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).
Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey

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

Consumers Went Shopping in June: July 15 – 19

Retail sales accelerated, but overall economic activity slowed in June. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending July 19.  

#1Retail sales shined in June. U.S. retail and food services sales grew 0.4 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $519.9 billion, per the Census Bureau. This matched May’s 0.4 percent sales gain and left the measure up 3.4 percent over the past 12 months. Sales at auto dealers & parts stores jumped 0.7 percent but fell 2.8 percent at gas stations (due to lower prices at the pump). Net of sales at auto dealers & parts stores and gas stations, core retail sales expanded 0.7 percent in June and 3.8 percent over the past year. Virtually every retail sector enjoyed sales gains during the month, led by restaurants/bars (+0.9 percent) and matching 0.5 percent jumps at furniture retailers, building materials/garden stores, grocery stores, apparel retailers, and health/personal care stores. Sales fell at department stores (-1.1 percent) and electronics/appliance retailers (-0.3 percent).

#2Forward-looking economic indicators suggest the U.S. economy may have hit the brakes in June. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) shed 3/10ths of a point to a reading of 111.5 (up 1.6 percent from a year earlier), the measure’s first drop since last December. Even with the slide, six of ten LEI components improved during the month. The coincident index increased 1/10th of a point to 105.9 (+1.6 percent versus June 2018) as three of four index components made a positive contribution. The lagging index jumped 6/10ths of a point to 107.7 (+2.6 percent versus June 2018) with four of seven components making a positive contribution. The press release noted that the “LEI suggests [economic] growth is likely to remain slow in the second half of the year.”

#3Manufacturing output grew in June. The Federal Reserve reports that manufacturing output rose 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, up from the 0.2 percent bump in May and April’s 0.7 percent drop. Durable goods production advanced 0.4 percent while that for nondurables increased 0.5 percent. Boosting the former were sizable output gains of motor vehicles, nonmetallic mineral products, and computers/electronics while the latter expanded thanks to a jump for petroleum and coal products. Overall industrial production was flat during June. Mining output eked out a 0.2 percent gain while utilities saw output fall 3.6 percent (thanks to moderate summer weather during June). Overall industrial production has grown a modest 1.3 percent over the past year while 12-month comparable for manufacturing output was a tepid +0.4 percent.

#4Housing starts slowed in June, thanks to multifamily units. The Census Bureau places its seasonally adjusted annualized estimate of housing starts at 1.253 million units, a 0.9 percent decline from May but up 6.2 percent from a year earlier. Even if the headline figure declined, starts of single-family homes grew 3.5 percent—those of multifamily units fell 9.4 percent. Looking towards the future, the annualized count of issued housing permits slumped 6.1 percent to 1.220 million (-6.6 percent versus June 2018). Issued permits for future single-family homes edged up 0.4 percent but plummeted 20.7 percent for properties of five or more units. Housing completions dropped 4.8 percent during June to an annualized 1.161 million units.

#5Homebuilder sentiment solidified in July. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index (HMI) added one point during the month to a seasonally adjusted 65. This was a rebound from the two-point drop in June and the 61st straight month of the HMI staying above a reading of 50, indicative of more builders seeing the housing market as “good” versus being “poor.” The HMI grew in the West and South but lost ground in the Midwest and Northeast. Adding a point each were indices that track single-family home sales (72), expected home sales (71), and traffic of prospective buyers (48). The press release noted builders were reporting “solid demand for single-family homes.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending July 13, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 216,000 (+8,000 vs. previous week; +4,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 218,750 (-0.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (June 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.9% vs. May 2019, -2.0% vs. June 2018. Nonfuel Imports: -0.3% vs. May 2019, -1.4% vs. June 2018.
Export Prices (June 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.7% vs. May 2019, -1.6% vs. June 2018. Nonagricultural Exports: -1.1% vs. May 2019, -1.6% vs. June 2018.
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (July 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment, seasonally adjusted): 98.4 (June 2019: 98.2, July 2018: 97.9).
Treasury International Capital Flows (May 2019, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): -$5.7 billion (vs. April 2019: +$36.4 billion, vs. May 2018: +$20.2 billion.
State Employment (June 2019, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Vs. May 2019: Increased in 4 states, essentially unchanged in 46 states and the District of Columbia.  Vs. June 2018: Increased in 28 states, essentially unchanged in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
Business Inventories (May 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.036 trillion (+0.3% vs. April 2019, +5.3% vs. May 2018.
Beige Book

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