Consumer Spending Rises, Q2 GDP Growth Narrows: August 26 – 30

Consumers have been a bright spot for the U.S. economy, but their outlook may be tenuous. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 30.

#1Consumers’ spending spree continued in July. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that “real” personal consumption expenditures (PCE) grew 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, up from June’s 0.2 percent advance and matching the increases for both April and May. Spending rose for goods by 0.8 percent, with solid gains for both durable (+1.1 percent) and nondurable goods (+0.6 percent). Services spending grew 0.3 percent. Without adjustments for inflation, nominal PCE rose 0.6 percent. The increased spending outpaced gains in nominal personal income (+0.1 percent), nominal disposable income (+0.3 percent), and real disposable income (+0.1 percent). As a result, the savings rate narrowed by 3/10ths of a percentage point to +7.7 percent. Over the past year, personal spending has risen 2.7 percent as real disposable income advanced 3.0 percent.

#2Q2 GDP growth was smaller than previously believed. The Bureau of Economic Analysis‘ second estimate of Q2 2019 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has the U.S. economy growing at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of +2.0 percent, down from 2.1 percent gain reported a month ago. The downward revision was the product of lower than previously estimated levels of state/local government spending, exports, private inventory accumulation, and fixed residential investment. Counterbalancing those revisions was a higher than previously reported estimate for consumer spending. In fact, consumers were by far the most significant positive contributor to Q2 GDP growth. The same report finds corporate profits rose 5.3 percent during the quarter to an annualized $2.113 trillion. The BEA will revise its Q2 estimates of both GDP and corporate profits again in late September.

#3Economic growth also was modest in July. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) plummeted by 39-basis points during the month to a reading of -0.36. Only 26 of the weighted index’s 85 components made a positive contribution to the CFNAI as only 30 improved from their June marks. All four major categories of index components made negative contributions: production (-25 basis points), personal consumption/housing (-6 basis points), sales/orders/inventories (-5 basis points), employment (-1 basis point). A bright spot is the 16-basis point improvement for the CFNAI’s three-moving average, growing June’s -0.30 reading to -0.16 in July. The moving average’s reading, however, is indicative of below-average economic growth.

#4Aircraft orders boosted durable goods orders in July. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured goods jumped 2.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $250.4 billion, following a 1.8 percent gain in June. Much of the increase came from the 7.0 percent surge in orders for transportation goods, with substantial monthly gains in orders for civilian aircraft (+47.8 percent), defense aircraft (+34.4 percent), and motor vehicles (+0.5 percent). Net of transportation goods, durable goods fell 0.4 percent in July, reversing a 0.8 percent increase during the prior month. Rising were new orders for electrical equipment/appliances (+1.1 percent) and computers/electronics (+0.2 percent). Orders fell for primary metals (-1.0 percent), fabricated metals (-0.9 percent), and machinery (-0.6 percent).

#5Consumer sentiment waned in August. The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment suffered its largest single-month drop in nearly seven years with an 8.6 point decline to a seasonally adjusted 89.8 (1966Q1=100). Whereas the measure tracking current sentiment decreased by 5.4 points to 105.3, it was the huge drop in longer-term optimism that pulled down the headline index. The expectations index plummeted by 10.6 points to 79.9. The press release notes that trade tariffs were the chief cause of weakening confidence, with one in three survey respondents “spontaneously” noting the issue in their comments. Those concerned about tariffs were more likely to “voice higher year-ahead inflation expectations, more frequently expected rising unemployment, and expected smaller annual gains in household incomes.”

The Consumer Confidence from the Conference Board slipped by a more modest 7/10ths of a point to a seasonally adjusted 135.1 (1985=100). The present conditions rose to a nearly 19-year high at 177.2 (up 6.3 points versus July 2019) while the expectations index shed 5.4 points to 107.0. A robust 42.0 percent of survey respondents described current business conditions as “good,” while 51.2 percent said that jobs were “plentiful.” The press release did warn that “if the recent escalation in trade and tariff tensions persists, it could potentially dampen consumers’ optimism regarding the short-term economic outlook.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 24, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 215,000 (+5,000 vs. previous week; Unchanged vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 214,500 (-0.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Pending Home Sales (July 2019, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 105.6 (-2.5% vs. June 2019, -0.3% vs. July 2018).
FHFA House Price Index (June 2019, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. May 2019, +4.8%. vs. June 2018.
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (June 2019, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): Unchanged vs. May 2019, +2.1% vs. June 2018.

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

Hiring Held Steady, The FOMC Did Not: July 29 – August 2

The Fed lowered its interest rate target even as the labor market continued to create jobs. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 2.

#1Job creation continued in July. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that nonfarm payrolls expanded by a seasonally adjusted 164,000 jobs during the month. While off from June’s downwardly revised 193,000 job gain, this was 106th straight month of payroll expansion. Private-sector employers added 148,000 workers during the month, split between 15,000 in the goods-producing sector and 133,000 in the service sector. Industries adding the most workers in July were health care/social assistance (+50,400), professional/business services (+38,000), financial activities (+18,000), and manufacturing (+16,000). Average hourly earnings have risen 3.2 percent over the past year to $27.98.

A separate household survey kept the unemployment rate of 3.7, which was just above its multi-decade low of 3.6 achieved back in May. 370,000 people entered the labor market, pushing the labor force participation rate up a 1/10th of a percentage point to 63.0 percent. The same measure for adults aged 25 to 54 fell by 2/10ths of a percentage point to 82.0 percent. Falling to post-recession lows were the median length of unemployment (8.9 weeks, matching the business cycle low hit in January), the count of part-time workers seeking a full-time job (3.984 million), and the broadest measure of labor underutilization, the “U-6” series (7.0 percent).

#2The Fed cuts its short-term interest rate target. The policy statement released following this past week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) noted continued strength in the labor market and household spending. Yet the FOMC remained concerned about “soft” business investment and inflation compensation that had “remain[ed] low.” Due to “implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures,” the FOMC voted to cut the fed funds target rate by 25-basis points to a range between 2.00 and 2.25 percent. Two FOMC voting members (George and Rosengren) both opposed the target rate cut. The dissents and the somewhat muted statement about how it will “act as appropriate” in the future leaves up in the air expectations on potential additional rate cuts.

#3Growth in personal spending slowed in June. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) rose a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent. While this was the fourth consecutive monthly increase, it was its smallest gain of the four. Consumer spending on goods jumped 0.4 percent as expenditures on nondurable goods rose 0.7 percent and that on durables slipped 0.1 percent. Services spending on edged up 0.1 percent. Funding the increased spending was a 0.3 percent gain in real disposable income. The savings rate edged up 1/10th of a percentage point to +8.1 percent. Over the past year, real consumer spending has risen 2.5 percent, boosted by a 3.3 percent jump in real disposable income.

#4The trade deficit held steady in June. Per the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, exports dropped by $4.4 billion to $206.3 billion (-2.2 percent versus June 2018) while imports fell by $4.6 billion to $261.5 billion (+1.2 percent versus June 2018). The resulting trade deficit of -$55.2 billion was $0.2 smaller than that of May but 16.3 percent greater than that of a year earlier. The goods deficit narrowed by $0.8 billion to -$75.1 billion (+8.2 percent versus June 2018) while services surplus shrank by $0.6 billion to +$20.0 billion (-9.3 percent versus June 2018). The former was the product a $3.9 billion drop in exported goods (including for consumer goods, capital goods, and automobiles) and a $4.7 billion slowdown in imported goods (including for crude oil, petroleum products, and consumer goods).

#5One measure of consumer sentiment rebounded in July, another was steady. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index jumped by 11.4 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 135.7 (1985=100), reversing a sharp drop in June and hitting a 2019 high point. The current conditions index added 7.6 points to a reading of 170.9 while the expectations index rose by 14.6 points to 112.2. 40.1 percent of survey respondents characterized current business conditions as good versus 11.2 percent that saw them as being “poor.” Similarly, 46.2 percent of consumers report that jobs were “plentiful” versus just 8.7 percent that felt jobs were “hard to get.” The press release said the results suggest “robust spending in the near-term despite slower growth in GDP.”

Meanwhile, the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment came in at a seasonally adjusted 98.4. This matched the preliminary July reading reported a few weeks ago and represented a mere 2/10ths of a point gain from June and a half point increase from a year earlier. The present conditions index shed 1.2 points during the month to a reading of 110.7 (July 2018: 114.4) while the expectations index added 1.2 points to 90.4 (July 2018: 87.3). While noting that sentiment had remained “remarkably stable” over the past few years, the press release wonders whether the recently announced expansion in tariffs on Chinese imports may lessen “overall consumer confidence.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending July 27, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 215,000 (+8,000 vs. previous week; -5,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 211,500 (-1.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Factory Orders (June 2019, New Orders, seasonally adjusted): $493.8 billion (+0.6% vs. May 2019, -1.2% vs. June 2018.
ISM Manufacturing Report on Business (July 2019, PMI (Index>50 = expanding manufacturing sector): 51.2 (vs. June 2019: 51.7).
Construction Spending (June 2019, Value of Construction Put in Place, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): $1.287 trillion (-1.3% vs. May 2019, -2.1% vs. June 2018).
Pending Home Sales (June 2019, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 108.3 (vs. May 2019: +2.8%, vs. June 2018: +1.6%).

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

Solid Consumer Spending, Inflation Under Target: June 24 – 28

Consumer spending held firm in May. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 28.

#1Personal spending and prices grew at a moderate rate in May. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, matching April’s gain. Real spending on durable goods jumped 0.4 percent, boosted by a 1.6 percent bounce for durable goods (spending on nondurables slowed 0.2 percent), while services expenditures increased 0.2 percent. Nominal (not inflation adjusted) spending rose 0.4 percent in May, funded by 0.5 percent increases for both nominal personal income and nominal disposable income. After adjusting for price variations, real disposable gained 0.3 percent.  The savings rate held steady at 6.1 percent. Over the past year, real personal spending has risen 2.7 percent, while real disposable income has a 12-month comparable of +2.3 percent. The PCE deflator—a measure of inflation—gained 0.2 percent during the month, with the core measure (which nets out energy and food) also growing 0.2 percent. The year-to-year increases for both measures were below the Federal Reserve’s two-percent inflation target with gains of +1.5 percent and +1.6 percent, respectively.

#2Another revision reaffirmed Q1’s robust economic growth. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ third estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has the U.S. economy expanding at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 3.1 percent. This matches the GDP estimate reported a month earlier and was just below the initial 3.2 percent estimate for Q1 economic growth indicated two months ago. Q1 GDP growth contributors (in descending order) were net exports, consumption, change in private inventories, nonresidential fixed investment, and government expenditures. The same report found that corporate profits (net of inventory valuation and capital consumption expenditures) fell 2.6 percent during the quarter. We will get our first glance of second-quarter GDP on July 26.

#3Concerns about trade tariffs weighed on consumer sentiment in June. The Consumer Confidence Index from the Conference Board fell by 9.8 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 121.5 (1985=100), its lowest reading since September 2017. The present conditions index lost 8.1 points to a reading of 162.6 while the expectations index plummeted by 10.9 points to 94.1. Even with the pullback, a far higher percentage of survey respondents viewed current business conditions as “good” (36.7 percent) versus being “bad (10.9 percent). Consumers were less confident about the future—18.1 percent of survey respondents expect business conditions to improve over the next six months, while 13.1 percent expect them to worsen. The press release tied the pullback in sentiment to “the escalation in trade and tariff tensions.”

The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment declined by 1.8 points during June to a seasonally adjusted reading of 98.2. While a slight 3/10ths of a point improved from the preliminary June report published a few weeks ago, it matched its June 2018 mark. The present conditions index gained 1.9 points to 111.9 (June 2018: 116.5) while the expectations index slumped by 5.2 points to 89.3 (June 2018: 89.3). The press release noted that the decline in the headline index was about higher income survey respondents “who more frequently mentioned the negative impact of tariffs.”

#4There were more home purchase contract signings in May. The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Homes Sales Index (PHSI) ticked up 1.1 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 105.4 (2001=100). The index of contracts signed to purchase a previously owned home grew in three of four Census regions, with the West being the exception. The PHSI was off 0.7 percent from a year earlier with negative 12-month comparables in three of four Census regions (in this case, the South was the exception). The press release stated that homebuyers were “anxious” to take advantage of the recent decline in mortgage interest rates.

#5Homebuilder confidence slipped slightly in June. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index (HMI) lost two points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 64. This was the 60th consecutive month in which the HMI was above a reading of 50, indicative of more homebuilders’ seeing the housing market as being “good” versus being “poor.” The HMI improved in the Midwest, held steady in the South, but lost ground in both the Northeast and West. Also slipping in June were measures for current sales of single-family homes (71), expected home sales (70), and traffic of prospective buyers (48). The press release reports that housing demand was “sound,” but also that builders report concern about “trade issues” and rising development and construction costs.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending June 22, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 227,000 (+10,000 vs. previous week; -4,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 221,250 (+0.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
New Home Sales (May 2019, New Home Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 626,000 (-7.8% vs. April 2019, -3.7% vs. May 2018).
FHFA House Price Index (April 2019, Purchase-Only index, seasonally adjusted): +0.4% vs. March 2019, +5.2% vs. April 2018.
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (April 2019, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): Unchanged vs. March 2019, +2.5% vs. April 2018.
Agricultural Prices (May 2019, Prices Received by Farmers): -1.1% vs. April 2019, -3.1% vs. May 2018.

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