The Fed Shares One Final Gift Before the Holidays: December 17 – 21

The Federal Reserve hiked its short-term interest rate target for a fourth and final time in 2018. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending December 21.

#1The Fed bumps up short-term rates but forecasts fewer hikes in 2019. The statement released following last week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee once again noted that “the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a solid rate.” Also, it indicated that core inflation was near its two-percent target rate, but also pointed out that business investment had “moderated.” Unlike with previous statements, this one included a comment that the committee “will continue to monitor global economic and financial developments and assess their implications for the economic outlook.” This is a reference to (among other things) the potential impact of tariffs, Brexit and partial government shutdowns. With all of this in mind, the committee voted unanimously to bump up the fed funds target rate by a quarter point to range between 2.25 and 2.50 percent. The hike was widely expected, despite some external cajoling to the contrary.

Released in conjunction with the policy statement was economic projections of Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents and one big takeaway was an expectation for slightly slower economic growth than previously predicted. The median forecast now has gross domestic product (GDP) growing 2.3 percent in 2019, whereas the previous prediction had growth at 2.5 percent. The median projection for the unemployment rate next year remained at 3.5 percent, but the core inflation rate now is expected to be 2.1 percent in 2019 (versus the previous 2.0 percent forecast). Most notable is the median prediction among FOMC members now has two hikes in the fed funds target rate in 2019—previously, FOMC members had anticipated three hikes next year.Fed Funds Target Rate Forecast.png

#2A revised Q3 GDP estimate continued to show robust economic growth. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ third estimate of Q3 gross domestic product has the U.S. economy expanding at a healthy 3.4 percent seasonally adjusted annualized rate. This was just below the 3.5 percent rate of expansion reported in the first two previously published estimates. The downward revision was a product of lower than previously believed estimates of consumer spending and exports (only partially counterbalanced by an upward revision to private inventory accumulation). Corporate profits (with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments rose 3.5 percent to $2.321 trillion (+10.4 percent versus 2017 Q3).

#3Personal spending remained resilient in November. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates real (inflation-adjusted) personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month. While this was half of October’s 0.6 percent bounce, it leaves real PCE up 2.8 percent over the past year. Real spending on goods rose 0.9 percent during November while services expenditures expanded at a more modest 0.2 percent. The 12-month comparables for both were a solid +3.4 percent and +2.8 percent, respectively. Funding the increased spending were 0.2 percent gains for nominal personal income and both real and nominal disposable income. Real disposable income has grown by 2.8 percent over the past year. The savings rate was +6.0 percent, down 1/10th of a percentage point from October.

#4Sales of previously owned homes grew for a second straight month after showing general weakness for much of 2018. The National Association of Realtors reports existing home sales increased 1.9 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.32 million units. Despite the rise, home sales were 7.0 percent under its year-ago market, representing the largest negative 12-month comparable since November 2011. Sales grew during the month in three of four Census regions, with the West’s 6.3 percent decline being the outlier. All four Census regions experienced negative year-to-year sales trends: West (-15.4 percent), South (-5.6 percent), Midwest (-4.3 percent), and Northeast (-2.6 percent). Inventories contracted 5.9 percent during November to 1.74 million units (+4.2 percent versus November 2017 and the equivalent to a 3.9-month supply). The median sales price has risen 4.2 percent over the past year to $257,700.

#5Consumer sentiment ends the year on a high note. The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment added 8/10ths of a point in December to a seasonally adjusted 98.3. This places the sentiment measure 2.4 points ahead of its year-ago mark and keeps it within the same five-point range where it has been over the past two years. In December, the present conditions index added 3.8 points to 116.1 (December 2017: 113.8) while the expectations index shed 1.1 points to 87.0 (December 2017: 84.3). The press release notes that 2018 was the best year for the headline index’s 12-month average (98.4) since 2000.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending December 15, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 214,000 (-27,000 vs. previous week; +8,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 222,000 (-6.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Leading Indicators (November 2018, Index (2016=100), seasonally adjusted): 111.8 (+0.2% vs. October 2018, +5.2% vs. November 2017).
Durable Goods (November 2018, New Orders for Manufactured Durable Goods, seasonally adjusted): $250.8 billion (+0.8% vs. October 2018). Nontransportation goods new orders: $163.8 billion (-0.3% vs. October 2018).
Housing Starts (November 2018, Housing Units Started, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 1.256 million (+3.2% vs. October 2018, -3.6% vs. November 2017).
Housing Market Index (December, Index (>50 = “Good” housing market, seasonally adjusted): 56 (vs. November 2018: 60; December 2017: 74).
Treasury International Capital Flows (October 2018, Net Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): -$6.5 billion (vs. September 2018: +$7.5 billion; vs. October 2017: +$10.5 billion.
State Employment (November 2018, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Vs. October 2018: Payrolls grew in 4 states and were essentially unchanged in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Vs. November 2017: Payrolls grew in 37 states and were essentially unchanged in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

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

Consumer Spending Bounced Back: November 26 – 30

Personal spending and overall economic activity were resilient in October.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending November 30.

#1Consumers continued spending in October. The Census Bureau reports that real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) grew 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, up from a 0.1 percent gain in September. Spending on goods advanced 0.3 percent, with gains for durable and nondurable goods of 0.4 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively. Spending on services expanded 0.5 percent during October. Without adjustments for inflation, PCE rose 0.6 percent, funded by 0.5 percent growth in both nominal personal income and nominal disposable income. With inflation adjustments, real disposable income increased 0.3 percent. Over the past year, real PCE has grown 2.9 percent, funded by a 2.8 percent rise in real disposable income. October’s savings rate of +6.2 percent was 1/10th of a percentage point below that of the prior month.Income and Spending 113018

#2The second estimate of Q3 GDP growth matched that of the first. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 3.5 percent, matching the prior month’s published estimate of economic growth. This report reflects larger than previously believed levels of nonresidential fixed investment and private inventory accumulation counterbalanced by lower levels of consumer spending and exports. The contributors to Q3 GDP growth were, in declining order, consumption, private inventory accumulation, government expenditures, and nonresidential fixed investment. Drags on Q3 economic growth were imports, exports, and residential fixed investment. This report also features the first estimate of Q3 corporate profits, which increased 3.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of $2.318 trillion (+10.3 percent from a year earlier).

#3Economic growth picked up slightly in October. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators indexed such that a reading of 0.00 indicates economic growth at the historical average, grew by ten-basis points during the month to a seasonally adjusted +0.24. Fifty of the 85 indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI, with 51 indicators gaining from their September readings. Among the four major categories of indicators, only those tied to employment made a larger positive contribution to the headline index (rising from a +0.05 to +0.19 contribution). Slumping slightly during the month were indicators linked to production (from a +0.09 to +0.05 ) and personal consumption/housing (from -0.04 to -0.05). Indicators tied to sales/orders/inventories made the same +0.04 contribution that they had made in September.

#4New home sales sank in October. The Census Bureau places new home sales at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 544,000 units, down 8.9 percent for the month, 12.0 percent under the year-ago pace, and its worst month since March 2016. Sales fell in all four Census regions, with drops of 22.1 percent in the Midwest, 18.5 percent in the Northeast, 7.7 percent in the South, and 3.2 percent in the West. Further, only the West did not have a negative double-digit percentage 12-month comparable, albeit with a modest 1.3 percent gain. Inventories of unsold new homes grew 4.3 percent to 336,000 units (+17.5 percent versus October 2017), the equivalent to a 7.4 month supply (the most since February 2011).

#5Contract signing activity for home purchases fell in October. The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) from the National Association of Realtors lost 2.7 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 102.1 (2001=100). The measure fell in three of four Census regions: West (-8.9 percent), Midwest (-1.8 percent), and South (-1.1 percent). Contract signing activity edged up 0.7 percent in the Northeast. The PHSI has fallen 6.7 percent over the past year (this was the 10th consecutive month with a negative 12-month comparable), with declines in all four Census regions: West (-15.3 percent), Midwest (-4.9 percent), South (-4.6 percent), and Northeast (-2.9 percent).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending November 24, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 234,000 (+10,000 vs. previous week; -4,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 223,250 (-7.5% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Agricultural Prices (October 2018, Prices Received by Farmers): -3.5% vs. September 2018, -3.0% vs. October 2017.
FHFA House Price Index (September 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. August 2018, +6.0% vs. September 2017.
Case Shiller Home Price Index (September 2018, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.3% vs. August 2018, +5.1% vs. September 2017.
FOMC Minutes

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

GDP Jumped Again in Q3, New Home Sales Slowed in September: October 22 – 26

The U.S. economy chugged along during Q3, albeit at a slower pace than before.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending October 26.

#1GDP moderated during Q3, propped up in part by inventory gains. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ first estimate of third-quarter 2018 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) finds the U.S. economy expanded 3.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis between July and September. While down from Q2’s 4.2 percent increase, this was the second best quarter for GDP since Q2 2014. The biggest positive contributor to Q3 GDP growth was personal consumption, which added 269-basis points to the final figure. The second largest contributor was the $113.1 billion increase in private inventories, which swelled GDP by 207-basis points. (The large impact of the expansion in inventories may signal a slower GDP growth rate in Q4 as business burn through these stockpiles.) Rising government expenditures contributed 56-basis points to GDP growth while business investment (fixed nonresidential investment) added 12-basis points. Trade became a significant drag on economic growth as falling exports and rising imports led to net exports having a negative GDP contribution of -0.45. Housing also continued to flag with a third straight quarterly negative contribution (-0.16). The BEA will revise its Q3 GDP estimate twice over the next two months.GDP-2015-8 102618

#2Economic growth slowed specifically in September. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators, lost ten basis points during the month to a reading of +0.17 (the fourth straight month in which the CFNAI came in with a positive reading). Even though the CFNAI’s three-month moving average slipped by six-basis points to +0.21, the moving average’s continued positive reading was indicative of economic growth above the historical average. Forty-six of the 85 tracked indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI while 36 indicators advanced during the month. Three of four major categories of indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI: production (+0.11), employment (+0.07), and sales/orders/inventories (+0.05). Indicators related to consumption/housing had a negative contribution of -0.05.

#3Durable goods flew in September because of defense aircraft orders. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured durable goods jumped 0.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $262.1 billion, its third gain in four months. Leading the way was a 1.9 percent gain in orders for transportation goods, boosted by a 119.1 percent surge in orders for defense aircraft and a 1.3 percent rise in orders for motor vehicles. Durable goods orders net of transportation equipment inched up by only 0.1 percent. Rising during the month were orders for machinery (+0.8 percent), and primary metals (+0.1 percent) while orders fell for fabricated metal products (-0.7 percent), electrical equipment/appliances (-0.5 percent), computers (-0.4 percent), and communications equipment (-0.1 percent). Also slumping was a proxy for business investment as non-aircraft civilian capital goods orders slipped 0.1 percent.

#4New home sales slumped again in September. Sales of single-family homes fell 5.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 553,000 units, per the Census Bureau. Sales declined in three of four Census regions: Northeast (-40.6 percent), West (-12.0 percent), and South (-1.5 percent). Transactions increased by 6.9 percent in the Midwest. Sales were off 13.2 percent from a year earlier, with deals down in the Northeast (-51.3 percent), West (-15.8 percent), and South (-11.4 percent). Again, the Midwest was the exception with a positive 12-month comparable of +4.1 percent. Inventories of new homes continued to grow, with a 2.8 percent increase to 327,000 units (+16.8 percent versus September 2017). This was the equivalent to a 7.1 month supply.

#5Consumer sentiment flagged ever so slightly in October. The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment pulled back by 1.5 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 98.6 (1966Q1=100). While 4/10ths of a point of drop from the preliminary October reading reported a few weeks ago and 2.1 points below the year-ago reading, the sentiment measure remained near its post-recession highs. The current conditions index shed 2.1 points during the month to 113.1 (October 2017: 116.5) while the expectations index’s decline was smaller, losing 1.2 points to 89.3 (October 2017: 90.5). Partisanship continued to have a significant influence on one’s sentiment—the headline index for those identifying as Republican was 126.4, compared to 81.0 for those identifying as a Democrat and 96.2 for those who view themselves of politically independent.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending October 20, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 215,000 (+5,000 vs. previous week; -19,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 211,750 (-11.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
FHFA House Price Index (August 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +03% vs. July 2018, +6.1% vs. August 2017.
Beige Book

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