Perhaps (Slightly) Slower Growth: June 25 – 29

Last week featured a series of data pointing to a slight cooling of the economy. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 29. #1Personal spending paused in May. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) were unchanged on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, following gains of 0.3 percent and 0.6 percent during April and March, respectively. Spending on goods increased 0.3 percent (with equal 0.3 percent gains for both durable and nondurable goods) while expenditures on services dropped 0.2 percent. On a nominal (not price adjusted) basis, personal spending expanded 0.2 percent in May, funded by a 0.4 percent gain in both personal income and disposable income. Adjusting for inflation, real disposable income increased 0.2 percent during the month. Over the past year, real personal consumption has grown 2.3 percent over the past year while real disposable income has risen 1.7 percent. The difference was funded by reduced savings—the savings rate has dropped from +3.8 percent to +3.2 percent over the past year.Savings Rate 2013-2018 062918#2Q1 GDP growth was less robust than previously believed. The Bureau of Economic Analysis released its third estimate of first quarter 2018 Gross Domestic Product (GDP), now reporting that the U.S. economy had expanded 2.0 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis. This was down from the +2.2 percent and +2.3 percent growth rates reported over the two previous months and represented the slowest quarter for the U.S. economy in a year. The downward revision was the result of lower than previously reported levels of private inventory accumulation, consumption, and exports. Positive contributions to Q1 GDP growth came from (in descending order): nonresidential fixed investment (+128-basis points), consumption (+60-basis points), exports (+44-basis points), and government expenditures (+22-basis points). The same report finds that corporate profits grew 1.8 percent (seasonally adjusted) from Q4 2017 and 6.8 percent from the same quarter a year earlier.#3Economic growth appears to have slowed in May. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators, plummeted by 57-basis points to -0.15. This was the CFNAI’s first negative reading since January. Thirty-nine of the 85 index components made positive contributions to the CFNAI with 43 indicators improving from their April readings. Virtually all the CFNAI’s decline came from the indicators tied to production—the contribution to the CFNAI from production-related indicators plummeted from +0.33 to -0.29 during the month. Smaller moves came from indicators linked to sales/orders/inventories (from a neutral reading to +0.05), employment (up from +0.12 to +0.13), and personal consumption/housing (from -0.03 to -0.04). The CFNAI’s three-month moving average lost 13-basis points to +0.10. As the CFNAI is designed such that a 0.00 reading is indicative of the U.S. economy expanding at its historical economic growth rate, the +0.10 moving average suggests that the economy was growing slightly more quickly than average.#4Weakness in transportation pulled down durable goods orders in May. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured durable goods fell 0.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $248.8 billion. Transportation goods orders dropped 1.0 percent, pulled down not only by a 7.0 percent decline in civilian aircraft orders but also by motor vehicles orders plunging 4.2 percent. Net of transportation goods, durable goods orders slowed 0.3 percent. Among major categories, only machinery (+0.3 percent) enjoyed an increase in orders. Falling were orders for electrical equipment/appliances (-1.5 percent), fabricated metals (-1.2 percent), primary metals (-0.4 percent), and computers/electronics (-0.1 percent). New orders for nondefense capital goods net of aircraft—a proxy for business investment—slowed 0.2 percent during May.#5Consumers remained confident but seem slightly more wary about the future. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index lost 2.4 points to a seasonally adjusted reading of 126.4 (1985=100). The current conditions slipped by a mere 1/10th of a point to a still very robust 161.1 while the expectations index shed four full points to 103.2. 36.0 percent of survey respondents viewed current economic conditions as “good” while only 11.7 percent see them as “bad.” Similarly, 40.0 percent of Americans believe that jobs are “plentiful” versus 14.9 percent see them as “hard to get.” The press release notes that the pullback in expectations as indicating consumers not expecting “the economy gaining much momentum in the months ahead.”The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment eked out a 2/10ths of a point gain in June to a seasonally adjusted 98.2. While this represented a 1.1 point pullback from the preliminary June reading reported a few weeks ago, the final June mark was 3.2 points ahead of that from a year earlier. The current conditions measure jumped 4.7 points to 116.5 (June 2017: 112.4) while the expectations index shed 2.8 points to 86.3 (June 2017: 83.8). The press release links the headline index’s decline from its preliminary June reading to the building trade war, with one in four consumers making a note of the recently announced trade tariffs with most seeing them as having “a negative impact on the domestic economy.” Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending June 23, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 227,000 (+9,000 vs. previous week; -16,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 222,000 (-8.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
New Home Sales (May 2018, New Residential Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 689,000 (+6.7% vs. April 2018, +14.1% vs. May 2017).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (April 2018, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. March 2017, +6.6% vs. April 2017.
Agricultural Prices (May 2018, Prices Received by Farmers, seasonally adjusted): +1.7% vs. April 2018, -3.9% vs. May 2017.The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.

Job Creation, Consumer Spending Rise: May 28 – June 1

The labor market continued to chug along this spring. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 1.

#1Job creation accelerated while the unemployment rate fell to another post-recession low in May. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nonfarm payrolls expanded by a seasonally adjusted 223,000 jobs during the month, its largest single-month increase in three months and its 92 consecutive monthly gain. Public sector employers added 218,000 workers to their payrolls during the month while public sector payrolls expanded by 5,000. Industries adding the most jobs during May were health care/social assistance (+31,700), retail (+31,100), construction (+25,000), leisure/hospitality (+21,000), transportation/warehousing (+18,700), and manufacturing (+18,000). The average workweek held steady at 34.5 hours (May 2017: 34.4 hours) while the average for weekly earnings of $928.74 represented a 3.0 percent increase from that of a year earlier.

Nonfarm Payrolls 2014-2018-060118

Based on a separate survey of households, the unemployment rate slipped by 1/10th of a percentage point to 3.8 percent. The unemployment rate has not been this low since April 2000. The size of the labor force grew by a mere 12,000 while the labor force participation rate dropped by 1/10th of a percentage point to 62.7 percent (near its lowest reading in 40+ years). The labor force participation rate of adults aged 25-54 also declined by 1/10th of a percentage point to 81.9 percent. The typical length of unemployment was 9.2 weeks, down from 9.8 weeks in April and 10.4 weeks a year earlier. The broadest measure of labor underutilization—the U-6 series—shrank by 2/10ths of a percentage point to 7.6 percent. The same measure was at 8.4 percent a year earlier.

#2GDP growth slightly less robust during Q1 than previously thought. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first three months of 2018 was at $19.957 trillion on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR). After adjusted for inflation, real GDP grew 2.2 percent (SAAR) during Q1, just below the 2.3 percent increase reported a month earlier and under the 2.9 percent growth rate achieved during the final three months of 2017. The biggest positive contributors to Q1 GDP growth were (in descending order) nonresidential fixed investment (adding 105-basis points to GDP growth), personal spending (+71-basis points), government expenditures (+20-basis points), change in private inventories (+13-basis points), and net exports (+8-basis points). Residential fixed investment cost eight-basis point of GDP growth during the quarter. Corporate profits slipped 0.6 percent during Q1 but were 4.3 percent ahead of that from Q1 2017. The BEA will revise its Q1 GDP estimate again later this month.

#3Personal spending rose for a second straight month in April. Real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) grew 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis following a 0.5 percent bump in March. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that spending on goods and services each gained 0.4 percent, with the increases for the former split by +0.3 percent and +0.4 percent for durable and nondurable goods, respectively. The increase in spending outpaced the 0.2 percent gain in real disposable income. Funding the difference was a contraction in the savings rate (down 2/10ths of a percentage point +2.8 percent). Over the past year, real PCE has grown 2.7 percent while real disposable income has expanded 1.9 percent. The same report finds inflation—as measured by the PCE deflator—growing 0.2 percent during April and rising 2.0 percent over the past year. The same comparbles for the core deflator (which removes both energy and food) were +0.2 percent and +1.8 percent, respectively.

#4Purchasing and supply executives report manufacturing activity accelerated in May. The Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) added 1.4 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 58.7. This was the 21st straight month in which the PMI was above a reading of 50.0, indicating an expanding manufacturing sector. Four of five components of the index improved from their April readings: production (up 4.3 points to 61.5), new orders (up 2.5 points to 61.2), employment (up 2.1 points to 56.3), and supplier deliveries (up 9/10ths of a point to 62.0). The inventories index lost 2.7 points to 50.2. Sixteen of 18 tracked manufacturing sectors expanded during the month, led by textiles, nonmetallic mineral productions, and electrical equipment. The press release noted that survey respondents indicated that demand was “robust” but that tightness in both the labor market and supply chain are weighing on activity.

#5The private sector drove April construction spending. The Census Bureau places the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of construction put in place at $1.310 trillion, up 1.8 percent for the month and 7.6 percent from a year earlier. Private sector construction spending rose 2.8 percent to an annualized $1.014 trillion (+7.6 percent versus April 2017). Private sector residential construction spending jumped 4.5 percent, even though single-family home construction was flat during the month. Nonresidential spending increased 0.8 percent during April. Public sector construction spending slowed 1.3 percent during the month to an annualized $296.1 billion. Even with the decline, public sector spending has grown 7.7 percent over the past year. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending May 26, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 221,000 (-13,000 vs. previous week; -32,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 222.250 (-7.9% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Vehicle Sales (May 2018, Light Vehicle Retail Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 16.91 million units (-1.5% vs. April 2018, +0.7% vs. May 2017).
Conference Board Consumer Confidence (May 2018, Index (1985=100), seasonally adjusted): 128.0 (vs. April 2018: 125.6).
Pending Home Sales (April 2018, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 106.4 (vs. March 2018 = 107.8, vs. April 2018 = 108.7).
Agricultural Prices (April 2018, Prices Received by Farmers, not seasonally adjusted): -2.2% vs. March 2018, -3.1% vs. April 2017).
Beige Book

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

GDP Growth Downshifted in Q1: Week of April 23 – 27

Slower growth in consumer spending pulls back economic expansion during early 2018. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 27.

#1The U.S. economic growth decelerated during Q1. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ advance estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had the U.S. economy expanding at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of +2.3 percent. While this was the 16th consecutive quarter of GDP growth, it was the most modest pace of economic expansion in a year. The biggest culprit was a slowdown in the growth rate of consumer spending, which contributed only 73-basis points to Q1 GDP growth after having added 275-basis points during the final three months of 2017. Most other GDP components made positive contributions: fixed nonresidential investment (+0.76), change in private inventories (+0.43), net exports (+0.20), and government expenditures (+0.20). The only component that did not make a positive contribution was fixed residential investment, which had made neither a positive or negative contribution. The BEA will release its estimate of Q1 GDP growth twice over the next two months.2018 Q1 GDP contributors-042718

#2Economic indicators point to the economy expanding at a slower rate in March. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted index of 85 economic indicators, shed 88-basis points during the month to a reading of +0.10. Forty-four of the 85 economic indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI. Only two of the four major categories of economic indicators made net positive contributions (those associated with production and sales/orders/inventories) while measures tied to employment and personal consumption/housing pulled down the headline index. Experiencing a far less significant decline was the CFNAI’s three-month moving average, losing four basis points to +0.27. A reading above 0.00 is indicators of economic growth greater than the historical average.

#3Sales of both existing and new homes increased in March. Sales of previously owned homes grew 1.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.60 million units, per the National Association of Realtors. This was 1.2 percent below the year-ago sales pace. Sales grew in the Northeast (+6.3 percent) and Midwest (+5.7 percent) but slowed in the West (-3.1 percent) and South (-0.4 percent). Inventories remained extraordinarily tight but improved during the month—the 1.67 million homes available for sale at the end of March was a 5.7 percent gain from the prior month but still 5.7 percent fewer than that of a year earlier and translated into a mere 3.6 month supply. The median sales price of $250,400 represented a 5.8 percent increase over the previous year. Despite the upturn in home sales activity, the press release noted the “woefully low” supply of homes that was causing prices to rise “above what some would-be buyers can afford.”

The Census Bureau estimates the seasonally adjusted annualized sales pace of new home sales was at 694,000 in March, up 4.0 percent for the month and 8.8 percent over the past year. Virtually all of the month-to-month gain occurred in the West, where new home sales surged 28.3 percent. The 301,000 new homes available for sale at the end of March matched that of February, was 13.2 percent larger than that of a year earlier and was the equivalent to a 5.2 month supply. The median sales price of new homes was $337,200 in March, up 4.8 percent from the same month a year earlier.

#4Two surveys paint slightly different (if still solid) pictures of consumer sentiment. The Conference Board’s Consumer Sentiment Index added 1.7 points during April to a seasonally adjusted 128.7 (1985=100), leaving the measure near its post-recession high achieved in February. The present conditions index added 1.5 points to 159.6 while the expectations index gained 1.9 points to 108.1. 35.2 percent of survey respondents characterized current business conditions as “good” while only 11.3 percent saw them as “bad.” Similarly, 38.1 percent of consumer perceive the availability of jobs as being “plentiful” while 15.2 percent see them as “hard to get.” The press release noted that only six percent of consumers were “expecting their incomes to decline over the coming months,” the lowest percentage saying so since December 2000.

Losing pace was the Index of Consumer Sentiment, as measured by the University of Michigan. The index shed 2.6 points during April to a seasonally adjusted 98.8 (1966Q1=100). This was a full point improvement from the preliminary April reading reported a few weeks earlier and left the measure 1.8 points ahead of its year-ago mark. The current conditions index dropped 6.3 points to 114.9 while the expectations index pulled back by 4/10ths of a point to 88.4. The press release noted the survey respondents mostly had positive opinions about the recently enacted tax reform policies but were more pessimistic about the effects of recently proposed import tariffs.

#5A surge in aircraft orders led to a jump in durable goods orders in March. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured durable goods surged 2.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $254.9 billion. This was the fourth increase in durable orders over the past five months. Civilian aircraft orders swelled 44.5 percent during March, leading to a 7.6 percent increase in overall transportation goods orders. Net of transportation goods, however, new orders were unchanged for the month. Also gaining during the month were new orders for primary metals (+1.4 percent), computer/electronic products (+1.3 percent), and electrical equipment/appliances (+0.1 percent). Falling were new orders for machinery (-1.7 percent) and nondefense capital goods net of aircraft (-0.1 percent). The latter is a proxy for business investment and has declined in three of the past four months.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 21, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 209,000 (-24,000 vs. previous week; -43,000 vs. the same week a year earlier, and the fewest since December 1969). 4-week moving average: 229,250 (-6.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (February 2018, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted):  +0.7% vs. January 2018, +6.8% vs. February 2017.
FHFA House Price Index (February 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. January 2018, +7.2% vs. February 2017.
Agricultural Prices (March 2018, Prices Received by Farmers (Index (2011=100)): 94.9 (+4.5% vs. February 2018, +0.9%).

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