The Labor Market’s 7-Year Winning Streak Ended Last Month: October 2 – 6.

Employment in leisure & hospitality and in retail fell after the recent hurricanes. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending October 6.  

#1Hurricanes Harvey and Irma weighed heavily on September employment data. For the first time since September 2010, nonfarm payrolls contracted during the month, shrinking by a seasonally adjusted 33,000 jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report points out that both hurricanes detrimentally impacted nonfarm payrolls based on its survey of establishment employment during the week that includes September 12 (note that hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on September 10). The consensus view is that the payroll hit is likely to be fleeting. Private sector employment contracted by 40,000 jobs, with an increase of 9,000 on the goods-producing side of the economy and a decline of 49,000 in the service sector. Taking a particularly large hit was leisure/hospitality, where payrolls shrank by 111,000. Also shedding jobs were information (-9,000) and retail (-2,900). Adding workers were transportation/warehousing (+21,800), health care/social assistance (+13,100), professional/business services (+13,000), and financial activities (+10,000). The average hours worked held steady at 34.4 hours while average hourly earnings increased by 12 cents to $26.55 (September 2016: $25.81). Average weekly earnings have grown 2.9 percent over the past year.

The separate survey of households saw the unemployment rate the unemployment rate drop by 2/10ths of a percentage point to a seasonally adjusted 4.2 percent. This was the measure’s lowest point since February 2000 (although these numbers may be affected by data collection issues in storm-affected areas). The median length of unemployment slipped by 2/10ths of a week to 10.3 weeks (matching its year-ago mark) while the count of part-time workers seeking a full-time opportunity fell to another post-recession low at 5.122 million (September 2016: 5.874 million). Finally, the broadest measure labor underutilization reported by the BLS (the U-6 series) shed 3/10ths of a percentage point to 8.3 percent. The last time the U-6 series was this low was June 2007. Do not be surprised to see many of the numbers in this report be subject to unusually large revisions in the coming months with improved data collection.labor underutilization 2005-17 100717

#2The trade deficit narrowed slightly during August. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicate that exports grew by $0.8 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $195.3 billion (+4.2 percent versus August 2016) while imports slowed $0.4 billion to $237.7 billion (+4.0 percent versus August 2016). The resulting difference of -$42.4 billion was the smallest trade deficit since last September. The three-month moving average for the trade deficit—$43.2 billion—was at its lowest point since last November but was up 2.6 percent from the same time a year ago. The goods deficit contracted by $0.9 billion during August to -$64.4 billion while the goods surplus expanded by $0.3 billion to +$22.0 billion. Taking a closer at the former finds goods exports growing by $0.6 billion, with increased exports of consumer goods (including pharmaceuticals) and telecommunication equipment and a decline in exports of fuel oil and foods/beverages. Imports of goods slowed by $0.4 billion, with declining imports of industrial suppliers/materials and capital goods. Vehicle imports grew by $0.5 billion. The U.S. had its largest goods trade deficits with China (-$29.7 billion), the European Union (-$10.9 billion), Japan (-$6.3 billion), and Mexico (-$5.8 billion).

#3Purchasing managers report increased business activity during September. The Institute for Supply Management says that its Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) added a full two points during the month to a reading of 60.8. This was the 13th straight month in which the index was above a reading of 50.0—indicative of an expanding manufacturing sector—and the measure’s highest reading since May 2004. Four of five PMI components improved during the month: supplier deliveries (up 7.3 points to 64.4), new orders (up 4.3 points to 64.6), production (up 1.2 points to 62.2), and employment (up 4/10ths of a point to 60.3). The index for inventories shed three full points to 52.5. Seventeen of 18 tracked manufacturing industries expanded during the month, led by textile mills, machinery, and nonmetallic mineral products. The press release noted that respondents’ comments “reflect expanding business conditions” and that the recent hurricanes had affected supply chain prices.

The ISM’s headline measure for the service sector stayed above a reading of 50.0 for a 93rd consecutive month. The NMI surged by 4.5 points during September to a seasonally adjusted 59.8. All four index components improved from their August readings: supplier deliveries (up 7.5 points to 58.0), new orders (up 5.9 points to 63.0), business activity/production (up 3.8 points to 61.3), and employment (up 6/10ths of a point to 56.8). Fifteen of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing segments of the economy expanded during September, led by retail trade, management/support services of companies, and information. The press release reported that survey respondents’ comments “indicate a good outlook for business conditions” even with “the impact on the supply chain from the recent hurricanes.”

#4Factory orders grew in August. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured goods grew 1.2 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $471.7 billion. As noted here last week, orders for civilian aircraft rebounded from July’s huge drop with a 44.8 percent surge. This led to a 5.1 percent overall gain in transportation goods (new orders for automobiles increased 0.7 percent). Net of transportation goods, new orders grew 0.4 percent during the month. Durable goods orders jumped 2.0 percent during August while those for nondurable gained 0.4 percent. Civilian, non-aircraft capital goods orders—a proxy for business investment—increased 1.1 percent during the month. Shipments grew for the eighth time in nine months with a 1.2 percent bump to $471.7 billion. Net of transportation goods, shipments gained 0.6 percent. Unfilled orders edged up by less than 0.1 percent to $1.133 trillion while inventories expanded for the ninth time in ten months with a 0.4 percent increase.

#5Construction spending grew in August. Per the Census Bureau, the value of construction put into place increased 0.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of $1.218 trillion. This was 2.5 percent above the annualized rate of construction spending from a year earlier. Private sector construction spending grew 0.4 percent during August to a SAAR of $954.8 billion (+4.7 percent vs. August 2016). Private sector residential construction gained 0.4 percent, with gains of 0.3 percent and 0.9 percent for new-single and multi-family homes, respectively. Private sector nonresidential spending rose 0.5 percent, with increases across most categories of construction (manufacturing and communication being the exceptions). Public sector construction spending jumped 0.7 percent during the month to a SAAR of $263.5 billion, which was nevertheless 5.1 percent below its year-ago spending pace. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending September 30, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 260,000 (-12,000 vs. previous week; +13,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 268,250 (+6.2% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Vehicle Sales (September 2017, Light Vehicle Retail Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 18.57 million units (+15.1% vs. August 2017, +4.8% vs. September 2016).
Wholesale Inventories (August 2017, Merchant Wholesale Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $608.1 billion (+0.9% vs. July 2017, +4.5% vs. August 2016).
Consumer Credit (August 2017, Outstanding Non-Real Estate Backed Consumer Loans, seasonally adjusted): $3.766 trillion (+$13.1 billion vs. July 2017; +5.5% vs. August 2016).

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

Hiring Rebounds in April, The Fed Stays Put for Now: May 1 – 5

After pausing in March, employers picked up the pace of hiring in April. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 5.

#1The labor market regained its momentum in April. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nonfarm payrolls expanded by a seasonally adjusted 211,000 during the month, sharply up from the 79,000 net hires in March and much closer to February’s 232,000 job gain. Private sector employers added 194,000 jobs during April, split between 173,000 net hires in the service sector and 21,000 in the goods-producing sector of the economy. Industries with the biggest payroll gains included leisure/hospitality (+55,000), professional/business services (+39,000), health care/social assistance (+36,800), and financial services (+19,000). Even the retail sector, which had been shedding workers in recent months, manage to add 6,300 jobs during March. The average number of hours worked edged up by 1/10th of an hour to 34.4 hours (April 2016: 34.4 hours) while average weekly earnings have grown 2.5 percent over the past year to $900.94.

A separate survey of household finds the unemployment rate dropping by 1/10th of a percentage point to 4.4 percent, off 6/10ths of a point from a year earlier and its lowest point in ten years. Only 12,000 people entered the labor force during the month while the labor force participation rate inched down by 1/10th of a percentage point to 62.9 percent. The typical length of unemployment slipped 1/10th of a week to 10.2 weeks (April 2016: 11.2 weeks). The count of part-time workers seeking a full-time job fell by 281,000 to another post-recession low of 5.272 million (April 2016: 5.970 million). Finally, the broadest measure of labor underutilization (the U-6 series) fell to post-recession low of 8.6 percent (down 3/10ths of a percentage point from March and 1.1 percentage points from a year earlier). The U-6 measure had peaked during the last recession at 17.1 recent back in April 2010.Unemployment Labor Underutilization 2000-2017-050517

#2The Federal Reserve holds its short-term interest target rate, as expected, but does not appear concerned about recent weak economic data. The policy statement released following the conclusion of this week’s Federal Open Market Committee notes that economic activity had “slowed,” but also highlights that the labor market “continued to strengthen” including a comment that job gains were “solid.” Further, while household spending increased “only modestly,” the statement noted that “the fundamentals underpinning the continued growth of consumption remained solid.” Also, inflation was closing in on the Fed’s two-percent target rate. Finally, the statement noted that near-term risks to economic growth were “roughly balanced.” As a result, the committee voted unanimously to keep the fed funds target at between 0.75 percent and 1.00 percent, a rate that statement characterizes as being “accommodative.” Despite some recent weak economic data (the employment data above notwithstanding), the statement was largely unchanged from that following the March FOMC meeting. This would seem to suggest that the committee members appear to be ready for another bump in short-term rates at its next meeting at June.

#3The trade deficit was virtually unchanged even as both exports and imports slowed during March. Per the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, exports and imports each declined $1.7 billion during the month leaving the goods and services deficit at -$43.7 billion. The trade deficit for goods grew by $0.4 billion while the surplus in services grew by a matching $0.4 billion. Exports of goods contracted by $2.1 billion, pulled down by a $1.8 billion decline in exports of industrial supplies/materials and a $0.9 decrease in automotive vehicles. Imports of goods decreased by $1.7 billion resulting from falling imports of capital goods and industrial supplies/materials. The U.S. had its largest goods deficits with China (-$31.4 billion), the European Union (-$10.0 billion), Mexico (-$6.5 billion), Japan (-$6.5 billion), and Germany (-$5.0 billion).

#4Real personal spending grows for the first time in 2017 during March. The Bureau of Economic Analysis finds that “real” personal consumption expenditures (PCE) grew 0.3 percent during the month, following declines of 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent during February and January, respectively. Real spending on goods edged up 0.1 percent during the month as a 1.5 percent gain in spending of nondurable goods just outpaced the 2.5 percent drop in durables. Real spending on services grew 0.4 percent during March (although this partially reflects a weather-related increase in utility spending). Over the past year, real personal consumption expenditures have grown 1.8 percent, smaller than the +2.1 percent and +1.9 percent 12-month comparables reported for February and January, respectively. Without adjustments for inflation, nominal consumer spending was unchanged during March. Nominal personal income and disposable income both grew at a 0.2 percent rate during March (their smallest monthly gains since last November) while real disposable income jumped 0.5 percent. Real disposable income has grown 2.4 percent over the past year, its best 12-month comparable since last November. Meanwhile, the savings rate grew by 2/10ths of a percentage point to +5.9 percent, its highest point since last August.

#5Construction Spending, particularly that for nonresident structures and in the public sector, slowed during March. The Census Bureau reports that the seasonally adjusted annualized rate of construction put in place slipped 0.2 percent during the month to $1.218 trillion. This was up 3.6 percent from a year earlier. Private sector construction spending was unchanged from February at $940.2 billion (SAAR), which was nevertheless 7.0 percent above that of March 2016. Private sector residential construction spending jumped 1.2% during the month, with much of the gain coming from a 2.0 percent bump in spending of new multi-family properties. Private sector non-residential spending declined 1.3 percent during March, pulled down by lower construction spending for the commercial, office, educational, religious, amusement/recreation, transportation, and power properties. Public construction spending declined 0.9 percent to a SAAR of $278.1 billion. This was off 6.5 percent from the same point a year earlier. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 29, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 238,000 (-19,000 vs. previous week; -38,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 243,000 (-7.6% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Factory Orders (March 2017, New Orders for Manufactured Goods, seasonally adjusted): $478.2 billion (+0.2% vs. February 2017, +5.8% vs. March 2016).
Vehicle Sales (April 2017, Vehicle Retail Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 16.88 million units (+1.6% vs. March 2017, -3.0% vs. April 2016.
Productivity (1st Quarter 2017-preliminary, Nonfarm Business Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted): -0.6% vs. Q4 2016, +1.1% vs. Q1 2016.
ISM Manufacturing Report on Business (April 2017, Purchasing Managers Index (>50=Growth in Manufacturing, seasonally adjusted): 54.8 (vs. March 2017: 54.8).
ISM Nonmanufacturing Report on Business (April 2017, NMI (>50=Growth in Nonmanufacturing, seasonally adjusted): 57.5 (vs. March 2017: 55.2).
Consumer Credit (March 2017, Outstanding Non-Real Estate Back Consumer Loan Balances, seasonally adjusted):  $3.806 trillion (+$16.4 billion vs. February 2017, +6.0% vs. March 2016).

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

Hiring Came in Like a Lamb During March. What We Learned During the Week of April 3 – 7

Employers hired fewer workers during March and the trade deficit contracted in February. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 7.

#1The pace of hiring slowed sharply in March. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nonfarm payrolls grew by a seasonally adjusted 98,000 during the month, the fewest number of jobs created in a single month since last May. Some of the slowdown could be linked to this year’s moderate winter weather, which prompted some employers to take on workers earlier than usual. But it is also worth noting that January and February job gains were revised downward by a combined 38,000 jobs. Private sector payrolls grew by 89,000 during the month (down from a 221,000 increase in February), with the gain split between 61,000 jobs in the service sector and 28,000 jobs in the goods-producing side of the economy. Industries with the greatest number of new jobs were professional/business services (+56,000), health care/social assistance (+16,700), manufacturing (+11,000), and mining/logging (+11,000). Meanwhile, retailers shed 29,700 jobs from their payrolls during March. The average workweek held steady during the month at 34.3 hours (March 2016: 34.4 hours). Average weekly earnings grew by $1.71 during March to $896.60 (+2.4 percent versus March 2016).

A separate survey of households painted a somewhat more robust picture of the labor market, including showing the unemployment rate had dropped by 2/10ths of a percentage point to 4.5 percent (its lowest reading in nearly ten years). While 145,000 people entered the labor force during the month (to 160.2 million), the labor force participation rate held firm at 63.0 percent. The median length of unemployment grew by 3/10ths of a week to 10.3 weeks (March 2016: 11.4 weeks) while the count of “involuntary” part-time workers declined by 151,000 to 5.553 million (March 2016: 6.120 million). Finally, the broadest measure of labor underutilization dropped to another post-recession low of 8.9 percent, down 3/10ths of a percentage point from February 2017 and 9/10ths of a percentage point from March 2016. This same measure peaked during the last recession back in April 2010 at 17.1 percent.Labor-Underutilization-2005-2007-040717

#2The trade deficit reversed the previous month’s sharp increase in February. The Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that exports edged up $0.4 billion to $192.9 billion (+6.7 percent versus February 2016) while imports slowed by $4.3 billion to $236.4 billion (+4.5 percent versus February 2016). As a result, the trade deficit contracted by $4.6 billion to -$43.6 billion. The goods deficit shrank by $4.6 billion to -$65.0 billion (-1.0 percent versus February 2016) while the services surplus edged up by less than $0.1 billion to +$21.4 billion (+6.9 percent vs. February 2016). The former declined in part because of a sharp $3.1 billion drop in imports of imported consumer goods (including cell phones and automobiles). The U.S. had its largest goods deficits with China (-$31.4 billion), the European Union (-$12.0 billion), and Mexico (-$6.2 billion).

#3New factory orders increased for the seventh time in eight months. Per the Census Bureau, new orders for manufactured goods grew 1.0 percent during February to a seasonally adjusted $476.5 billion. This was up 7.3 percent from a year earlier. Like we saw with the preliminary data released a week earlier, much of the increase in new orders was because of a sharp increase in orders for civilian aircraft (+47.5 percent) resulted in a 4.4 percent increase in transportation equipment orders. Net of transportation goods, new orders were up 0.4 percent for the month and 7.5 percent from their February 2016 pace. Durable goods orders expanded 1.8 percent during the month while those of nondurables advanced 0.2 percent. The 12-month comparables for the two were +5.3 percent and +9.2 percent, respectively. Shipments grew for the 11th time in 12 months, with a 0.3 percent increase to $480.0 billion. Unfilled orders just barely ended their three-month losing streak with less than 0.1 percent increase to $1.115 trillion. Inventories expanded for the seventh time in eight months with a 0.3 percent gain to $630.0 billion.

#4Purchasing managers indicate slightly slower economic growth in March. The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) from the Institute for Supply Management declined by a half point to a seasonally adjusted 57.2. This was the seventh straight month in which the measure was above a reading of 50.0, indicative of an expanding manufacturing sector (although the decline from February suggests slower growth). Three of the five PMI components fell during the month: production (down 5.3 points to 57.6), inventories (down 2.5 points to 49.0), and new orders (down 6/10ths of a point 64.5). Rising were components measuring employment (up 4.7 points to 58.9) and supplier deliveries (up 1.1 points to 55.9). Seventeen of the 18 tracked manufacturing industry sectors reported growth during the month, led by electrical equipment/appliances, printing, and furniture. The press release noted that respondents from all 18-tracked industries reported an increase in new orders.

The headline measure from the ISM’s Report on Business-Nonmanufacturing (NMI) shed 2.4 points during March to a seasonally adjusted reading of 55.2. While this was the NMI’s lowest reading since last October, this was the 87th straight month in which the measure remained above a reading of 50.0. Only one of the NMI’s four components grew during the month:  supplier deliveries (up a full point to 51.5). Declining were components associated with business activity/production (down 4.7 points to 58.9) employment (down 3.6 points to 51.6), and new orders (down 2.3 points to 58.9). Fifteen of 18 tracked industry expanded during the month, led by the management of companies, utilities, and wholesale trade. The press release noted that a “majority of respondents’ comments indicate a positive outlook on business conditions and the overall economy,” but that there also were “several comments about the uncertainty of future government policies on health care, trade and immigration, and the potential impact on business.”

#5Strength in the housing sector pulled up construction spending during February. The Census Bureau reports that the value of construction put in place grew 0.8 percent during February to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of $1.193 trillion. This was 3.0 percent above the annualized value of construction put into place a year earlier. Private sector spending also expanded at a 0.8 percent rate to $917.3 billion (+6.9 percent versus February 2016), as a 1.8 percent jump in private sector residential spending more than counterbalancing a 0.3 percent drop in nonresidential construction spending. The former included gains in new single-family and multifamily construction spending of 1.2 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively. Public sector construction spending increased 0.6 percent during February to an annualized $275.5 billion. Despite the gain, public sector spending was off 8.0 percent from a year earlier.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 1, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 234,000 (-25,000 vs. previous week; -37,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 250,000 (-7.5% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Vehicle Sales (March 2017, Total Light Vehicle Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 16.62 million vehicles (-5.5% vs. February 2017, -0.3% vs. March 2016).
Consumer Credit (February 2017, Outstanding Consumer Credit Balances-net of real estate, seasonally adjusted): $3.792 trillion (+$15.2 billion vs. January 2017, +6.3% vs. February 2016).
Wholesale Trade (February 2017, Wholesale Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $594.2 billion (+0.4% vs. January 2017, +3.2% vs. February 2016).
FOMC minutes

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