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

Autos Fuel Retail Sales, Prices Firm: September 9 – 13

Consumers were buying vehicles in August. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending September 13.

#1Auto sales outpaced an otherwise modest retail sales report for August. The Census Bureau reports that retail and food services sales totaled $526.1 billion, up 0.4 percent from July and 4.1 percent from a year earlier. Sales at auto dealers and parts stores jumped 1.8 percent while those at gas stations fell 0.9 percent (due to lower prices at the pump). Net of both, core retail sales grew a tepid 0.1 percent following a 0.9 percent surge in July (12-month comparable: +4.2 percent). Sales rose during the month at building material/garden stores (+1.4 percent), sporting goods/hobby retailers (+0.9 percent), and health/personal care stores (+0.7 percent). Sales slumped, however, at department stores (-1.1 percent), furniture retailers (-0.5 percent), and grocery stores (-0.3 percent).

#2Core consumer prices rose for a third straight month in August. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the third time over the past four months, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Energy CPI fell 1.9 percent (pulled down by a 3.5 percent drop in gasoline prices) while food CPI held steady. Net of both, core CPI grew 0.3 percent for a third consecutive month. Rising were prices for used cars/trucks (+1.1 percent), medical care services (+0.9 percent), transportation services (+0.4 percent), medical care commodities (+0.3 percent), apparel (+2.2 percent), and shelter (+0.2 percent). Prices slipped 0.1 percent for new vehicles. While headline CPI has grown by “only” 1.7 percent over the past year, the core measure of consumer prices has climbed 2.4 percent over the same 12 months.

#3And wholesale prices firmed too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand increased 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in August after rising 0.2 percent in July. The core measure—PPI net of energy, food, and trade services—jumped 0.4 percent after slipping 0.1 percent during the prior month. PPI for final demand goods dropped 0.5 percent, pulled down by declines for both energy (-2.5 percent—gasoline prices plummeted 6.6 percent) and food (-0.6 percent). Core goods PPI was unchanged for the month. PPI for final demand services grew 0.3 percent—but more notable was the core measure (which nets out trade services and transportation/warehousing) growing 0.5 percent. Over the past year, headline PPI has risen 1.8 percent while the 12-month comparable for the core wholesale prices was +1.9 percent.

#4The number of job openings pulled back slightly, but workers continued to quit their jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a seasonally adjusted 7.217 million open jobs on the final day of July. While still near the historical high for the data series, this was off 31,000 from June and 3.0 percent from a year earlier. While both construction (+18.8 percent) and manufacturing (+7.0 percent) had sizable year-to-year percentage increases in job openings, other industries reported negative 12-month comparables: financial activities (-15.3 percent), retail trade (-15.2 percent), and accommodation/food services (-10.2 percent). Hiring picked up during July, rising by 237,000 to 5.953 million (+2.1 percent versus July 2018). 5.759 million people departed their jobs during the same month, up 246,000 from June and 1.5 percent ahead of the year-ago pace. This included 3.592 million people who voluntarily quit their jobs (up 130,000 for the month and 4.3 percent from July 2018), a signal suggesting Americans remain confident about the labor market. 1.799 million left their jobs due to a layoff, up 88,000 for the month but down 3.2 percent from a year earlier.

#5The federal budget deficit crossed the trillion dollar threshold, and the fiscal year is not even over yet. The Department of the Treasury reports that the U.S. government has collected $3.088 trillion in receipts through the first 11 months of FY2019, up 3.5 percent from the same 11-month period last year. Expenditures, however, have grown 7.0 percent over the same period to $4.155 trillion. The resulting budget deficit of $1.067 trillion was 18.9 percent ahead of that from the first 11 months of FY2018. Year-to-date individual income tax revenues were 0.9 percent ahead of that a year earlier while corporate tax receipts have expanded 4.5 percent. Among the notable gainers in expenditures were defense (+9.0 percent), debt service (+9.0 percent), and health & human services (+8.4 percent)

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending September 7, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 204,000 (-15,000 vs. previous week; -4,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 212,500 (+0.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (August 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.5% vs. July 2019, -2.0% vs. August 2018; Nonfuel Imports: Unchanged vs. July 2019, -1.0% vs. August 2018.
– Export Prices (August 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.6% vs. July 2019, -1.4% vs. August 2018; Nonagricultural Exports: -0.4% vs.
NFIB Small Business Optimism (August 2019, Index (1986=100), seasonally adjusted): 103.1 (vs. July 2019: 104.7, August 2018: 108.8).
University Surveys of Consumers (September 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 92.0 (vs. August 2019: 89.8, vs. September 2018: 100.1).
Business Inventories (July 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.043 trillion (+0.4% vs. June 2019, +4.8% vs. July 2018).
Consumer Credit (July 2019, Outstanding Consumer (non-real estate-backed) Loan Balances, seasonally adjusted): $4.123 trillion (+$23.3 billion vs. June 2019, +5.2% vs. July 2018).

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

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.