Consumers Spend, Prices Hit a Target: August 27 – 31

Consumers focused their spending on nondurable goods and services during July. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 31.  

#1Consumers continued spending in July while inflation hits the Fed’s target. Real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased at a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent rate during the month. This was down from the 0.3 percent gains reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis for the three prior months. Spending on goods and services each grew by 0.2 percent during July, with the latter split by a 0.6 percent bump in nondurable goods spending and a 0.5 percent drop in durable goods spending. Nominal (non-price adjusted) PCE grew 0.4 percent for a second consecutive month. Nominal personal and disposable income gained 0.3 percent, with real disposable income rising 0.2 percent. The savings rate slipped by 1/10th of a percentage point to +6.7 percent. Over the past year, real disposable income has increased 2.9 percent while real PCE has expanded 2.8 percent. The same report includes data on inflation—the PCE deflator growing 0.1 percent during July with the core PCE deflator (removing energy and food) gained 0.2 percent. Over the past year, the two price measures have grown by 2.3 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively, with the latter matching the Federal Reserve’s two-percent inflation target.Consumer Spending April - July 2018 083118

#2GDP expanded a smidge faster than previously believed during Q2. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ second estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) for the months of April, May, and June has the U.S. economy expanding 4.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis. This was up from the 4.1 percent gain reported a month earlier and was the best quarter for GDP growth since the third quarter of 2014. The small upward revision was the result of higher than previously believed levels of business investment and private inventory accumulation partially offset by lower than the previously thought level of consumer spending. The sectors of the economy making positive contributions to GDP growth were (in declining order of contribution) were: personal spending (+255-basis points), fixed nonresidential investment (+107-basis points), exports (+110-basis points), government expenditures (+41-basis points), and imports (+7-basis points). Negative contributions came from private inventory accumulation (-97-basis points) and fixed residential investment (-6-basis points).

#3Economic growth “moderated” in July. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) lost 35-basis points to +0.13 (June 2017: -0.18). Since the CFNAI is a weighted averaged 85 economic measure indexed such that a reading of 0.00 is indicative of the U.S. economy growing at its historical rate, July reading suggests the economy continued to expand during the month but at a slower pace than it had in June. Thirty-four of the 85 indicators improved during the month while 51 had weakened. The components related to production made a total contribution to CFNAI of +0.05 (versus a +0.45 contribution in June). Also making positive contributions were measures related to employment (+0.12 versus a +0.03 contribution in June) and sales/orders/inventories (+0.03 versus a +0.06 contribution in June). The measures linked to personal consumption/housing had a negative contribution of -0.07 (versus -0.06 in June). The CFNAI’s three-month moving average remained positive at +0.05 despite losing 15-basis points from June (June 2017: -0.07).

#4One measure of consumer sentiment surged to an 18-year high while another pulled back. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index jumped 5.5 points in August to a seasonally adjusted 133.4 (1985=100). The index has not been this high since October 2000. Measures tracking both current and expected business conditions improved—the current conditions index increased from 166.1 to 172.2 while the expectations index added 5.4 points to 107.6. 40.3 percent of survey respondents described current business conditions as “good” while only 9.3 percent see them as “bad.” Similarly, 42.7 percent of respondents saw the availability of jobs as “plentiful” with only 12.7 percent described jobs as being “hard to get.” The press release states that the strong sentiment among consumers “should continue to support healthy consumer spending in the near-term.

Meanwhile, the Index of Consumer Sentiment from the University of Michigan lost 1.7 points during August to a seasonally adjusted 96.2 (1966Q1=100), its worst reading since January. While down 6/10ths of a point from a year earlier, this was a 9/10ths of a point improvement from the preliminary August reading reported several weeks ago. The measure tracking current business conditions shed 4.1 points to its lowest points since November 2016 at 110.3 (August 2017=110.9) while the expectations index slipped by only 2/10ths of a point to 87.1 (August 2017=87.7).

#5Contract signings to purchase a home slipped in July. The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index lost 8/10ths of a point to a seasonally adjusted reading of 106.2 (2001=100), leaving the measure 2.3 percent below its July 2017 reading. The index, which tracks contracts signed to purchase a previously owned home but have not yet closed, improved during the month in the Northeast (+1.0 percent) and Midwest (+0.3 percent), but lost ground in the South (-1.7 percent) and West (-0.9 percent). The index has negative 12-month comparables in all four Census regions: West (-5.8 percent), Northeast (-2.3 percent), Midwest (-1.5 percent), and South (-0.9 percent). NAR’s press release continued to express concern about “inadequate supply” leading to many homebuyers being “unable to afford” homes in some markets.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 25, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 213,000 (+3,000 vs. previous week; -25,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 212,250 (-10.9% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Agricultural Prices (July 2018, Prices Received by Farmers): -3.8% vs. June 2018, -4.3% vs. July 2017).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (June 2018, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.1% vs. May 2018, +6.3% vs. July 2017). 

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

Home Sales and Durable Goods Orders Take Steps Backward: August 20 – 24

Home sales continued to mellow this summer. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 24.

#1Existing home sales slipped for a fourth consecutive month in July. The National Association of Realtors reports that sales of previously owned homes inched down 0.7 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.34 million units, its slowest sales pace since February 2016. During the four-month losing streak, home sales have declined 4.6 percent. Sales dropped during July in three of four Census regions: Northeast (-8.3 percent), Midwest, (-1.6 percent), and South (-0.4 percent). Sales gained 4.4 percent in West. Sales were 1.5 percent below that of a year earlier, with negative 12-month comparables in all four Census regions. The number of homes available for sale held relatively stable versus both June and a year earlier at 1.92 million units, the equivalent to a tight 4.3 month supply. The median sales price of $269,600 represented a 4.5 percent increase from a year earlier. The press release stressed that the supply of homes is “still not at a healthy level, and new home construction is not keeping up to meet demand.”Existing and New Home Sales July 2018 082418

#2New homes slumped for a second straight month. The Census Bureau estimates new home sales were at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 627,000 units during July, down 1.7 percent from June but still 12.7 percent ahead of the July 2017 sales pace. New home sales improved in the West (+10.9 percent) and Midwest (+9.9 percent) but fell in the Northeast (-52.3 percent) and South (-3.3 percent). There were 309,000 new homes available for sale at the end of July (+2.0 percent versus June 2018 and +12.0 percent versus July 2017), the equivalent to a 5.9 month supply. The median sales price of $328,700 was up 1.8 percent from a year earlier.

#3Volatility in aircraft purchasing led to a slowdown in durable goods orders. New orders for durable manufactured goods slumped 1.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted $246.9 billion, per the Census Bureau. Transportation goods orders fell 5.3 percent thanks to huge drops in orders for both civilian (-35.4 percent) and defense (-34.6 percent) aircraft (orders of both tend to swing widely month-to-month). Motor vehicle orders gained 3.5 percent. Orders for durable goods other than transportation orders grew 0.2 percent, with increases for computers/electronics (+1.1 percent), machinery (+0.6 percent), and primary metals (+0.3 percent). Electrical equipment/appliances orders slipped 0.2 percent. New orders for civilian capital goods net of aircraft—a measure of business investment—jumped 1.4 percent. Durable goods shipments slipped 0.2 percent during the month to $250.8 billion, with the measure gaining 0.6 percent after removing the shipments of transportation goods.

#4Employers laid off relatively few workers during the late summer. There were 210,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending August 18, down 2,000 claims from the week earlier and 27,000 claims from the same week a year ago. Only twice has the Department of Labor’s estimate of initial jobless claims been this low since 1969—and both times have been within the past four months. The four-week moving average of first-time claims dropped to 213,750, down 10.8 percent from a year earlier and (also) just above its 49-year low. 1.704 million people (not seasonally adjusted) were receiving some form of unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending August 4, down 11.3 percent from a year earlier

#5House prices grew at a slower rate in June. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) indicates that its purchase-only House Price Index (HPI) grew 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month. (This measure tracks sales prices of homes purchased using mortgages that were sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.) The HPI increased in seven of nine Census regions, led by a 0.7 percent gain in the Mountain region, a 0.6 percent rise in the East North Central region, and a 0.5 percent bump in the Middle Atlantic. Prices declined 0.4 percent in both New England and the South Atlantic. Home prices have risen 6.5 percent over the past year, with positive 12-month comparables in all nine Census regions. The largest year-to-year percentage price gains were in the Mountain (+9.6 percent), Pacific (+7.0 percent) and South Atlantic (+6.7 percent) regions.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
FOMC Minutes

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

GDP Bloomed During the Spring, Home Sales Sputtered: July 23 -27

GDP grew at its fastest pace in nearly four years this past spring. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending July 27.

#1Q2 was a good quarter for economic growth. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ first estimate of second quarter 2018 gross domestic product (GDP) shows 4.1 percent growth on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis. This was the best quarter for GDP since the third quarter of 2014 and up from a revised 2.2 percent annualized growth rate during Q1. Most GDP components made positive contributions during Q1, led by a surge in personal consumption expenditures (adding 269-basis points to GDP growth during the quarter), net exports (+106-basis points, although some of this is believed the result of exporters moving soybeans and other goods out of the U.S. before trade tariffs take effect), nonresidential fixed investment (+94-basis points), and government expenditures (+37-basis points). Drags on Q2 GDP included a contraction in private inventories (costing one full percentage point in GDP growth) and tepid growth in fixed residential investment (i.e., housing, costing four-basis points). The BEA will revise its estimate of Q2 GDP twice over the next two months.GDP Contributors 072718

#2Economic activity accelerated during June. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted index of 85 economic measures, surged by 88-basis points during the month to a reading of +0.43. The three-month moving average, which the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago views as a “more consistent view of national economic growth,” added six basis points to a reading of +0.16. The CFNAI is indexed so that a 0.00 reading reflects economic growth at its historical average. Hence, a positive CFNAI indicates above average economic growth. Forty-five of the 85 economic indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI during the month. Rebounding strongly from May were indicators related to production, the contribution from which surging from -0.56 to +0.36. Also showing improvement were the components tied to sales/orders/inventories, growing by three-basis points to +0.06. Slipping slightly were indicators linked to employment (off three-basis points to +0.08) and personal consumption/housing (down two-basis points to -0.06).

#3Home sales slowed in June. Sales of previously owned homes declined 0.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.38 million units. This was the third consecutive monthly decline for the National Association of Realtors’ data series, leaving existing home sales 2.2 percent under its year-ago reading. Sales slumped during the month in the West (-2.6 percent) and South (-2.2 percent) but improved in both the Northeast (+5.9 percent) and Midwest (+0.8 percent). Among the four Census regions, only in the South were existing home sales up over the past year. Inventories loosened a bit, growing 4.3 percent to a still tight 1.95 million units (the equivalent to a 4.3 month supply). The median sales price of $276,900 was up 5.2 percent from a year earlier. The press release blames softening sales on a lack of inventory of homes that is keeping home prices “elevated.”

New home sales fell 5.3 percent during June to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 631,000 units, per the Census Bureau. Even with the decline, new home sales have grown 2.4 percent over the past year. New home sales slowed in three of four Census regions during the month, with the Northeast being the exception. Homebuilders had 301,000 homes available for sale at the end of June, up 1.7 percent from May and 10.3 percent from a year earlier. This was the equivalent to a 5.7 month supply.

#4Durable goods orders rebounded during June. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured goods soared 1.0 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $251.9 billion. New orders for transportation goods jumped 2.2 percent, led by a 20.2 percent bounce in defense aircraft orders, a 4.3 percent gain in civilian aircraft orders, and a 4.4 percent increase in motor vehicle orders. Net of transportation goods, core durable goods orders grew 0.4 percent. Increasing during the month were new orders for electrical equipment/appliances (+1.5 percent), computers/electronics (+0.6 percent), machinery (+0.2 percent), and fabricated metal products (+0.1 percent). Meanwhile, new orders for primary metals slowed 0.4 percent. New orders for nondefense capital goods net of aircraft—a proxy for business investment—increased 0.6 percent during the month.

#5Consumer sentiment held steady in July. The University of Michigan reports that its Index of Consumer Sentiment slipped by 3/10ths of a point to a seasonally adjusted reading of 97.9 (1966Q1=100). Note that this was an 8/10ths of a point improvement from the preliminary July reading published a few weeks ago and a 4.5 point gain from the same month a year earlier. The current conditions index shed 2.1 points during the month to a reading of 114.4 (July 2017: 113.4) while the expectations index added 7/10ths of a point to 87.3 (July 2017: 80.5). The press release noted that Americans remained confident “due to favorable job and income prospects” even as they expect “higher inflation and higher interest rates.” A potential warning sign is the growing percentage of survey respondents expressing concerns about the impact trade tariffs may have on business conditions and their personal finances. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending July 21, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 217,000 (+9,000 vs. previous week; -25,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 218,000 (-10.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
FHFA House Price Index (May 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. April 2018, +6.4% vs. May 2017.
Bankruptcy Filings (June 2018, 12-month Bankruptcy Filings): 775,578 (-2.6% vs. 12-month period ending June 30 2017).

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