The Trade Deficit Narrowed in November as Exports and Imports Both Fell: Week of February 4 – 8

The trade deficit shrank in November, as had factory orders. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending February 8.  

#1The trade deficit narrowed in November. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates export activity slowed $1.3 billion to $209.9 billion (+3.7 percent versus November 2017) while imports fell by $7.7 billion to $259.2 billion (+3.2 percent). The resulting trade deficit of -$49.3 billion was down $6.4 billion from October but 0.7 percent larger than that of a year earlier. The goods deficit contracted by $6.7 billion to -$71.6 billion while the services surplus shrank by $0.3 billion to +$22.3 billion. The former was the result a $7.9 billion drop in imported goods, including steep declines for consumer goods (including cell phones) and industrial supplies/oil. The U.S. had its biggest goods deficits in November with China (-$35.4 billion, down $2.8 billion from October), the European Union (-$13.8 billion), Mexico (-$6.8 billion), and Japan (-$5.7 billion).

#2Factory orders slowed for a second consecutive month in November. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured goods declined by $3.1 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $499.2 billion. This was 4.1 percent greater than the value of November 2017 factory orders. Transportation goods orders grew 3.0 percent, boosted by strong gains for ships/boats (+72.6 percent), defense aircraft (+31.2 percent), and civilian aircraft (+6.9 percent). Net of transportation goods, core factory orders dropped 1.3 percent following a 0.2 percent gain in October. While orders grew for fabricated and primary metals (+0.9 percent and +0.8 percent, respectively), they slowed for nondurable goods (-1.9 percent), machinery (-1.7 percent), electrical equipment/appliances (-1.1 percent), and computers/electronics (-0.3 percent). New orders for civilian capital goods orders net of aircraft (a proxy for business investment) slumped 0 6 percent in November. 

#3Service sector activity remained strong, but softened, in January. The NMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Nonmanufacturing Report on Business slipped by 1.3 points during the month to a reading of 56.7. Even with the pullback, the NMI has been above a reading of 50.0 for 108 consecutive months, indicative of an expanding service sector. Only one of the NMI’s four components grew during the month, with employment adding 1.2 points to 57.8. Shedding points from December were components for new orders (down 5.0 points to 57.7) and business activity/production (down 1.5 points to 59.7. Holding firm was the measure for supplier deliveries at a reading of 51.5. Only 11 of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries expanded during the month, however, with the most robust expansion reported in transportation/warehousing, health care/social assistance, and mining. The press released noted continued optimism but also stated that “[r]espondents are concerned about the impacts of the government shutdown.

#4Manufacturing sector productivity edged up during Q4 2018. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that manufacturing productivity grew 1.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis during the final three months of 2018, an improvement from Q3’s 1.1 percent gain. Manufacturing output had expanded 2.3 percent, supported by a 1.0 percent advance in hours worked. The productivity gain for the past year was much softer, with a 0.7 percent increase. During Q4, durable manufacturing productivity increased 2.6 percent while the productivity improvement for nondurable manufactured goods was 1.2 percent. (The BLS was unable to report on overall productivity for the U.S. economy due to the partial government shutdown.)

#5Consumers took on credit at a marginally slower pace in December. American households had $4.010 trillion in outstanding consumer debt (not including mortgages and other real estate-backed loans) in December, according to the Federal Reserve. This was up $16.5 billion from November (smaller than the prior month’s $22.4 billion gain) and a 12-month increase of 4.7 percent. Consumers had $1.045 trillion in outstanding revolving credit balances at the end of December, up $1.7 billion for the month and 2.0 percent from a year earlier. Nonrevolving credit balances expanded $14.9 billion to $2.966 trillion (+5.6 percent versus December 2017).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending February 2, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 234,000 (-19,000 vs. previous week; +11,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 224,750 (-1.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Senior Loan Officers Survey (January 2019)

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

Gas Prices Dropped as 2018 Ended: January 7 – 11

Core consumer prices grew at a steady, moderate pace in December. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending January 11.  

Note that the partial shutdown of the federal government has and will delay the release of certain economic data reports.

#1Consumer prices fell in December, but core prices inched up. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) declined 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was the first drop in consumer prices since last March, with gasoline prices being the main culprit. Energy CPI slumped by 3.5 percent (its third decline in four months) with gasoline prices plummeting 7.5 percent. Prices for both electricity (+1.8 percent) and utility delivered natural gas (+0.7 percent) both rose. Also rising were food prices (+0.4 percent—its biggest single-month gain since May 2014), pulled up by increased costs for fruit and vegetables. Net of energy and food, core CPI gained 0.2 percent. Rising were prices for medical care services (+0.4 percent) and shelter (+0.3 percent) while prices fell 0.2 percent for transportation services, used cars/trucks, and medical care commodities. Over the past year, CPI has increased by 1.9 percent while core consumer prices have risen 2.2 percent.CPI December 2018 111119.png

#2Even with a decline in November, there were more job openings than the number of unemployed people. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 6.888 million open jobs on the final day of November, down 243,000 from October but 16.1 percent ahead of the November 2017 count. This was greater than the BLS’s estimate of 6.018 million unemployed people during the month. Private sector employers had 6.266 million open jobs in November, up 15.5 percent from a year earlier. Most industries reported double-digit percentage increases in job openings, with notable exceptions being retail (-6.2 percent), wholesale trade (+5.4 percent), and financial activities (+8.9 percent). Also dropping during the month was the number of people hired, declining by 218,000 to 5.710 million people (+3.7 percent versus November 2017). Industries reporting particularly large year-to-year percentage increases in hiring included wholesale trade (+31.7 percent), transportation/warehousing (+16.1 percent) health care/social assistance (+14.0 percent), financial activities (+10.9 percent), and manufacturing (+9.9 percent). 

#3Service sector activity chilled a bit as 2018 wrapped up. The NMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Nonmanufacturing Report on Business, shed 3.1 points to a reading of 57.5. This was the measure’s lowest reading since July but also represented the 107th consecutive month in which it was higher than 50.0 (indicative of an expanding service sector). Three of the NMI’s four components lost ground relative to November: business activity/production (down 5.3 points), supplier deliveries (down 5.0 points), and employment (off 2.1 points). Eking a small gain was the component tied to new orders, which added 2/10ths of a point. Sixteen of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries reported growth during December, led by arts/entertainment/recreation, transportation/warehousing, and health care/social assistance. Whereas the comments from survey respondents were “mostly optimistic about overall business conditions,” highlighted comments noted potential adverse effects resulting from the tariffs.

#4Small business owner optimism slipped again in December but remained near post-recession highs. The Small Business Optimism Index shed 4/10ths of a point during the month to a seasonally adjusted 104.4 (1986=100). Even though this was the fourth straight monthly decline, the National Federation of Independent Business’s measure has been above a reading of 100.0 for 25 consecutive months. Four of the index’s ten components improved from their November readings: plans to increase inventories (up six points), current job openings (up five points), current inventories (up four points), and plans to increase employment (up a point). Of the six declining components, the largest decreases were for expected economic conditions (off six points), whether it is a good time to expand (off five points), and plans to make capital outlays (down four points). The press release emphasized that small businesses “need workers to generate more sales, provide services, and complete projects.”

#5Consumer borrowing rose in November. The Federal Reserve estimates consumers held a seasonally adjusted $3.979 trillion in outstanding non-real estate related debt (e.g., mortgages) at the end of November. This represented an increase of $22.2 billion from October and a 4.3 percent gain over the past year. Revolving credit (e.g., credit card) expanded by $4.8 billion to $1.042 trillion (+2.2 percent versus November 2017). Nonrevolving credit balances rose by $17.3 billion in November to $2.937 trillion. Nonrevolving consumer credit balances, which includes both college and auto loans, have increased by 5.1 percent over the past 12 months.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending January 5, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 216,000 (-17,000 vs. previous week; -31,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 221,750 (-9.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
FOMC Minutes

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

Prices and Job Openings Remain Firm: August 6 – 10

Inflation continued to take hold, albeit still at a moderate rate. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 10.

#1Consumer prices have risen 2.9 percent over the past year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent during July, up from June’s 0.1 percent bump but matching April and May gains of 0.2 percent. Energy prices pulled back for a second consecutive month (-0.5 percent), with declines reported for gasoline (-0.6 percent), utility delivered gas (-0.5 percent), and electricity (-0.4 percent). Food CPI inched up 0.1 percent. Net of energy and food, core CPI grew 0.2 percent for the fifth time in six months. Rising were prices for used cars/trucks (+1.3 percent), transportation services (+0.5 percent), new vehicles (+0.3 percent), shelter (+0.3 percent), and medical care services (+0.1 percent). Prices dropped for medical care commodities (-1.1 percent) and apparel (-0.3 percent). Over the past year, CPI has risen 2.9 percent, its largest 12-month comparable in more than six years. The core measure has jumped 2.4 percent since last July, its largest 12-month comparable since September 2008. Both increases portend the Federal Reserve raising its short-term interest rate target at its upcoming September meeting.CPI 2008-2018 081018.png

#2While pausing in July wholesale prices were 3.3 percent ahead of their year-ago levels. Final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) was unchanged during the month on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This followed gains in May and June of +0.5 percent and +0.3 percent, respectively. The core measure of wholesale prices, removing the impact of energy, food, and trade services, gained 0.3 percent during July. PPI for final demand good eked out a 0.1 percent gain as prices for both energy (-0.5 percent) and food (-0.1 percent) both dropped. PPI for core goods increased 0.3 percent for the sixth time in seven months (pharmaceutical preparations jumped 0.7 percent). Losing ground during July was PPI for final demand services, slipping 0.1 percent. Trade services PPI, a measure of retailer and wholesaler margins, slumped 0.8 percent. Over the past year, final demand PPI has risen 3.3 percent (just under its biggest increase since 2011) while the core measure has a 12-month comparable of +2.8 percent (its highest mark since March).

#3There remained more job openings than people seeking work in June. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers had a seasonally adjusted 6.662 million job openings at the end of the month, essentially matching the count from the end of May and up 8.8 percent from the same month a year earlier. Further, this was greater than the 6.564 million people the BLS had estimated were unemployed during the same month. Private sector employers had 6.053 million job openings at the end of June, up 8.6 percent from June 2017. Industries with the particularly sizeable year-to-year percentage gains in job openings included construction (+30.2 percent), retail (+29.7 percent), transportation/wholesale (+25.3 percent), manufacturing (+17.3 percent), and accommodation/food services (+9.7 percent). Hiring slowed by 104,000 to 5.651 million workers, which paced 3.4 percent ahead of year-ago hiring. Private sector employers hired 5.303 million workers during June, up 3.4 percent from a year earlier. 5.502 million people left their jobs during the month, up 83,000 from May and 3.9 percent from June 2017. 3.402 million voluntarily departed their jobs during the month (+7.5 percent versus June 2017) while 1.723 million people were laid off (-2.8 percent versus June 2017).

#4Consumers slowed the rate of them taking on debt. The Federal Reserve estimates that the American public held a seasonally adjusted $3.908 trillion in outstanding debt (not counting mortgages or other real estate-backed debt) at the end of June, a $10.2 billion increase for the month and up 4.7 percent from a year earlier. As a matter of context, consumer debt holdings had grown by $24.3 billion during May. All June’s gain came in the form of nonrevolving debt (e.g., college loans, auto loans), rising by $10.4 billion to $2.869 trillion (4.7 percent versus June 2017). Revolving credit (i.e., credit card) balances essentially held steady at $1.039 trillion (+4.8 percent June 2017).

#5The federal budget deficit is more than 20 percent larger than what it was this time last year. The Bureau of the Fiscal Service, a part of the Department of the Treasury, reports that the U.S. government had a budget deficit of $76.9 billion during July. This was up $2.0 billion from June and 79.0 percent from the same month a year earlier. Tax receipts totaled $225.3 billion while outlays were at $302.1 billion.  More notable is that the budget deficit generated over the first ten months of FY2018—$684.0 billion—was 20.8 percent greater than that of the first ten months of FY2017. Receipts over this time period were up a mere 1.0 percent while expenditures rose 4.4 percent. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 4, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 213,000 (-6,000 vs. previous week; -39,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 214,250 (-11.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Wholesale Trade (June 2018, Wholesale Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $632.4 billion (+0.1% vs. May 2018, +5.1% vs. June 2017).
Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending 

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