Home Sales Chilled (Again) in January: February 18 – 22

Home sales faltered again in early 2019. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending February 22.  

#1Sales of previously owned homes fell for the ninth time in ten months in January. The National Association of Realtors’ estimate of existing home sales dropped 1.2 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 4.94 million units. This left the count of transactions 8.5 percent below that of a year earlier to its lowest point since November 2015. Sales fell in three of four Census regions: West (-2.9 percent), Midwest (-2.5 percent), and South (-1.0 percent). Only the Northeast enjoyed a sales increase during the month (+2.9 percent). While still tight, the number of homes on the market rose 3.9 percent to 1.59 million units (+4.6 percent vs. January 2018), the equivalent to a 3.9 month supply. The median sales price of $247,500 represented a 2.8 percent increase from January 2018. The press release states NAR’s belief that home sales “have reached a cyclical low.”

#2Meanwhile, homebuilders’ sentiment rebounded in February. The Housing Market Index (HMI) from the National Association of Homebuilders added four points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 62. The HMI has been above a reading of 50—meaning a higher percentage of homebuilders view the housing market as “good” rather than “poor”—for 56 straight months. The HMI improved in the Midwest (55) and South (66) but lost traction in the Northeast (45) and West (67). Also moving forward in February were indices for sales of single-family homes (up three points to 67), expected sales over the next six months (up five points to 68), and traffic of prospective buyers (up four points to 48). The press release stated that “many builders are reporting positive expectations for the spring selling season.

#3Forward-looking economic indicators slipped in January. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) lost 1/10th of a point to a 111.3 (2016=100), as the measure has stayed within 1/10th of a point range over the past four months. Even with the recent stagnation, the LEI has risen 3.5 percent over the past year. The coincident economic index added 1/10th of a point, placing it 2.3 percent ahead of its year-ago mark. The lagging economic index grew by a half point to 106.7. The measure has risen 2.6 percent since January 2018. The Conference Board, in noting that the LEI “has now been flat essentially since October 2018, indicates economic growth “will likely decelerate to about 2 percent by the end of 2019.” (The press release also noted that the recently ended partial federal government shutdown resulted in three of the ten components to the LEI being unavailable for analysis).

#4Durable goods orders expanded in December. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured durable goods totaled $254.4 billion, up 1.2 percent for the month. As normal, aircraft orders were a major driver to the headline number—a 28.4 percent increase in orders for civilian aircraft resulted in a 3.3 percent gain in transportation goods (motor vehicle orders increased 2.1 percent). Net of transportation goods, core durable goods orders inched up by a mere 0.1 percent. Losing ground in December were orders for computers/electronics (-8.3 percent), communications equipment (-5.0 percent), machinery (-0.4 percent), and electrical equipment/appliances (-0.1 percent). Rising during the month were orders for fabricated metal products (+0.3 percent). Orders for civilian capital goods net of aircraft—a proxy of business investment—fell 0.7 percent during the month.

#5Agricultural prices grew in December. The Department of Agriculture reports that its index for prices received by farmers grew by 1.8 percent during the month to a reading of 89.9 (2011=100). Despite the increase during the month, the measure remained 2.4 percent below its year-ago mark. Crop prices jumped 4.2 percent, led by higher prices for vegetables/melons, feed grains, and grains/oilseed. Livestock prices slipped 0.4 percent in December, with dairy prices slumping 3.5 percent but poultry/egg prices surging 3.4 percent.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:Jobless Claims (week ending February 16, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 216,000 (-23,000 vs. previous week; -2,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 235,750 (+3.7% vs. the same week a year earlier)- FOMC Minutes

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

Home Sales Sputtered Again: What We Learned During the Week of January 21 – 25

Home sales disappointed again during the final days of 2018.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending January 25.

Note that the partial shutdown of the federal government has delayed the release of certain economic data reports.

#1Existing home sales plummeted as 2018 ended. The National Association of Realtors indicates sales of previously owned homes dropped 6.4 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 4.99 million units. This was the measure’s worst showing since November 2015 and represented a 10.3 percent decline from a year earlier. Sales fell in all four Census regions on both a month-to-month and year-to-year basis, including double-digit percentage drops over the previous year in the West (-15.0 percent) and Midwest (-10.5 percent). Also falling during the month was the number of unsold homes on the market, with inventories shrinking 5.1 percent to 1.550 million units. This was equivalent to a very tight 3.7 month supply (smallest since last March). The median sales price of $253,600 was a 2.9 percent gain from a year earlier. NAR’s press release included a bit of optimism for the near-term, stating that “with mortgage rates lower, some revival in home sales is expected going into spring.”

#2Forward-looking economic indicators suggest a showdown in December. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) lost 1/10th of a point to a reading of 111.7 (2016=100), its second drop in three months. Even with the December’s decline, the LEI has risen 4.3 percent over the past year. The partial federal government shutdown delayed the release of some government economic data, which forced the Conference Board to estimate values of some LEI components. With that caveat in mind, six of the LEI’s ten components made positive contributions in December, led by first-time jobless claims, the Leading Credit Index, and the interest rate spread. Improving during the month were both the coincident and lagging indices. The former gained 2/10ths of a point to 105.1 (+2.1 percent versus December 2017) while the latter added a half point to 106.7 (+2.8 percent versus December 2017). The press release stated that the effects of the partial government shutdown had not yet been reflected in the data, but the drop in the LEI suggests “the economy could decelerate towards 2 percent growth by the end of 2019.”

#3Jobless claims fell to a nearly 50-year low in mid-January. The Department of Labor estimates there were a seasonally adjusted 199,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending January 19. This was 13,000 claim decline from the prior week and the fewest reported since the week ending November 15, 1969(!). By comparison, there were 229,000 first-time claims made during the same week a year ago. The four-week moving average of first-time claims was at 215,000, off 9.5 percent from a year earlier. 2.216 million people were receiving some form of unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending January 5, down 9.7 percent over the previous year

#4Home prices rose at a solid pace in November. The Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA) reports that its purchase-only House Price Index grew 0.4 percent during the month on a seasonally adjusted basis. This matched October’s gain, along with that of June, July, and August (September’s increase was slightly smaller 0.3 percent.) The index grew in six of nine Census regions, including sizable gains in the South Atlantic (+1.1 percent), Middle Atlantic (+1.0 percent), West South Central (+1.0 percent), and East South Central (+0.9 percent). Prices fell in the Pacific (-0.8 percent), East North Central (-0.2 percent), and West North Central (-0.1 percent) regions. FHFA’s price measure of homes purchased with a conforming mortgage has risen 5.8 percent over the past year with favorable 12-month comparables in all nine Census regions.

#5Crude oil and gasoline inventories expanded in mid-January. The Energy Information Administration tells us that U.S. crude oil inventories—net of what is held in the Strategic Oil Reserve—grew by 8.0 million barrels during the week ending January 18 to 445.0 million barrels. This was up 8.1 percent from the same week a year earlier and “about” nine percent above the five-year average for this time of the year. Gasoline inventories grew 4.0 million barrels during the same week to 295.6 million barrels, up 6.4 percent from a year earlier. Inventories of distillates contracted by 0.6 million barrels to 142.4 million barrels (+1.9 percent versus the week ending January 19, 2018). The average retail prices of gasoline—$2.25—was 12.3 percent below that of mid-January 2018.

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

Manufacturing Ends 2018 on a High Note: January 14 – 18

Factories were more active as 2018 wrapped up, but consumer sentiment softened in the early days of 2019. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending January 18. 

Note that the partial shutdown of the federal government has and will delay the release of certain economic data reports.

#1Manufacturing output surged in December. The Federal Reserve reports that manufacturing production jumped a seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent during the month, its biggest gain since last February and leaving output up 3.2 percent over the past 12 months. Durable goods production blossomed by 1.3 percent, boosted by significant gains for motor vehicles, nonmetallic mineral products, wood products, aerospace, and computers/electronics. Production of nondurables increased 0.9 percent, pulled up by petroleum/coal products and food/beverage/tobacco goods. Manufacturing output has grown by 3.2 percent over the past year. Overall industrial production gained 0.3 percent during December and had expanded 4.0 percent since December 2017. Mining output jumped 1.5 percent for the month and had swelled 13.4 percent over the past year (boosted by oil and gas extraction). Relatively moderate weather in December led to a 6.3 percent drop in output at utilities (-4.3 percent versus December 2017).Manufacturing 2016-8 011819.png

#2Wholesale prices fell in December. The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand dropped by 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month. This was the first decline in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ wholesale price measure since February 2017. The core measure of wholesale prices, which removes the impact of energy, food and trade services, was unchanged in December. PPI for energy plummeted by 5.4 percent (slightly greater than November’s 5.0 percent drop) as gasoline prices fell 13.1 percent. PPI for final demand food swelled 2.4 percent, as prices for fresh fruit surged 48.9 percent. PPI for final demand services contracted by 0.1 percent, pulled down by lower prices for trade services (-0.3 percent) and transportation & warehousing (-0.2 percent). For all of 2018, final demand PPI has risen 2.5 percent while the core measure gained 2.8 percent.

#3Many issued weighed heavily on consumers during the opening days of the new year. The preliminary January reading of the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment came in at 90.7, 7.6 points below the final December reading, five full points below the January 2018 mark, and its lowest reading since 2016. The current conditions slumped by 6.1 points to 110.0 (January 2018: 110.5) while the expectations index plummeted by 8.7 points to 78.3 (January 2018: 86.3). The press release noted that survey respondent’s “year-ahead outlook for the national economy [was] judged the worst since mid 2014,” blaming the greater pessimism on the “partial government shutdown, the impact of tariffs, instabilities in financial markets, the global slowdown, and the lack of clarity about monetary policies.” Look for the release of final January sentiment figures on February 1.

#4Homebuilder confidence slightly rebounded in January. The Housing Market Index (HMI) added two points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 58. Even with its first increase since October, the National Association of Home Builders’ measure is 14 points below its January 2018 mark. Nonetheless, this was the 55th consecutive month with an HMI above a reading of 50, indicative of a higher percentage of homebuilders saying the housing market was “good” as opposed as being “poor.” The HMI improved in two Census regions (Northeast, up 12 points to 48, and West, up five points to 70), was steady in the South (at 61), and shed three points in the Midwest (49). Improving from January were indices for current sales of single-family homes (up two points to 63), expected sales of new homes (up three points to 64), and traffic of prospective buyers (up a point to 44). The press release stated that “the gradual decline in mortgage rates in recent weeks helped to sustain builder sentiment.”

#5Much of December’s job growth was centered about eight states. The Bureau of Labor Statistics state-level employment report finds the following states had “statistically significant” increases in nonfarm payrolls during the month: Texas (+38,000), Florida (+22,800), Georgia (+16,700), Indiana (+13,200), Washington state (+11,400), South Carolina (+10,800), Colorado (+9,800), and Alabama (+8,100). Employment also had grown at other states, but not at “statistically significant” level. Relative to a year earlier, nonfarm payrolls increased in size in 40 states, with the largest year-to-year percentage gains in Nevada (+3.9 percent), Arizona (+3.4 percent), and Texas (+3.2 percent).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending January 12, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 213,000 (-3,000 vs. previous week; -13,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 220,750 (-8.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (December 2018, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): -1.0% vs. November 2018, -0.6% vs. December 2017. Nonfuel Imports: Unchanged vs. November 2018, +0.5% vs. December 2017.
Export Prices (December 2018, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.6% vs. November 2018, +1.1% vs. December 2017.
Beige Book

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