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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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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Core Prices Chill, Job Openings Grow: May 6 – 10

Core inflation was on spring break in April, except at the gas pump.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 10.

#1Core consumer inflation was restrained (again) in April. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, following a 0.4 percent bounce in March. Energy prices jumped 2.9 percent, led by a 5.7 percent surge in gasoline prices. Food CPI, however, slipped 0.1 percent (including a 0.5 percent drop in the prices for food consumed at home). Core CPI, which nets out energy and food, edged up 0.1 percent for the third consecutive month. Rising were prices for medical care commodities (+0.9 percent), shelter (+0.4 percent), medical care services (+0.2 percent), transportation services (+0.1 percent), and new vehicles (-0.1 percent). Prices slumped for used cars/trucks (-1.3 percent) and apparel (-0.8 percent). CPI has risen 2.0 percent over the past year while the core price measure has a 12-month comparable of +2.1 percent.

#2Wholesale prices also moderated. Final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) grew at a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent during April, down from the 0.6 percent burst a month earlier. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ core wholesale price measure, which removes the impact of energy, food and trade services, jumped 0.4 percent. Both the headline and core PPI measures have risen 2.2 percent over the past year. During April, wholesale energy prices rose 1.8 percent (PPI for gasoline surged 5.9 percent) while food PPI slipped 0.2 percent. Net of energy and food, PPI for core goods was unchanged for the month (the first time it failed to increase since last December).

#3 Job openings rebounded in March. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 7.488 million job openings on the final day of March (on a seasonally adjusted basis), up 346,000 from February, reversing January’s 483,000 contraction, up 8.6 percent from a year earlier, and well ahead of the 6.211 unemployed people during the month. Industries with large percentage year-to-year increases in job openings included construction (+53.8 percent), wholesale trade (+20.9 percent), professional/business services (+18.3 percent), and manufacturing (+11.7 percent). Hiring continued to lag, however, slipping by 35,000 jobs during the month to 5.660 million (up a measly 0.6 percent from a year earlier). Job separations fell by 142,000 to 5.434 million (essentially matching the March 2018 count). Voluntarily quits were 3.3 percent ahead of their year-ago pace (to 3.409 million) while layoffs slowed 4.0 percent over the same period to 1.700 million workers.

#4The trade deficit widened slightly in March. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates the U.S. trade deficit expanded by $0.7 billion to a seasonally adjusted -$50.0 billion as exports grew by $2.1 billion and imports expanded by $2.8 billion. Over the past year, exports have increased by 1.3 percent while imports have risen 2.1 percent. The goods deficit grew by $0.5 billion to -$72.4 billion while the services surplus narrowed by $0.2 billion to +$22.4 billion. The U.S. had its largest goods deficits with China, the European Union, and Mexico.

#5Consumer put away their credit cards in March. The Federal Reserve estimates consumer revolving credit balances shrank by $2.2 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $1.057 trillion. Over the past year, revolving credit balances have grown 3.2 percent. Non-revolving credit balances, which includes college and auto loans, increased by $12.4 billion during March (and 5.6 percent over the past year) to $2.995 trillion. In total, outstanding consumer credit balances (not including mortgages and other real estate backed loans) expanded by $10.3 billion during the month to $4.052 trillion, representing a 4.9 percent since March 2018.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending May 4, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 228,000 -2,000 vs. previous week; +17,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 220,250 (+2.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Wholesale Trade (March 2019, Inventories of Merchant Wholesalers, seasonally adjusted): $669.8 billion (-0.1% vs. February 2019, +6.7% vs. March 2018).
Monthly Treasury Statement (First 7 Months of FY2019, Federal Government Budget Deficit): -$530.9 billion (+37.8% vs. First 7 Months of FY2018).
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