Home Sales Chilled (Again) in January: February 18 – 22

Home sales faltered again in early 2019. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending February 22.  

#1Sales of previously owned homes fell for the ninth time in ten months in January. The National Association of Realtors’ estimate of existing home sales dropped 1.2 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 4.94 million units. This left the count of transactions 8.5 percent below that of a year earlier to its lowest point since November 2015. Sales fell in three of four Census regions: West (-2.9 percent), Midwest (-2.5 percent), and South (-1.0 percent). Only the Northeast enjoyed a sales increase during the month (+2.9 percent). While still tight, the number of homes on the market rose 3.9 percent to 1.59 million units (+4.6 percent vs. January 2018), the equivalent to a 3.9 month supply. The median sales price of $247,500 represented a 2.8 percent increase from January 2018. The press release states NAR’s belief that home sales “have reached a cyclical low.”

#2Meanwhile, homebuilders’ sentiment rebounded in February. The Housing Market Index (HMI) from the National Association of Homebuilders added four points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 62. The HMI has been above a reading of 50—meaning a higher percentage of homebuilders view the housing market as “good” rather than “poor”—for 56 straight months. The HMI improved in the Midwest (55) and South (66) but lost traction in the Northeast (45) and West (67). Also moving forward in February were indices for sales of single-family homes (up three points to 67), expected sales over the next six months (up five points to 68), and traffic of prospective buyers (up four points to 48). The press release stated that “many builders are reporting positive expectations for the spring selling season.

#3Forward-looking economic indicators slipped in January. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) lost 1/10th of a point to a 111.3 (2016=100), as the measure has stayed within 1/10th of a point range over the past four months. Even with the recent stagnation, the LEI has risen 3.5 percent over the past year. The coincident economic index added 1/10th of a point, placing it 2.3 percent ahead of its year-ago mark. The lagging economic index grew by a half point to 106.7. The measure has risen 2.6 percent since January 2018. The Conference Board, in noting that the LEI “has now been flat essentially since October 2018, indicates economic growth “will likely decelerate to about 2 percent by the end of 2019.” (The press release also noted that the recently ended partial federal government shutdown resulted in three of the ten components to the LEI being unavailable for analysis).

#4Durable goods orders expanded in December. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured durable goods totaled $254.4 billion, up 1.2 percent for the month. As normal, aircraft orders were a major driver to the headline number—a 28.4 percent increase in orders for civilian aircraft resulted in a 3.3 percent gain in transportation goods (motor vehicle orders increased 2.1 percent). Net of transportation goods, core durable goods orders inched up by a mere 0.1 percent. Losing ground in December were orders for computers/electronics (-8.3 percent), communications equipment (-5.0 percent), machinery (-0.4 percent), and electrical equipment/appliances (-0.1 percent). Rising during the month were orders for fabricated metal products (+0.3 percent). Orders for civilian capital goods net of aircraft—a proxy of business investment—fell 0.7 percent during the month.

#5Agricultural prices grew in December. The Department of Agriculture reports that its index for prices received by farmers grew by 1.8 percent during the month to a reading of 89.9 (2011=100). Despite the increase during the month, the measure remained 2.4 percent below its year-ago mark. Crop prices jumped 4.2 percent, led by higher prices for vegetables/melons, feed grains, and grains/oilseed. Livestock prices slipped 0.4 percent in December, with dairy prices slumping 3.5 percent but poultry/egg prices surging 3.4 percent.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:Jobless Claims (week ending February 16, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 216,000 (-23,000 vs. previous week; -2,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 235,750 (+3.7% 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.

The Fed Is ‘Patient,’ Employers Speed Hiring: January 28 – February 1

The Fed hits the breaks while the job creation motors on. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending February 2.

Note that the partial shutdown of the federal government delayed the release of certain economic data reports.

#1The FOMC leaves its short-term interest rate target unchanged and suggests that they may stay put for a while. The statement released following the past week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee noted that “the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a solid rate.” As a result, the committee decided to keep the fed funds target rate at a range between 2.25 and 2.50 percent. The statement also said that it is the “most likely” outcome that “sustained” economic growth will continue with inflation remaining near the Fed’s two-percent target. But at the same time, the FOMC “will be patient” as to if/when it decides to change the fed funds target rate, noting “global economic and financial developments.” Written another way, it appears the Fed’s campaign to hike its short-term interest rate target may be taking an extended hiatus.

#2U.S. payrolls expanded for a 100th consecutive month in January. Nonfarm payrolls expanded by 304,000 on a seasonally basis during the month, the largest single-month gain in employment since last February. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ revisions to November and December knocked payrolls estimates for the two months by a net 70,000 jobs. Private sector employers added 296,000 workers in December, split between 72,000 on the goods-producing side of the economy and 224,000 in the service sector. Among the industries added the most jobs in January were leisure/hospitality (+74,000), construction (+52,000), health care/social assistance (+45,400), professional/business services (+30,000), and transportation/warehousing (+26,600). Average hourly earnings inched up by three cents during the month to $27.56 (+3.2 percent versus January 2018) while average weekly earnings grew by $1.03 to $950.82 (+3.5 percent versus Januar 2018).

Based on a separate survey of households, the unemployment rate inched up by 1/10th of a point to 4.0 percent (just under January 2018’s 4.1 percent unemployment rate). The labor force participation rate also added 1/10th of a point to 63.2 percent. The same measure for adults aged 25-54 added 1/10th of a point 82.4 percent. The median length of unemployment decreased by 2/10ths of a week to 8.9 weeks (January 2018: 9.4 weeks) while the count of part-time workers seeking a full-time opportunity blossomed by 490,000 to 5.147 million (the increase reflecting private sector contractors losing work from the partial federal government shutdown). Also reflecting the impact from the shutdown was the broadest measure of the labor underutilization (the U-6 series), which swelled by a half point to 8.1 percent. 

#3Economic activity picked up slightly in December. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted index of 85 economic indicators, added six-basis points during the month to a reading of +0.27. This was the measure’s best reading since last August. Forty-six of the economic indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI during the month while the other 35 made negative contributions. Of the four major categories of economic indicators, two made larger positive contributions during December: production-related contributions (a positive 22-basis point contribution, up from a two-basis point contribution in November) and employment (a basis point increase to a +0.11 contribution). Smaller contributions came from indicators tied to sales/orders/inventories (a neutral contribution versus a +0.12 contribution in November) and personal consumption/housing (a negative six-basis point contribution versus -0.03 in November). The CFNAI’s three-month moving average grew by four-basis points to +0.16, indicative of above-average economic growth.

#4January was a harsh month for consumer sentiment. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index shed 6.4 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 120.2 (1985=100), its lowest reading since July 2017. A weaker outlook for the future was the cause of most of the decline in the headline index—the expectations index fell 10.4 points to 87.3. The present conditions index had a far more modest decline as it decreased by 3/10ths of a point to 169.6. The press release linked the depressed headline and expectation indices on “financial market volatility and the government shutdown.” 37.4 percent of survey respondents described current business conditions as “good” versus 11.1 percent said that they were “bad.” Similarly, 46.6 percent of consumers reported that jobs were “plentiful” versus a mere 12.9 percent saying that were “hard to find.”

Also falling was the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment, which declined by 7.1 points to a seasonally adjusted 91.2 (1966Q1=100). The measure was 4.5 points below its January 2018 mark as it fell to its lowest reading since the 2016 election. The current conditions index lost 7.3 points to a reading of 108.8 (January 2018: 110.5) while the expectations index declined 7.1 points to 79.9 (January 2018: 86.3).  The press release warned that it the continuing budget “standoff” continues, it could result in sustained declines in consumer sentiment and spending that “could push the economy into a recessionary downturn.”

#5Manufacturing activity picked up in January. The PMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Report on Business—added 2.3 points during January to a reading of 56.6. “This represented a partial rebound from December’s 4.5 point drop and was the 29th straight month in which the PMI was above a reading of 50.0, indicative of an expanding manufacturing sector. Three of five PMI components improved from their December marks: new orders (up 6.9 points), production (up 6.4 points), and inventories (up 1.6 points). Components for supplier deliveries (-2.8 points) and employment (-0.5 points) dropped versus December. Fourteen of 18 tracked manufacturing industries expanded during December, led by textiles, computer/electronics, and plastic/rubber products. The press release noted while the sector “continues to expand, reversing December’s weak expansion, but inputs and prices indicate fundamental changes in supply chain constraints.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending January 26, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 253,000 (+53,000 vs. previous week; +19,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 220,250 (-5.9% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Pending Home Sales (December 2018, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 99.0 (-2.2% vs. November 2018, -9.8% vs. December 2017).
New Home Sales (November 2018, New Homes Sold, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 657,000 (+16.9% vs. October 2018, -7.7% vs. November 2017).
Construction Spending (November 2018, Value of Construction Put in Place, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): $1.300 (+0.8% vs. October 2018, +3.4% vs. November 2017).
Bankruptcy Filings (12-month period ending December 31, 2018, Business and Nonbusiness Filings): 773,418 (-2.0% vs. 12-month period ending December 31, 2017).
Agricultural Prices (November 2018, Prices Received by Farmers): +3.5% vs. October 2018, -3.6% vs. November 2017. 

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

Home Sales Sputtered Again: What We Learned During the Week of January 21 – 25

Home sales disappointed again during the final days of 2018.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending January 25.

Note that the partial shutdown of the federal government has delayed the release of certain economic data reports.

#1Existing home sales plummeted as 2018 ended. The National Association of Realtors indicates sales of previously owned homes dropped 6.4 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 4.99 million units. This was the measure’s worst showing since November 2015 and represented a 10.3 percent decline from a year earlier. Sales fell in all four Census regions on both a month-to-month and year-to-year basis, including double-digit percentage drops over the previous year in the West (-15.0 percent) and Midwest (-10.5 percent). Also falling during the month was the number of unsold homes on the market, with inventories shrinking 5.1 percent to 1.550 million units. This was equivalent to a very tight 3.7 month supply (smallest since last March). The median sales price of $253,600 was a 2.9 percent gain from a year earlier. NAR’s press release included a bit of optimism for the near-term, stating that “with mortgage rates lower, some revival in home sales is expected going into spring.”

#2Forward-looking economic indicators suggest a showdown in December. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) lost 1/10th of a point to a reading of 111.7 (2016=100), its second drop in three months. Even with the December’s decline, the LEI has risen 4.3 percent over the past year. The partial federal government shutdown delayed the release of some government economic data, which forced the Conference Board to estimate values of some LEI components. With that caveat in mind, six of the LEI’s ten components made positive contributions in December, led by first-time jobless claims, the Leading Credit Index, and the interest rate spread. Improving during the month were both the coincident and lagging indices. The former gained 2/10ths of a point to 105.1 (+2.1 percent versus December 2017) while the latter added a half point to 106.7 (+2.8 percent versus December 2017). The press release stated that the effects of the partial government shutdown had not yet been reflected in the data, but the drop in the LEI suggests “the economy could decelerate towards 2 percent growth by the end of 2019.”

#3Jobless claims fell to a nearly 50-year low in mid-January. The Department of Labor estimates there were a seasonally adjusted 199,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending January 19. This was 13,000 claim decline from the prior week and the fewest reported since the week ending November 15, 1969(!). By comparison, there were 229,000 first-time claims made during the same week a year ago. The four-week moving average of first-time claims was at 215,000, off 9.5 percent from a year earlier. 2.216 million people were receiving some form of unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending January 5, down 9.7 percent over the previous year

#4Home prices rose at a solid pace in November. The Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA) reports that its purchase-only House Price Index grew 0.4 percent during the month on a seasonally adjusted basis. This matched October’s gain, along with that of June, July, and August (September’s increase was slightly smaller 0.3 percent.) The index grew in six of nine Census regions, including sizable gains in the South Atlantic (+1.1 percent), Middle Atlantic (+1.0 percent), West South Central (+1.0 percent), and East South Central (+0.9 percent). Prices fell in the Pacific (-0.8 percent), East North Central (-0.2 percent), and West North Central (-0.1 percent) regions. FHFA’s price measure of homes purchased with a conforming mortgage has risen 5.8 percent over the past year with favorable 12-month comparables in all nine Census regions.

#5Crude oil and gasoline inventories expanded in mid-January. The Energy Information Administration tells us that U.S. crude oil inventories—net of what is held in the Strategic Oil Reserve—grew by 8.0 million barrels during the week ending January 18 to 445.0 million barrels. This was up 8.1 percent from the same week a year earlier and “about” nine percent above the five-year average for this time of the year. Gasoline inventories grew 4.0 million barrels during the same week to 295.6 million barrels, up 6.4 percent from a year earlier. Inventories of distillates contracted by 0.6 million barrels to 142.4 million barrels (+1.9 percent versus the week ending January 19, 2018). The average retail prices of gasoline—$2.25—was 12.3 percent below that of mid-January 2018.

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