Home Sales & Starts Inched Up: November 19 – 23

Home sales and starts grew in October, but builder confidence stumbled nonetheless.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending November 23.

#1Existing home sales grew for the first time in seven months in October. Sales of previously owned homes increased 1.4 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.22 million units, its first increase since March. The National Association of Realtors tells us that sales grew in the three of four Census regions: West (+2.8 percent), South (+1.9 percent), and Northeast (+1.4 percent). Sales slipped 0.8 percent in the Midwest. Existing home sales have fallen a sharp 5.1 percent over the past year, with negative 12-month comparables in all four Census regions: West (-11.2 percent), Northeast (-6.8 percent), Midwest (-3.1 percent), and South (-2.3 percent). Inventories of homes available for sale remained very tight as there were 1.85 million homes on the market at the end of October, down 1.6 percent for the month and the equivalent to a 4.3 month supply. The median sales price of homes sold was $255,400, up 3.8 percent from that of a year earlier. This slower growth rate in home prices allowed, according to the press release, “for much more manageable, less frenzied buying conditions.”Existing Home Sales 112318

#2Housing starts grew, but homebuilders were less confident about the market. The Census Bureau reports that housing starts increased 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.228 million units. Even with the increase, starts were 2.9 percent behind the year-ago pace. October’s gain was solely on the multi-unit side—starts of five or more unit housing increased 6.2 percent during the month. Meanwhile, single-family home starts slowed 1.8 percent. Looking towards the future, the number of issues building permits slipped 0.6 percent to a SAAR of 1.27 million units (-6.0 percent versus October 2017). Fewer homes were finished as the new home housing completed fell 3.3 percent during the month to 1.111 million units (SAAR).

The Housing Market Index (HMI), the National Association of Home Builder’s measure of builders’ sentiment, plummeted by eight points to a seasonally adjusted 60. While this was the 53rd consecutive month in which the HMI was above a reading of 50—meaning more homebuilders see the housing market as “good” rather than “bad”—it was the index’s lowest mark since August 2016. The HMI fell sharply in all four Census regions: Northeast (down nine points to 52), West (down nine points to 65), Midwest (down six points to 54), and South (down five points to 65). Also losing ground were indices for single-family home sales (down seven points to 67), expected sales (down ten points to 65), and traffic of prospective buyers (down eight points to 45). The press release notes survey respondents had stated consumers were “taking a pause due to concerns over rising interest rates and home prices.”

#3Forward-looking economic indicators suggest moderating growth over the near-term. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) grew by only 1/10th of a point in October to a seasonally adjusted 112.1, its smallest increase since May and representing a still robust 5.9 percent gain over the past year. Five of the LEI’s ten components made positive contributions during the month, led by consumers’ economic expectations and the interest rate spread. The coincident index added 2/10ths of a point to a reading of 104.7, up 2.2 over the prior 12 months. All four coincident index components made positive contributions, including nonfarm payrolls and personal income net of transfer payments. The lagging index increased by 4/10ths of a point to 105.5 (+2.5 percent versus October 2017), with four of seven components making positive contributions. The press release stressed that the reading still suggests “robust economic growth in early 2019,” but also that rate of economic growth “may already have peaked.”

#4Durable goods orders slumped in October. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured durable goods plummeted 4.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted $248.5 billion, its third decrease over the past four months. Aircraft orders can be volatile month-to-month and tend to be a primary driver for the headline estimate of durable goods orders, and October was no exception. Civilian aircraft orders fell 21.3 percent and defense aircraft orders slumped 59.3 percent. As a result, overall transportation goods order declined 12.2 percent (motor vehicle orders inched up 0.2 percent). Net of transportation goods, durable goods orders eked out a 0,1 percent gain. Falling during the month were orders for primary metals (-2.3 percent) and machinery (-0.5 percent) while orders rose for electrical equipment/appliances (+2.9 percent), computers/electronics (+1.6 percent), and fabricated metal products (+1.0 percent). Weakness continued for core capital goods (i.e., civilian capital goods net of aircraft—a proxy for business investment), which were unchanged in October after having declined in both August and September.

#5Consumer sentiment edged down in November. The Index of Consumer Sentiment from the University of Michigan lost 1.1 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 97.5 (1966Q1=100). This reading was 8/10ths of a point below the preliminary November reading reported a few weeks ago and one full point under the November 2017 mark. The index has been within a relatively tight 5.7 point range over the past 12 months. The current conditions index shed 8/10ths of a point during the month to a reading of 112.3 (November 2017: 113.5) while the expectations index fell by 1.2 points to 88.1 (November 2017: 88.9). The press release noted that sentiment among lower-income survey respondents had improved during the month while that of higher income respondents had slumped.

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

Jobless Claims (week ending November 17, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 224,000 (+3,000 vs. previous week; -15,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 218,500 (-9.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).

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

A Record Number of Job Openings: October 15 – 19

Employers continued to have difficulty filling job openings in August. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending October 19.

#1The number of job openings jumped to another record high in August. Nonfarm employers had a seasonally adjusted 7.136 million job openings on the final day of August, up 59,000 for the month and 18.1 percent from a year earlier. (By comparison, there were 6.234 million people unemployed during the same month.) Among the industries that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported having the biggest year-to-year percentage gains in job openings were construction (+38.6 percent), financial activities (+28.7 percent), wholesale trade (+19.6 percent), accommodation/food services (+19.4 percent), retail (+18.0 percent), and manufacturing (+17.3 percent). Employers continued to struggle in filling these jobs as 5.784 million people were hired during August. While lagging the number of job openings, the number of people hired was up 71,000 for the month and 5.0 percent from August 2017. Industries with the greatest year-to-year percentage increases in hiring were retail (+18.6 percent), wholesale trade (+10.9 percent), and accommodation/food services (+6.2 percent). 5.706 million people left their jobs during August, up 110,000 for the month and 6.8 percent from a year earlier. 3.577 million workers voluntarily departed their jobs during the month, 12.7 percent ahead of a year-ago and indicative of workers confident about their job marketplace. Layoffs affected 1.622 million people, down 10.1 percent from the count of 12 months earlier.JOLTS August 18 101918

#2Manufacturing output grew modestly in September. The Federal Reserve reports that manufacturing output grew 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, following matching 0.3 percent gains in both July and August. Manufacturing output has increased 3.5 percent over the past 12 months. Durable goods manufacturing jumped 0.6 percent (led by motor vehicles, wood products, primary metals, and aerospace). Nondurable goods output slipped 0.1 percent, pulled down by textiles and apparel. Overall industrial production gained 0.3 percent in September and has risen 5.1 percent over the past year. Mining output jumped 0.5 percent for the month and 13.4 percent since September 2017, boosted by continued strength in both oil and gas extraction. Output at utilities was unchanged during September but has a 12-month comparable of +5.4 percent over the past year.

#3September was a weak month for retail sales. The Census Bureau estimates U.S. retail and food services sales inched up 0.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $509.0 billion. Even with the modest increase during September, sales have grown 4.7 percent over the past year. Sales at auto dealers/parts stores jumped 0.8 percent while gas station sales slowed 0.8 percent. Net of both, core retail sales were unchanged during September but have expanded 5.0 percent over the past 12 months. Sales improved during the month at retailers focused on furniture (+1.1 percent), electronics/appliances (+0.9 percent), sporting goods/hobbies (+0.7 percent), apparel (+0.5 percent), and building materials (+0.1 percent). Sales slumped, however, at restaurants/bars (-1.8 percent), department stores (-0.8 percent), and grocery stores (-0.1 percent).

#4Existing home sales sputtered again in September. The National Association of Realtors reports that sales of previously owned homes fell 3.4 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.15 million homes. This was not only a 4.1 percent drop from the same month a year earlier, it also was the measure’s seventh consecutive decline and the slowest pace of existing home sales in nearly three years. Sales failed to increase in all four Census regions, although transaction volume managed to hold even with August levels in the Midwest. All four Census regions had negative 12-month comparables: West (-12.2 percent), Northeast (-5.6 percent), Midwest (-1.5 percent), and the South (0.5 percent). A part of the problem remained a lack of homes on the market—there were 1.88 million homes available for sale at the end of September, down 1.6 percent from August but up 1.1 percent from a year earlier. This was the equivalent to a paltry 4.4 month supply of homes. The resulting median sales price has risen 4.2 percent over the past year to $258,100. NAR’s press release also ties recent sales weakness to “a decade’s high mortgage rates” that it says were “preventing consumers from making quick decisions on home purchases.”

#5The U.S. budget deficit surged 17.0 percent during the just-completed fiscal year. The U.S. Treasury Department reports that the federal government collected $3.329 trillion in receipts during the just completed FY2018, up 0.4 percent from FY2018. Outlays, however, jumped 3.2 percent during the same 12 months to $4.108 trillion. The resulting budget deficit of -$778.996 billion represented a 17.0 percent jump from FY2017. A closer look at receipts finds individual tax collections surged 6.1 percent during FY2018 while corporate tax receipts plummeted 31.1 percent. The U.S. government had accumulated a total debt of $21.460 trillion by September 30, 2018.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending October 13, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 210,000 (-5,000 vs. previous week; -20,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 211,750 (-13.9% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Housing Market Index (October 2018, Index (>50= Greater Percentage of Homebuilders Viewing Housing Market as “Good,” seasonally adjusted): 68 (vs. September 2018: 67, vs. October 2017: 68).
Housing Starts (September 2018, Starts, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 1.201 million units (-5.3% vs. August 2018, +3.7% vs. September 2017).
State Employment (September 2018, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Payrolls declined significantly vs. July 2018 in 3 states and were essentially unchanged in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Payrolls grew significantly vs. August 2017 in 37 states.
Treasury International Capital Flows (August 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$77.1 billion (vs. July 2018: +$32.4 billion, vs. August 2017: +$40.6 billion).
FOMC minutes

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

Home Sales Steady, Leading Indicators Firm: September 17 – 21

Existing home sales stalled while housing starts picked up. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending September 21.

#1Sales of previously owned homes held constant in August. The National Association of Realtors places the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate of existing homes at 5.34 million units, matching July’s sales pace and off 1.5 percent from a year earlier. Sales improved during the month in the Northeast (+7.6 percent) and Midwest (+2.4 percent) but slipped in the West (-5.9 percent) and South (-0.4 percent). Only in the South were existing home sales ahead of their year-ago pace. Also unchanged for the month was the inventory of unsold homes—the 1.92 million homes available for sale at the end of August was 2.7 percent larger than that of a year earlier but also represented a very tight 4.3 month supply. The resulting median sales price of homes sold has grown 4.6 percent over the past 12 months to $264,800. The press release was optimistic: “With inventory stabilizing and modestly rising, buyers appear ready to step back into the market.”Existing Home Sales Aug17-18 092118

#2Housing starts rebounded in August. The Census Bureau reports that housing starts rose 9.2 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.282 million units. This was 9.4 percent ahead of the August 2017 annualized rate of housing starts. Much of the gain was with multifamily units—starts of buildings with five or more units surged 27.3 percent to 392,000 (SAAR) while single-family unit starts gained a more modest 1.9 percent to 876,000 (SAAR). Looking towards the future, the number of issued construction permits slumped 5.7 percent to an annualized 1.303 million (-5.5 percent versus August 2017). The rate of issued permits fell during the month for single-family (-6.1 percent) and multi-family units (-8.0 percent). Housing completions increased 2.5 percent during August to a SAAR of 1.213 million homes. This represented an 11.2 percent improvement from the August 2017 rate of completions.

#3Homebuilder sentiment remained robust in September. The National Association of Home Builder’s Housing Market Index (HMI) stayed at a seasonally adjusted reading of 67 during the month. This was the 52nd straight month in which the HMI was above a reading of 50, meaning a greater percentage of homebuilders saw the housing market as being “good” as opposed to being “poor.” The HMI improved in the Northeast (61), slipped in the South (69) and Midwest (56), and held steady in the West (73). Gaining during the month were measures for current sales (up a point to 74) and expected sales (up two points to 74) of single-family homes while the measure of traffic of prospective buyers held steady of 49. The press release reported “firm demand for housing” but expressed concerned about both the trade tariffs’ impact on builders’ costs and rising interest rates possibly stemming housing demand.

#4Forward-looking economic indicators continued to point towards more growth this year and into 2019. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) added 4/10ths of a point to 111.2 (2016=100), up 6.4 percent from a year earlier. This was slightly smaller than the 6/10ths and 8/10ths of a point increases during the two prior months. Seven of the ten components that make up the LEI made positive contributions. The coincident index gained by 2/10ths of a point to 104.3 (+2.5 percent versus August 2017). All four components of the coincident index made positive contributions. The lagging index also increased by 2/10ths of a point to 105.4 (+2.3 percent versus August 2017), although only two of seven index components improved during August. While noting that the “strengths among the LEI’s components were very widespread,” the press release pointed out that its “growth trend has moderated since the start of the year.”

#5August’s job gains were centered mainly in just four states. The Bureau of Labor Statistics deeper state-level dive at employment trends for August finds that nonfarm payrolls had statistically meaningful increases in just four states: California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida. Payrolls were “essentially unchanged” in the other 46 states and the District of Columbia. Earlier this month, we had learned that nonfarm payrolls expanded by a seasonally adjusted 201,000 during August. Over the past year, employment had grown in 35 states with the biggest percentage gains in Utah (+3.5 percent), Nevada (+3.3 percent), and Washington state (+3.3 percent).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending September 15, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 201,000 (-3,000 vs. previous week; -54,000 vs. the same week a year earlier, lowest since November 1969). 4-week moving average: 205,750 (-21.8% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Treasury International Capital Flows (July 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$40.6 billion (vs. June 2018: -$45.5 billion, vs. July 2017: +$0.8 billion)

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