentiment moderated slightly in September. The Small Business Optimism Index, from the National Federation of Independent Business, shed 1.3 points during the month (after losing 1.8 points in August) to a seasonally adjusted 104.7 (1986=100). The measure was 6.1 points below its year-ago mark. Seven of the ten index’s components fell during the month, led by declines on whether it is a good time to expand, plans to increase employment, and expectations for the economy to improve. The press release noted that the index remained at high levels but that the tariffs were “adversely affecting many small firms.”

#5Growth in consumer credit slowed as summer ended. The Federal Reserve reports that consumer had a seasonally adjusted $4.141 trillion in outstanding debt balances at the end of August, up $17.9 billion for the month and 5.0 percent over the past year. This was down from the $23.0 billion increase in July. (These figures do not include mortgages and other real estate-backed debt). Outstanding balances of nonrevolving credit (e.g., auto and student loans) expanded by $19.9 billion to $3.062 trillion (+5.5 percent versus August 2018). Contracting, however, were revolving credit balances (e.g., credit cards), which shrank by $2.0 billion to $1.079 trillion (+3.8 percent versus August 2018).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending October 5, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 210,000 (-10,000 vs. previous week; -2,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 213,750 (+0.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (October 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 96.0 (vs. September 2019: 93.2, vs. October 2018: 98.6).
Import Prices (September 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. August 2019, -1.6% vs. September 2018. Nonfuel Imports: -0.1% vs. August 2019, -1.1% vs. September 2018.
Export Prices (September 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.2% vs. August 2019, -1.6% vs. September 2018. Nonagricultural Exports: -0.1% vs. August 2019, -1.9% vs. September 2018.
Wholesale Trade (August 2019, Merchant Wholesalers Inventories, seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. July 2019, +6.2% vs. August 2018.
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Mixed Data as a Curve Inverts: August 12 – 16

In a week where the yield curve momentarily inverted, economic data pointed in different directions. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 16.

#1On the good news side, retail sales flourished in July. The Census Bureau estimates U.S. retail and food services sales increased 0.7 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $523.5 billion, up 3.4 percent from a year earlier. Sales at car dealers/parts stores slumped 0.6 percent but rose 1.8 percent at gas stations (thanks to higher prices at the pump). Net of both, core retail sales jumped 0.9 percent in July and 4.2 percent over the past year. Rising were sales at department stores (+1.2 percent) and restaurants/bars (+1.1 percent) and at retailers focused on electronics/appliances (+0.9 percent), apparel (+0.8 percent), groceries (+0.7 percent), furniture (+0.3 percent), and building materials (+0.2 percent).

#2But manufacturing production fell in July. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing output dropped 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, its first decline in three months. Durable goods production slowed 0.2 percent, with output declines of greater than one percent for wood products, nonmetallic products, and machinery. Nondurable goods production plummeted 0.5 percent, hurt by greater than one percent drops for plastic/rubber, textiles, and printing. Manufacturing has slumped 0.5 percent over the past year. Overall industrial production slipped 0.2 percent during July but remained a half percentage ahead of the year-ago pace. During the month, mining output slowed 1.8 percent (oil and gas well drilling: -3.3 percent) while production at utilities surged 3.1 percent (think hot summer weather).

#3Consumer inflation bloomed in July. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the consumer price index (CPI) grew 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, its fastest increase since April. Prices for energy jumped 1.3 percent, pulled up by a 2.5 percent surge in gasoline prices. Food CPI, however, held steady in July. Net of both energy and food, core CPI grew 0.3 percent for a second consecutive month. Rising were prices for used cars/trucks (+0.9 percent), medical care services (+0.5 percent), apparel (+0.4 percent), shelter (+0.3 percent), transportation services (+0.3 percent), and medical care commodities (+0.2 percent). Over the past year, CPI has risen 1.8 percent while core CPI had a 12-month comparable of +2.2 percent.

#4Housing starts slowed in July, or at least they did for condos. The Census Bureau indicates starts of privately-owned homes slid 4.0 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.241 million units. Despite the decline, housing starts were 0.6 percent ahead of their year-ago pace. July’s drop in starts was on the multi-unit side, which saw a 17.2 percent slump compared to a 1.3 percent increase for single-family home starts. Looking towards the future, the annualized count of issued building permits rose 8.4 percent in July to 1.336 million (+1.5 percent versus July 2018), with monthly gains for both single-family homes (+1.8 percent) and multi-family units (+24.8 percent). The annualized count of completed homes jumped 7.2 percent to 1.250 million, up 6.3 percent from the same month a year earlier.

#5And despite it all, small business owners remained confident in July. The Small Business Optimism Index from the National Federation of Independent Business added 1.4 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 104.7 (1986=100). This followed a 1.7 point drop during June. Seven of the index’s ten components improved during the month, led by higher readings for expected real sales, expectations for the economy to improve, plans to increase employment, and earnings trends. Only two components—current inventories and expected credit conditions—declined in July. The press release noted the dichotomy of “many are talking about a slowing economy” and the general optimism among its survey respondents and stated that “the small business sector remains exceptional.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 10, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 220,000 (+9,000 vs. previous week; +5,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 213,750 (-1.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (July 2019, All Imports): +0.2% vs. June 2019, -1.8% vs. July 2018. Nonfuel Imports: -0.1% vs. June 2019, -1.3% vs. July 2018.
Export Prices (July 2019, All Exports): +0.2% vs. June 2019, -0.9% vs. July 2018. Nonagricultural Exports: +0.2% vs. June 2019, -1.5% vs. July 2018.
Housing Market Index (August 2019, Index (>50 = More Homebuilders See the Housing Market as “Good” versus “Poor,” seasonally adjusted):  66 (vs. July 2019: 65, vs. August 2018: 68.
Monthly Treasury Statement (July 2019, Federal Budget Surplus/Deficit Over First 10 Months of FY2019): -$866.8 billion (+26.9% vs. First 10 Months of FY2018)
Productivity (2019 Q2, Nonfarm Business Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted): 2.3% vs. 2019 Q1, +1.8% vs. 2018 Q2).
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (August 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted):  92.1 (vs. July 2019: 98.4, vs. August 2018: 96.2).
State Employment (July 2019, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Vs. June 2019: Increased in 5 states and essentially unchanged in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Vs. July 2018: Increased in 25 states and essentially unchanged in 25 states and the District of Columbia.
Treasury International Capital Flows (June 2019, Net Foreign Purchases of Domestic Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$63.8 billion (vs. May 2019: -$4.6 billion, vs. June 2018: -$45.6 billion).
Business Inventories (June 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.036 trillion (Unchanged vs. May 2019, +5.2% vs. June 2018).

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

Open Jobs Remained Open in June: August 5 – 9

Employers continued to seek workers, but producer prices and service sector growth both staggered. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 9.

#1Job openings continued to outpace the number of unemployed Americans in June. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that there were a seasonally adjusted 7.348 million jobs available on the final day of June. While this was a decline of 36,000 from May and 0.6 percent from a year earlier, job openings remained near record-high levels. Further, job openings well outpaced the 5.975 million unemployed people the BLS had reported previously. Compared to a year earlier, industries reporting substantial percentage increases in open jobs included government (+12.2 percent), construction (+7.4 percent), manufacturing (+5.9 percent), professional/business services (+4.6 percent), and health care/social assistance (+3.5 percent). Hiring slowed by 58,000 to 5.702 million jobs (-2.2 percent versus June 2018). Also taking a step back was the number of people separated from their jobs: 5.481 million (down 76,000 from May and 1.5 percent from a year earlier). Voluntarily quits were up 2.4 percent from a year earlier to 3.478 million while layoff activity was off 7.7 percent from the year-ago pace (at 1.702 million).Job Openings and Unemployed 2014-9 080919.png

#2Core wholesale prices contracted in July. Final demand producer price index (PPI) grew a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent during the month, its largest single-month gain since April. But much of the increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics measure resulted from a 5.2 percent jump in wholesale gasoline prices. Netting out the impact of gains in energy goods (+2.3 percent), foods (+0.2 percent), and trade services (+0.2 percent), core PPI fell 0.1 percent during the month, its first decline in nearly four years (October 2015). Final demand PPI for goods grew 0.4 percent following two consecutive declines while final demand for PPI for services gained 0.2 percent. The 12-month comparables for both headline PPI and core PPI were +1.7 percent, lowest levels for each since late 2016 or early 2017.

#3Expansion in the service sector mellowed in July. The NMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Nonmanufacturing Report on Business, shed 1.4 points during the month to a reading of 53.7. While this was the 114th straight month in which the NMI was above a reading of 50.0 (indicative of an expanding service sector), it was its lowest reading since August 2016. Of the NMI’s four components, two pulled back in July: business activity/production (down 5.1 points) and new orders (down 1.7 points). While the employment component added 1.2 points during the month, the supplier deliveries component held steady. Thirteen of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries report growth, led by accommodation/food services, professional/scientific/technical services, and real estate. The press release noted “concerns related to tariffs and employment resources.”

#4Consumers took on more debt in June, all nonrevolving. The Federal Reserve reports that outstanding consumer credit balances grew by $14.6 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $4.102 trillion (+5.3 percent versus June 2018). Outstanding balances of nonrevolving credit (e.g., auto loans, college loans) widened by $14.7 billion to $3.031 trillion (+5.6 percent versus June 2018). Revolving credit balances (e.g., credit cards), however, contracted by $0.1 billion to $1.072 trillion (+4.6 percent versus June 2018).

#5Wholesale inventories held steady in June. The Census Bureau estimates merchant wholesalers’ inventories were at a seasonally adjusted $679.7 billion. While essentially matching May’s reading, this represented a 7.6 percent increase over the past year. Inventories of durable goods expanded by 0.3 percent, with increases of at least one percent for computer equipment, furniture, and lumber. Nondurables inventories shrank 0.4 percent, pulled down by sizable for drugs and chemicals. The inventory-to-sales ratio of 1.36 was unchanged from May but was up 10-basis points from a year earlier.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 3, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 209,000 (-8,000 vs. previous week; -6,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 212,250 (-1.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
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The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.