Q1 GDP Growth Revised From Weak to Tepid: May 22 – 26

The U.S. economy expanded at a tepid pace in early 2017 while the housing market paused in April. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 26.

#1Even with an upward revision, the U.S. economy expanded at a slow pace during the opening months of 2017. The Bureau of Economic Analysis revised its estimate of first-quarter growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from a seasonally adjusted annualized growth rate of 0.7 percent to a gain of 1.2 percent. The weak Q1 GDP gain followed a 2.1 percent annualized increase in economic activity during the final three months of 2016. The Q1 GDP revision was the result of higher than previously believed levels of nonresidential fixed investment, personal spending, and state & local government spending (although pulling down the estimate was a lowered estimate of private inventory accumulation during the quarter). Nevertheless, the updated GDP estimate still presents a similar story of what had been reported a month ago: a sharp slowdown in the growth of personal consumption expenditure resulted in the smallest growth in economic activity in a year. Consumption added 44-basis points to GDP growth during Q1 after having contributed 240-basis points to Q4 2016 growth. Most of Q1’s economic growth instead came from fixed investment, with residential and nonresidential fixed economic responsible for 50-basis points and 134-basis points of economic growth during the quarter, respectively. This report also presented the first glimpse of corporate profits, which were at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of $2.110 trillion. This was off 1.9 percent from the final three months 2016 but up 3.7 percent from Q1 2016. The BEA will revise its GDP estimate once again on June 29.Q1 GDP Contributors 052817

#2On the bright side, economic activity appears to have sped up during April. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index, a weighted average of 85 economic measures, jumped by 42-basis points during the month to a reading of +0.49. This was the measure’s highest point since November 2014. The surge was largely the result of a 45-basis point improvement in the index components tied to production (to a +0.46 contribution to the CFNAI). Also improving during April were CFNAI components linked to employment, with a five-basis point increase to +0.10. Slipping from their March performance were index components tied to sales/orders/inventories (down seven basis points to a neutral contribution of 0.00) and the personal consumption/housing categories of index components (shedding two basis points to -0.06). In all, 46 of the CFNAI’s 85 components made positive contributions to the index. The CFNAI’s three-month moving average grew by 23-basis points to a reading of +0.23. A reading above 0.00 for the moving average is consistent with an economy that is expanding faster than its historical average.

#3Sales of previously owned homes took a breather during April. Per the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales declined 2.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.57 million units. Sales decreased during April in the South (-5.0 percent), West (-3.3 percent), and Northeast (-2.7 percent), but improved in Midwest (+3.8 percent). Existing home sales were 1.6 percent above their April 2016 pace. There was a 4.2 month supply of homes on the market at the end of April, its highest point since last October. However, the 1.93 million homes available for sale at the end of April was 9.0 percent below that of a year earlier. As a result, the median sales price of $244,800 was 6.0 percent above that of a year earlier. NAR’s press release linked the slowdown in home sales to “new and existing inventory…not keeping up with the fast pace homes are coming off the market.”

#4Sales of new homes sagged during April. The Census Bureau reports that new home sales fell 11.4 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 569,000 units. This was still 0.5 percent above the year-ago sales rate of new homes. Sales dropped in all four Census regions during the month, led by sharp declines in both the West (-26.3 percent) and Midwest (-13.1 percent). On a year-to-year basis, new home sales had grown in the Midwest (+19.7 percent) and South (+4.1 percent) but had slowed in both the West (-13.7 percent) and Northeast (-5.1 percent). Inventories of unsold new homes expanded 1.5 percent to 268,000 units. This was the equivalent to a 5.7 month supply.

#5Consumer confidence remained strong during May, although one’s political views greatly influenced their outlook. The Index of Consumer Sentiment from the University of Michigan inched up 1/10th of a point during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 97.1. The same measure was at 94.7 one year ago and was in line with its six-month average of 97.3. The current conditions index dropped by a full point to 111.7 (May 2016: 109.9) while the expectations index added 7/10ths of a point to 87.7 (May 2016: 84.9). The press release noted that the recent pattern of a sharp partisan divide remained, with survey participants that identify themselves as Republicans indicating great optimism and those that are Democrats being particularly pessimistic. 84 percent of Republicans reported “favorable” news about recent economic developments, compared to a mere 37 percent of Democrats. Conversely, 73 percent of Democrats described “unfavorable” economic news versus only 19 percent of Republicans. The press release also stated that the survey results suggested real personal spending would grow 2.3 percent during 2017.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending May 20, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 234,000 +1,000 vs. previous week; -34,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 235.250 (-14.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Durable Goods (April 2017, New Orders, seasonally adjusted):  $231.2 billion (-0.7% vs. March 2017). New orders net of transportation goods: $152.7 billion (-0.4% vs. March 2017).
FOMC minutes
FHFA House Price Index (March 2017, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted):  +0.6% vs. February 2017, +6.2% vs. March 2016.
Wholesale Inventories (March 2017, Inventories of Merchant Wholesalers, seasonally adjusted): $594.6 billion (+0.2% vs. February 2017, +3.0% vs. March 2016).

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

Despite Continued Strength in Consumer Confidence, Economic Growth Slows: April 24 – 28

The U.S. economy slammed on its brakes during the first quarter as consumer spending faltered. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 28.

#1Economic growth sputtered during the opening months of 2017. Per the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by a paltry seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 0.7 percent during the first quarter of 2017. This was the slowest pace of economic expansion since the first quarter of 2014 when the U.S. economy had contracted 1.2 percent (although it is worth noting that GDP grew by only 0.8 percent during the same quarter a year ago). The feeble growth rate in the economy was largely the product of weakness in consumer spending, which increased only 0.7 percent) during the quarter. As a result, personal consumption expenditures contributed a mere 23-basis points in GDP growth during the quarter, versus a 240-basis point contribution during the previous quarter. Also making positive contributions to GDP growth during the quarter were nonresidential fixed investment (+112-basis point contribution), increased exports (+68-basis point contribution), and residential fixed investment (i.e., housing with a +50-basis point contribution). Drags on the U.S. economy were the decline in private inventories (costing 93-basis points in GDP growth), a rise in imports (costing 61-basis points in GDP growth), and a decrease in government spending (costing 30-basis points in GDP growth). The BEA will revise its estimate of Q1 GDP growth twice in the coming two months.Q1 GDP Contributors-042817

#2Still, there is a measure that suggests economic growth was just above its historical average in March. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted index of 85 economic indicators that tracks business activity, shed 19-basis points but remained positive at +0.08. More critically, the three-month moving average for the CFNAI came in at +0.03, which was down 13-basis points from February but also was the fourth straight month in which it was positive. A positive reading in the moving average suggests that the U.S. economy is expanding at a rate greater than its historic average. Forty-eight of the 85 components that make up the CFNAI made positive contributions to the index, with three of four major groupings of these indicators making positive contributions: sales/orders/inventories (adding seven-basis points to the index), production (adding four-basis points to the index), and employment (adding two-basis points to the index). Personal consumption/housing-related index components cost five-basis points in CFNAI growth. 

#3Transportation goods sparked growth in durable goods orders during March. New orders for manufactured durable goods gained 0.7 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $238.7 billion, its third consecutive monthly increase. The Census Bureau report indicates new orders for transportation goods rose 2.4 percent, with solid increases in orders for defense aircraft (+26.1 percent) and civilian aircraft (+7.0 percent). New orders for motor vehicles declined for a second straight month with a 0.8 percent contraction. Net of transportation goods, new orders for durable goods slipped 0.2 percent although orders for core capital goods orders inched up 0.2 percent. Growing during the month were new orders for primary metals (+0.8 percent) and electrical equipment (+0.4 percent) while orders fell for computers (-3.8 percent), communications equipment (-1.2 percent), fabricated metal products (-0.8 percent), and machinery (-0.2 percent).

#4New home sales hit an eight-year high in March. The Census Bureau reports that new home sales jumped 5.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 621,000. This was 15.6 percent above year-ago levels and its highest reading since last July (which itself was the post-recession high). Sales grew in three of four Census regions during the month—Northeast (+25.8 percent), West (+16.7 percent), and South (+1.6 percent)—but declined 4.5 percent in the Midwest. All four Census regions enjoyed positive year-to-year sales gains. There were 268,000 new homes available for sale at the end of March, up 1.1 percent from February and 9.8 percent from a year earlier. This translated into a still tight 5.2-month supply of new homes on the market.

#5Consumer sentiment remained near post-recession highs in April, although one measure pulled back during the month. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index fell by 4.6 points during April to a reading of 120.3 (1985=100). March’s reading was the best reading in the sentiment measure since December 2000. The current conditions lost 3.3 points (to 140.6) while the expectations index shed 5.6 points (to 112.3). 30.2 percent of survey respondents felt that current business conditions were “good” (versus 32.4 percent in March), while 13.8 percent saw them as “bad” (versus 13.1 percent in March). Looking towards the future, 24.8 percent of consumers believe business conditions will improve over the next six months while 10.9 percent expect them to worsen. Related, 23.0 percent of survey respondents expect there will be increased job availability in the coming months versus 13.1 percent anticipating a decline. The press release noted that despite a pullback in April, consumer confidence “still remains at strong levels” and that “consumers remain confident that the economy will continue to expand in the months ahead.”

Meanwhile, the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment edged up by 1/10th of a point to a seasonally adjusted reading of 97.0. Despite essentially holding steady during the month, this puts the index eight full points above its April 2016 reading and keeps it near its post-recession high. The current conditions index dropped by a half-point to 112.7 (April 2016: 106.7) while the forward-looking expectations index jumped 9.4 points to 87.0.  The press release noted that the “partisan divide” that this survey has been demonstrating in recent months narrowed during April, people who identified themselves as Democrats were far more pessimistic than those who are Republicans. The release also stated that the data points towards an anticipated 2.5 percent growth rate in real consumer spending during 2017.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 22, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 257,000 (+14,000 vs. previous week; -4,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 242,250 (-7.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Pending Home Sales (March 2017, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 99.1 (-2.9% vs. February 2017, +1.8% vs. March 2016).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (February 2017, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.7% vs. January 2017, +5.9% vs. February 2016.
FHFA House Price Index (February 2017, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.8% vs. January 2017, +6.4% vs. February 2016.
Agricultural Prices (March 2017, Prices Received by Farmers (Index: 2011=100), seasonally adjusted): 94.8 (+3.4% vs. February 2017, +2.4% vs. March 2016).

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

Home Sales Gain Again While Factory Output Slows. What We Learned During the Week of April 17 – 21

Home sales hit a ten-year high in March and housing starts remained solid.  But the manufacturing sector ends its recent winning streak. Here are the 5 things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 21.

#1Existing home sales hit another post-recession high in March. The National Association of Realtors reports that existing home sales jumped 4.4 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.710 million homes. This was up 5.9 percent from a year earlier and represented the best month for sales of previously owned homes since February 2007. Sales grew in three of four Census regions: Northeast (+10.1 percent), Midwest (+9.2 percent), and South (+3.4 percent). Sales slipped 1.6 percent in the West. All four Census regions enjoyed positive 12-month sales comparables.  Even though inventories of unsold homes grew 5.8 percent during the month, the 1.830 million homes available for sale at the end of March was a 6.6 percent drop from a year earlier and represented a very tight 3.8 month supply. As a result, the median sales price for existing homes has risen 6.8 percent over the past year to $236,400. The press release described the spring home buying season as “promising,” but noted that “finding available properties to buy continues to be a strenuous task for many buyers.”

#2Housing starts slip but remained near post-recession highs in March. Per the Census Bureau, housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.215 million units, down 6.8 percent for the month but still 9.2 percent its March 2016 pace. (Note that while housing starts were near their post-recession high, they remained well below the peak values seen during the early and middle part of the last decade.) While both the month-to-month and year-to-year comparables were equivalent for both single-family and multi-family properties, they did differ by region. Versus February, starts grew 12.9 percent in the Northeast but dropped 16.2 percent in the Midwest, 16.0 percent in the West, and 3.2 percent in the South. Starts have grown over the past year in the South (+19.4 percent) and West (+9.2 percent) while they have fallen in the Northeast (-14.9 percent) and Midwest (-2.5 percent). Looking towards the future, the SAAR of issued building permits grew 3.6 percent during March to 1.26 million permits (+17.0 percent). Permit issuance was up sharply in all four Census regions: Northeast (+26.1 percent), West (+24.5 percent), South (+14.6 percent), and Midwest (+4.9 percent). The annualized rate of housing completions grew 3.2 percent during the month to 1.168 million units. This was a healthy 13.4 percent above the March 2016 pace of completions.Housing Starts 2005-2017-042117

#3Industrial production rose during March, but manufacturing output did not. The Federal Reserve reports that industrial production grew 0.5 percent during March, following a tepid 0.1 percent increase during February and a 0.3 percent decline during January. The increase was largely the result of an 8.6 percent surge in output at utilities as weather conditions returned to their seasonal norms after an abnormally warm winter had suppressed demand for heating. Mining output edged up 0.1 percent during the month. On the flip side, manufacturing production fell 0.4 percent during March and was only 0.8 percent above its year ago level. This was the first monthly decline in manufacturing output since last August. The production of durable manufactured goods dropped 0.8 percent with all major categories of durable products reporting output declines (except for computers/electronics). Falling by at least one percent was the output of automobiles, electrical equipment/appliances, and primary metals. Production of nondurables eked out a 0.2 percent gain, with petroleum/coal products seeing the largest gain in output. Capacity utilization increased 4/10ths of a percentage point to 76.1 percent, but the same measure for the manufacturing sector saw factory utilization declining by 3/10ths of a percentage point to 75.7 percent.

#4Forward-looking data suggest continued economic growth for the remainder of this year. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators added a half point during March to a hit a seasonally adjusted 126.7 (2010=100). This left the measure 3.5 percent above where it was a year earlier. Eight of the leading index’s components improved during the month, led by the interest rate spread, purchasing managers’ report on new orders, and consumers’ expectations for future business conditions. The coincident index added 2/10ths of a point 114.9 (+2.0 percent vs. March 2016) with all 4 of the measure’s components making a positive contribution to the index (including, industrial production and personal income). The lagging index held firm at 123.6 during the month, which left the measure 2.3 percent above where it was a year ago. Three of the seven components of the lagging index made positive contributions, led by banks’ prime rate for loans. The press release stated the results suggest continued economic growth in 2017, “with perhaps an acceleration later in the year if consumer spending and investment pick up.”

#5A closer look at March employment data finds payrolls were unchanged in most states. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Regional and State Employment report indicates that there were statistically significant increases in nonfarm payrolls during the month in three states: Washington state (+10,000). Tennessee (+8,600), and Maine (+3,000). Payrolls declined in four other states: New Jersey (-17,500), Pennsylvania (-16,100), Missouri (-13,400), and Louisiana (-8,500). Payrolls did not significantly change in the other 43 states and in the District of Columbia during the month. Even with the relative stagnation during March, nonfarm payrolls have expanded in 27 states over the past year, with the largest percentage gains occurring in Utah, Florida, Georgia, and Nevada. Only two states—Alaska and Wyoming—suffered year-to-year payroll declines.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 15, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 244,000 (+10,000 vs. previous week; -13,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 247,250 (-8.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
NAHB Housing Market Index (April 2017, Index (>50 = “Good” Housing Market Conditions), seasonally adjusted): 68 (vs. March 2017: 71, vs. April 2016: 58).
Bankruptcy Filings (12-month period through March 31, 2017): 794,492 (-4.7 percent versus 12-month period through March 31, 2016). Business bankruptcy filings: 770,901 (-4.7 percent vs. March 31, 2016), Nonbusiness bankruptcy filings: 23,591 (-4.9 percent versus March 31, 2016).
Treasury International Capital Flows (February 2017, Foreign Purchases of Domestic U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$35.9 billion (vs. January 2017: +$14.8 billion., vs. February 2016; +$26.9 billion).
Beige Book

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