Cash Registers Rang Louder in July: August 13 – 17

Retail sales expanded while growth in manufacturing slowed. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 17.

#1Retail sales heated up in July. The Census Bureau estimates retail and food services sales rose 0.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted $507.5 billion. This was an improvement from the downwardly revised 0.2 percent sales gain in June. Sales grew 0.2 percent at auto dealers/parts stores and 0.8 percent at gas stations (think higher gas prices). Net of auto dealers and gas stations, core retail sales jumped 0.6 percent in July following a 0.2 percent bump in June. Sales improved during the month at apparel retailers (+1.3 percent), restaurants/bars (+1.3 percent), department stores (+1.2 percent), grocery stores (+0.8 percent), and electronics/appliance retailers (+0.1 percent). Sales lost traction at retailers focused on sporting goods/hobbies (-1.7 percent), furniture (-0.5 percent), and health/personal care (-0.4 percent). Retail sales have risen 6.4 percent over the past year while the core retail sales measure has a 12-month comparable of +5.6 percent.Retail Sales June-July 2018 081718

#2Industrial production slowed in July. The Federal Reserve reports industrial production crept up a modest 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month following a 1.0 percent jump in June. Growth in manufacturing slowed to a 0.3 percent increase in July after having surged 0.8 percent during the previous month. Production of durable goods gained 0.4 percent (including increases of around 1.0 percent for motor vehicles and computers/electronics) while the output of nondurables inched up 0.2 percent (with higher output of apparel, petroleum/coal products, chemicals, and plastics/rubber products). Mining output, which has surged 12.9 percent over the past year, slipped 0.3 percent during July (even as oil and gas extraction continued to rise). Utility output slowed for the third straight month with a 0.5 percent decline.

#3Forward-looking economic indicators further strengthened in July. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) jumped by 7/10ths of a point to 110.7 (2016=100). This was an improvement from the 6/10ths of a point gain in June and leaves the LEI 5.1 percent ahead of its year-ago reading. July’s increase was broad-based as nine of the LEI’s ten components made positive contributions, led by the count of jobless claims staying near multi-decade lows. The coincident index grew by 2/10ths of a point to 104.2, a 2.4 percent increase from a year earlier as all four components made positive contributions. The lagging index slipped by 2/10ths of a point to 105.2 with only two of seven components growing during the month. The backward-looking measure was still 2.3 percent above its July 2017 mark. The press release noted that the LEI’s reading indicates economic growth will be “at a solid pace for the remainder of this year.”

#4Housing starts sputtered during July. Housing starts edged up 0.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.168 million units, per the Census Bureau. This was a weak rebound to June’s 12.9 percent drop and left housing starts 1.4 percent below the July 2017 pace. Starts of single-family home gained 1.9 percent while those of construction with more five or more units increased 3.1 percent. Starts weakened in the West (-19.6 percent) and Northeast (-4.0 percent) but improved in both the Midwest (+11.6 percent) and South (+10.4 percent). Looking towards the future, the annualized rate of issued building permits grew 1.5 percent during the month to 1.311 million permits (+4.2 percent versus July 2017). Issued permits increased for both single-family (+1.9 percent) and multi-family (+1.7 percent). Fewer homes were completed during the month—the annualized count of homes completed slumped 1.7 percent to 1.188 million units (-0.8 percent versus July 2017). Single-family home completions plummeted 5.2 percent during the month while multi-family completions gained 8.2 percent.

#5Small business owner optimism inches ever so close to a 35-year high. The Small Business Optimism Index added 7/10ths of a point in July to a seasonally adjusted reading of 107.9 (1986=100). This was not only a 2.7 point gain from a year earlier, it was the measure’s best reading since July 1983 (which itself was the best reading for the National Federation of Independent Business index in its 45-year history). Six of the ten index components improved from their June readings, including three-point gains for indices tracking expected real sales, plans to increase employment, and whether it is a good time to expand. Only two measures—current inventories and plans to increase inventories—declined from their June readings. The press release notes that business owners “anticipate more sales and better business conditions.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 11, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 212,000 (-2,000 vs. previous week; -24,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 215,500 (-10.5% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (July 2018, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): Unchanged vs. June 2018, +4.8% vs. July 2017. Nonfuel imports:  -0.3% vs. June 2018, +1.3% vs. July 2017.
Export Prices (July 2018, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.5% vs. June 2018, +4.3% vs. July 2017. Nonagricultural imports: Unchanged vs. June 2018, +5.0% vs. July2017.
Housing Market Index (August 2018, Index (>50=”Good” housing market, seasonally adjusted): 67 (vs. July 2018: 68, vs. August 2017: 67).
Productivity (2018 Q2-preliminary, Nonfarm Business Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): +2.9% vs. 2018Q1 +1.3% vs. 2017Q2.
State Employment (July 2018, Change in Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Vs. June 2018: Increased in 6 states, decreased in 1, and essentially unchanged 43 states and the District of Columbia. Vs. July 2017: Increased in 34 states and essentially unchanged in 16 states and the District of Columbia
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (August 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 95.3 (July 2018: 97.9 August 2017: 96.8).
Treasury International Capital Flows (June 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): -$45.5 billion (vs. May 2018: +$20.3 billion, vs. June 2017: +$35.5 billion).

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

Manufacturing and Retail Thrived in June: July 16 – 20

A series of economic news points to activity heating up during the first days of summer. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending July 20.  

#1Manufacturing (and industrial production as a whole) rebounded in June. The Federal Reserve indicates manufacturing output gained 0.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, following a 1.0 percent pullback in May. Virtually all of June’s gain was on the durable goods side, where production swelled 1.6 percent. This included a 7.8 percent surge in automobile production (which had slumped 8.6 percent in May) and gains of at least one-percent for computers/electronics, wood products, and aerospace/transportation equipment. Nondurable output eked out a 0.1 percent increase during June. Overall industrial production grew 0.6 percent during the month following May’s 0.5 percent drop. Mining output increased 1.2 percent (with oil and gas extraction leading the way). Meanwhile, utility output slumped 1.5 percent. Over the past year, industrial production has grown 3.8 percent, with positive 12-month comparables for manufacturing (+1.9 percent), mining (+12.9 percent), and utilities (+5.0 percent).Industrial Production Manufacturing 072018

#2Retail sales remained solid as we entered the summer. The Census Bureau estimates retail and food service sales grew 0.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $506.8 billion. This was 6.6 percent ahead of the year-ago sales pace. Net of sales at auto dealers/parts stores (+0.9 percent) and gas stations (+1.0 percent, thanks to higher prices at the pump), core retail sales increased by a still decent 0.3 percent during the month and has grown 5.6 percent over the past year. The report also featured significant upward revisions to May sales, showing the headline and core sales rising 1.3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. Sales improved during June at retailers focused on health/personal care (+2.2 percent), building materials (+0.8 percent), and furniture (+0.6 percent). Sales also jumped 1.5 percent at restaurants/bars. But the news was not positive everywhere, with sales slumping at sporting goods/hobby stores (-3.2 percent), apparel retailers (-2.5 percent), electronics/appliance retailers (-0.4 percent), and grocery stores (-0.2 percent). 

#3Forward-looking economic indicators point to an accelerating U.S. economy in June. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) added a half point to a seasonally adjusted reading of 109.8 (+5.8 percent versus June 2017). Seven of the ten components of the LEI made positive contributions during the month, led by new orders as measured by the Institute for Supply Management and the interest rate spread. The coincident index gained by 3/10ths of a point to 103.9 (+2.3 percent versus June 2017), aided by positive contributions for all four its components (including industrial production and nonfarm payrolls). The lagging index also increased by 3/10ths of a point (to a reading of 105.4, +2.7 percent versus June 2017). Four of the seven lagging index components made positive contributions, including those for the amount of outstanding commercial & industrial loans and the average length of unemployment. The press release said that the results do “not suggest any considerable growth slowdown in the short-term.”

#4Housing construction slowed in June. The Census Bureau reports that housing starts sank 12.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.173 million units. This represented a 4.2 percent decline from the June 2017 pace. Single-family home starts dropped 9.1 percent to 858,000 units (SAAR), just 0.2 percent under the year-ago pace while multifamily units started fell 20.2 percent to 304,000 units (-15.3 percent versus June 2017). Also declining was the annualized number of building permits, down 2.2 percent for the month to 1.301 million permits (-3.0 percent versus June 2017). The rate of housing completions held firm for the month at 1.261 million homes, which was nevertheless 2.3 percent ahead of that from a year earlier.

#5Homebuilders have remained confident this summer. The Housing Market Index (HMI) from the National Association of Home Builders held steady at a seasonally adjusted reading of 68. Not only was this the third time over the past four months in which the HMI was at 68, it also was the 49th consecutive month the index was above a reading of 50 (indicative of more homebuilders viewing the housing market as being “good” versus being “poor.” The HMI improved in the Midwest, was unchanged in the Midwest but lost ground in both the West and Northeast. The index measuring current sales of single-family homes remained at 74 while the expected sales index shed two points to 73. The index tracking the traffic of prospective buyers added two points to 52. The press release noted that even with the solid level of confidence, homebuilders are “burdened by rising construction material costs.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending July 14, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 207,000 (-8,000 vs. previous week; -32,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 220,500 (-9.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Business Inventories (May 2018, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.937 trillion (+0.4% vs. April 2018, +4.4% vs. May 2017).
Treasury International Capital Flows (May 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$20.3 billion (vs. April 2018: +$22.6 billion, vs. May 2017: +$95.5 billion).
Beige Book

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

Tight Inventories, Rising Materials Prices Weigh on Housing: June 18 – 22

Tight inventories continued to hold back the housing market during the spring. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 22.

#1Existing home sales stagnated during May. Sales of previously owned homes slipped 0.4 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.430 million homes. This left the National Association of Realtors’ home sales measure down 3.0 percent from May 2017 levels. Sales grew during the month on in the Northeast (+4.6 percent) while activity fell in three of four regions versus the previous year (Sales held steady versus May 2017 levels in the South). While still very tight, the number of homes on the market grew 2.8 percent during the month to 1.85 million units. This was nevertheless 6.1 percent below the year-ago level of inventories and the equivalent to a 4.1 month supply. As a result, the median sales price for existing homes has grown 4.9 percent over the past year to $264,800. The press release notes that “[i]ncredibly low supply continues to be the primary impediment to more sales.”Existing Home Sales June 2018-062218

#2Activity in the Midwest drives a rise in housing starts. The Census Bureau reports that housing starts grew 5.0 percent during May to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.350 million homes. This was 20.3 percent ahead of the year-ago pace of starts. Single-family home starts grew 3.9 percent during the month to an annualized 936,000 (+18.3 percent versus May 2017) while multifamily units starts jumped 11.3 percent to an annualized 404,000 units (+27.4 percent versus May 2017). Only one region—the Midwest—enjoyed a month-to-month increase in starts. Looking toward the future, the number of issued housing permits of 1.364 million (SAAR), which was off 4.6 percent for the month but still 8.0 percent ahead of the year-ago rate. The annualized rate of housing completions grew 1.9 percent during May to 1.291 million homes. This was up 10.4 percent from the same month a year earlier. 

#3Higher raw material prices weigh on homebuilder sentiment. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index (HMI) lost two points in June to a seasonally adjusted reading of 68. Even with the modest drop, the HMI has been above a reading of 50—where a higher percentage of homebuilders see the housing market as “good” than view it as “poor”—for 48 straight months. During the month, the HMI improved in the Northeast and West but lost ground in the Midwest and South. Indicies for both current (75) and expected sales (76) each lost a point, as did the measure tracking prospective buyers traffic (50). The press release stressed that builders remained optimistic, but also they were “increasingly concerned that tariffs placed on Canadian lumber and other imported products are hurting housing affordability.”

#4Economic indicators suggest continued economic growth for the remainder of the year. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index added 2/10ths of a point in May to a seasonally adjusted reading of 109.5 (2016=100). The measure has grown 6.1 percent over the past year. Seven of the LEI’s ten components made positive contributions during the month, led by new manufacturing orders, the interest rate spread, and consumers’ expectations for business conditions. The coincident index also increased by 2/10ths of a point during May with the 103.7 reading representing a 2.2 percent gain from a year earlier. Three of four coincident index components made positive contributions: nonfarm payrolls, personal income net of transfer payments, and manufacturing & trade sales. The lagging index added a half point to a reading of 105.2 (+2.7 percent versus May 2017). The press release noted that while economic growth would remain “solid,” May’s smaller increase suggests that “economic activity is not likely to accelerate.”

#5Layoff activity remained slow in mid-June. There were a seasonally adjusted 218,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending June 16, down 3,000 from the prior week and 26,000 for the same week a year earlier. The Department of Labor’s jobless claims data can be volatile week-to-week, so analysts frequently look at four-week moving data to spots trends. But the story is much the same—the moving average was at 221,000, which was 10.0 percent below that of a year earlier. Further, the four-week moving average has been below 300,000 for an impressive 172 consecutive weeks.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
FHFA House Price Index (April 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted):  +0.1% vs. March 2018, +6.4% vs. April 2017. 

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