Increased Economic Activity, Decreased Durable Goods Orders: December 23 – 27

The U.S. economy expanded more quickly in November, but durable goods orders faltered. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending December 27.

#1Economic activity accelerated in November. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators, soared by 132-basis points during the month to its best reading since February 2018: +0.56. Fifty of the 85 indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI, with 64 measures improving from their October marks. All four major categories of indicators grew in November. Still, the most significant gains came from indicators tied to production (making a +0.49 contribution to the CFNAI) and employment (making a +0.12 contribution). The three-month moving average of the CFNAI improved by ten basis points to a reading of -0.25. (A moving average ranging between 0.00 and -0.70 is indicative of below-average economic growth.)

#2Durable goods orders fell hard in November. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured goods slumped 2.0 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $242.6 billion, its second decline in three months. A primary culprit was the sharp 72.7 percent drop in orders for defense aircraft. Net of defense goods, durable goods orders rose 0.8 percent. Among major industries segments, orders increased for electrical equipment/appliances (+2.0 percent), motor vehicles (+1.9 percent), fabricated metal products (+0.4 percent), computers/electronics (+0.2 percent). Orders declined for civilian aircraft (-1.8 percent), machinery (-1.6 percent), and primary metals (-0.3 percent). 

#3New home sales gained in November. The Census Bureau finds new single-family home sales grew 1.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 719,000 units. New home sales have risen 16.9 percent over the past year. Sales grew in the Northeast (+52.4 percent), and West (+7.5 percent), held steady in the Midwest, slowed 4.1 percent in the South. Three of four Census regions enjoyed positive 12-month comparables, with only the Midwest experiencing a year-to-year sales decline. There were 323,000 new homes for sale at the end of November (a 5.4 month supply), matching the October count but 3.3 percent below November 2018 levels. The median sales price of $330,800 was up 7.2 percent from a year earlier (it is worth noting that price comparisons are difficult because the mix of homes sold likely differ month-to-month).

#4Jobless claims remained well in check during the final days of 2019. The Department of Labor estimates there were a seasonally adjusted 222,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending December 21. This was down 13,000 from the prior week and 30,000 from two weeks ago (when the late Thanksgiving holiday had messed with seasonal adjustments), but essentially matched the year-ago count of 223,000 first-time claims. The four-week moving average of first-time claims edged up by 2,250 to 228,000. This represented a 3.1 percent increase from a year earlier.

#5Agricultural prices rose in November. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s index of the prices received by farmers increased by 4.6 percent to a reading of 88.6 (2011=100). This left the measure 0.2 percent ahead of its year-ago mark. Prices rose for eggs (+176.9 percent from the prior month), lettuce (+66.6 percent), cattle (+5.6 percent), and milk (+4.8 percent) but fell for corn, broilers, apples, and hogs. Meanwhile, cost pressures were held in relative check as the prices paid by farmers index inched up 0.3 percent to 110.4 (November 2018: 109.8). 

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

Consumers Check Their Spending: November 25 – 29

Personal spending and overall economic activity chilled in the fall weather. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending November 29.

#1Personal spending reflected caution in October. The Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, its smallest increase since February. Real spending on goods slumped 0.2 percent, pulled down by a 0.8 percent drop for durable goods. Expenditures on both nondurable goods and services each grew 0.2 percent. Nominal (not inflation-adjusted) PCE rose 0.3 percent, even as nominal personal income held steady and nominal personal income slipped 0.1 percent. Real disposable income dropped 0.3 percent. As a result, the savings rate shed 3/10ths of a point to +7.8 percent, its lowest point since July. Over the past year, real PCE has risen 2.3 percent, while real disposable income has grown 2.8 percent.Real Personal Consumption Expenditures: January - October 2019

#2The U.S. economy grew more robustly in Q3 than previously thought. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ second estimate of Q3 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) now places the quarter’s economic expansion at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) +2.1 percent, up from the previously reported 1.9 percent gain. The upward revision was due to higher than previously reported levels of private inventory accumulation, business investment, and personal spending. Of the major components of the economy, only those tied to personal spending, government spending, fixed residential investment, and private inventory accumulation led to GDP growth. The same report finds Q3 corporate profits were soft, edging up by a mere 0.2 percent during the quarter and off 0.8 percent from a year earlier. The BEA will update its Q3 GDP and corporate profits data once again on December 20. 

#3…But the rate of economic expansion appears to have decelerated sharply in October. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted index of 85 economic data points, lost 36-basis points during the month to a reading of -0.71. The CFNAI’s three-month moving average, which removes some of the month-to-month volatility, fell to its lowest mark since May with a ten-basis point loss to -0.31. The negative reading does not imply the U.S. economy contracted during the month, however, as the moving average remained above -0.70 (the marker for negative growth). Still, only 27 of the 85 economic indicators made a positive contribution to the CFNAI, while the other 58 measures had a negative impact. Indicators linked to production and employment had the most substantial negative impact on the CFNAI in October.

#4Durable goods orders showed some life in October. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured durable goods grew 0.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $248.7 billion. Transportation goods orders rose 0.7 percent, boosted by increases for both defense (+18.1 percent) and civilian (+10.7 percent) aircraft. Net of transportation goods, core durable goods orders gained 0.6 percent. Rising were orders for fabricated metal products (+1.8 percent), machinery (+1.3 percent), and computers/electronics (+0.7 percent). Orders slowed for electrical equipment/appliances (-1.7 percent) and primary metals (-1.4 percent). Signaling some vigor was business investment as civilian capital goods orders net of aircraft grew 1.2 percent in October.

#5New home sales slipped in October. The Census Bureau reports sales of new single-family homes decreased 0.7 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 733,000 units. Even with the decline, new home sales were 31.6 percent ahead of their year-ago pace. Sales grew during the month in two Census regions—West (+7.1 percent) and Midwest (+4.2 percent)—but slowed in the Northeast (-18.2 percent) and South (-3.3 percent). There were 322,000 new homes available for sale at the end of the month, up a modest 0.3 percent from September but off 3.3 percent from a year earlier. This was equivalent to a 5.3 month supply of homes on the market (versus a 7.2 month supply a year earlier).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending November 23, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 213,000 (-15,000 vs. previous week; -21,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 219,750 (-2.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Consumer Confidence Index (November 2019, Index (1985=100), seasonally adjusted): 125.5 (vs. October 2019: 126.1).
Pending Home Sales (October 2019, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 106.7 (vs. September 2019: 108.6; vs. October 2018: 102.2).
FHFA House Price Index (September 2019, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. August 2019, +5.1% vs. September 2018.
Agricultural Prices (October 2019, Prices Received by Farmers): -2.6% vs. September 2019, -0.6% vs. October 2018.
Beige Book

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

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.