Consumer Spending Wobbled Again: May 27 – 31

Real consumer spending failed to grow in April. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 31.

#1Personal spending growth matched price gains in April. Real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) were unchanged on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, down from a 0.9 percent jump in March. Real spending on goods grew 0.1 percent, as a 0.3 percent bounce in spending of nondurables outweighed a 0.4 percent drop for durables expenditures. Real spending on services slipped 0.1 percent. The same Bureau of Economic Analysis report has the PCE deflator, a measure of inflation, growing by 0.3 percent during the month, which means nominal (not price adjusted) personal spending rose 0.3 percent during the month. The increase in spending was funded by gains in nominal personal and disposable income of 0.5 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. Real disposable income advanced 0.1 percent. The savings rate edged up by 1/10th of a percentage point to +6.2 percent. Over the past year, real disposable income has grown 2.2 percent, while real spending expanded 2.7 percent.Personal Spending 2018-9 053119

#2A revision finds Q1 economic expansion was slightly less robust than previously believed. The Bureau of Economic Analysis lowered its growth estimate of first quarter 2019 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of +3.2 percent to +3.1 percent. The downward revision was the result of lower than previously believed levels of business investment and private inventory accumulation. Q1 GDP growth outpaced that of the final three months of 2018 (+2.2 percent) but was slower than that of Q2 (+4.2 percent) and Q3 (+3.4 percent). Contributors to Q1 economic growth were (in declining order) personal spending (adding 90-basis points to the increase in GDP), the change in private inventories (+60-basis points), exports (+58-basis points), imports (+39-basis points), government expenditures (+42-basis points), and fixed nonresidential investment (+31-basis points). Residential fixed investment—i.e., housing—subtracted 13-basis points from Q1 GDP growth. The same report included the BEA’s first estimate of Q1 corporate profits, which sank 2.8 percent from the prior quarter. 

#3Consumer sentiment firmed in May. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index added 4.9 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 134.1 (1985=100), near its 18-year high. The present conditions index added 6.2 points to 175.2 while the expectations index grew by 3.9 points to 106.6. 38.3 percent of survey respondents described current business conditions as “good” while only 10.2 percent seeing them as “bad.” Similarly, 47.2 percent of survey respondents viewed jobs as being “plentiful” versus only 10.9 percent sensing jobs were “hard to get.” The press release stated the results “suggest no significant pullback in consumer spending in the months ahead.

#4…But one survey hints that confidence softened towards the end of the month. The Index of Consumer Sentiment from the University of Michigan came in at 100.0 (100=1966Q1), up 2.8 points from April 2019 and 2.0 points from May 2018. All of the increase came from a brighter outlook for the future as the expectations index surged by 5.9 points to 93.5 (May 2018: 89.1). The current conditions slipped 2.3 points to 110.0, which also was 1.8 points below its year-ago mark. The press release noted that even though the index had gained from April, “confidence significantly eroded in the last two weeks of May.”

#5Home purchase contract activity slowed in April. The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) pulled back 1.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 104.3 (2001=100). This left the measure of contract signings of previously owned homes 2.0 percent below from its year-ago reading. The PHSI grew 1.3 percent in the Midwest but lost ground in the South (-2.5 percent), Northeast (-1.8 percent), and West (-1.8 percent). The measure had negative 12-month comparables in all four Census regions. The press release said that despite the pullback in the PHSI, “it’s inevitable for sales to turn higher in a few months.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending May 25, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 215,000 (+3,000 vs. previous week; -6,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 216,750 (-1.5% vs. the same week a year earlier).
FHFA House Price Index (March 2019, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.1% vs. February 2019, +4.9% vs. March 2018.
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (March 2019, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.1% vs. February 2019, +2.7% vs. March 2018.
Agricultural Prices (April 2019, Prices Received by Farmers): +1.1% vs. March 2019, +0.1% vs. April 2018. 

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

Housing Paused in April: May 20 – 24

Home sales—and overall economic activity—were sluggish in April.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 24.

#1Existing home sales slowed in April. The National Association of Realtors tells us that sales of previously owned homes slipped 0.4 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.190 million units. Sales grew 1.8 percent in the West but had slowed 4.5 percent in the Northeast and 0.4 percent in the South while holding even in the Midwest. Existing home sales were 4.4 percent below their year-ago sales pace, with negative 12-month comparables in all four Census regions. Home supplies improved a bit (but remained tight) as the count of unsold homes grew 9.6 percent to 1.830 million units. This was up 1.7 percent from a year earlier and the equivalent to a 4.2 month supply of homes. The median sales price of $267,300 represented a 3.6 percent increase over the past year. NAR’s press release noted that “job creation is improving, causing wage growth to align with home price growth, which helps affordability and will help spur more home sales.”

#2…As did new home sales. Sales of new single-family homes dropped 6.9 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 673,000 homes, per the Census Bureau. Even with the drop, new home sales were up 7.0 percent versus a year earlier and were near a post-recession high. Sales slumped in three of four Census regions during the month: West (-8.3 percent), Midwest (-7.4 percent), and South (-7.3 percent). All four regions enjoyed positive 12-month sales comparables. There were 332,000 unsold new homes available for sale at the end of April, down 0.9 percent from March, up 11.0 percent from a year earlier, and the equivalent to a 5.9 month supply.

#3Economic activity pulled back in April. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators indexed such that a reading 0.00 signals the U.S. economy was growing at its historical average—lost 50-basis points during the month to a reading of -0.45. Only 33 of the 85 indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI while the other 52 made negative contributions. The contributions from three of four major categories of indicators declined during the month: production (down 40-basis points to -0.44), consumption/housing (down five basis points to a neutral contribution), and sales/orders/production (down five basis points to +0.01). Indicators tied to employment improved slightly with a one-basis point gain to +0.04. The CFNAI’s three-month moving average shed 38-basis points to -0.22, suggesting the U.S. economy was expanding at a below average rate.

#4Transportation goods—and in particular civilian craft—led to a drop in durable goods orders. The Census Bureau estimates the value of new orders of manufactured new goods slumped 2.1 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted $248.5 billion New orders for transportation goods fell 5.9 percent as civilian aircraft orders slowed 25.1 percent and motor vehicle orders declined 3.4 percent. Net of transportation goods, new orders were unchanged for the month at $163.0 billion. Rising during the month were orders for computers (+4.0 percent), electrical equipment/appliances (+0.9 percent), fabricated metal products (+0.4 percent), and machinery (+0.1 percent). New orders contracted for communications equipment (-5.5 percent) and primary metals (-0.8 percent). Also slumping was a proxy for business investment—civilian non-aircraft capital goods—as it dropped 0.9 percent.

#5Jobless claims remained relatively sparse in mid-May. The Department of Labor reports that there were a seasonally adjusted 211,000 first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending May 18, down 1,000 from the prior week and 16,000 from the same week a year earlier. The four-week moving average of initial jobless claims shrank by 4,750 during the week to 220,250. While up 1.0 percent from the same week a year earlier, the measure remains close to its nearly five-decade low. 1.565 million people were receiving some form of unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending May 4, off 3.6 percent from the same week a year earlier.

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

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

Economic Growth Moved Forward in Q1: April 22 – 26

The U.S. economy grew faster than expected during the first three months of this year. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 26.  

#1GDP rebounded in Q1. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ initial estimate of first quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has the U.S. economy expanding at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 3.2 percent. This up from Q4 2018’s 2.2 percent growth rate, but below the Q2 and Q3 paces of expansion of +4.2 percent and +3.4 percent, respectively. The biggest positive contributors to Q1 GDP were personal consumption (adding 82-basis points to the growth rate), change in private inventories (contributing 65-basis points), imports (58-basis points), exports (45-basis points), government expenditures (41-basis points), and nonresidential fixed investment (38-basis points). Dragging down Q1 GDP was residential fixed investment, which cost 11-basis points in economic growth. The BEA will revise its estimate of Q1 GDP twice over the next two months.GDP Growth 2015-2019 042619

#2Economic data suggest business activity picked up in March. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted index of 85 economic measures, improved by 16-basis points during the month to a reading of -0.15, its best reading since last December. (The CFNAI is designed such that a 0.00 reading indicates the U.S. economy is growing at its historical average.) Thirty-seven CFNAI components made positive contributions to the headline index, with 47 others making negative contributions and one with a neutral contribution. Among the four major categories of indicators, three of four made improved contributions in March: sales/orders/inventories made a +0.05 contribution (up from +0.01 in February), employment improved by 12-basis points to -0.03, and production improved by two-basis points to -0.10. Losing a basis point was the contribution from personal consumption/housing (to -0.07). The CFNAI’s three-month moving average slumped by six basis points to -0.24, which suggests below average economic growth.

#3Existing home sales pulled back in March following February’s bounce. The National Association of Realtors indicates that sales of previously owned homes dropped 4.9 percent during March to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.21 million units. This followed an 11.2 percent sales surge in February. Sales fell in all four Census regions: Midwest (-7.9 percent), West (-6.0 percent), South (-3.4 percent), and South (-2.1 percent). Existing home sales were 5.4 percent behind their March 2018 pace, with negative 12-month comparables in all four Census regions. There were 1.68 million homes on the market at the end of March, which was the most since last November, up 2.4 percent from a year earlier, and the equivalent to a 3.9 month supply. The press release noted that sales were “underperforming in relation to the strength in the jobs markets.

#4But new home sales rose in March. The Census Bureau reports that sales of single-family homes increased 4.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 692,000 units. This was 3.0 percent ahead of the March 2018 sales pace. Sales grew during the month in three of four Census regions—Midwest (+17.6 percent), West (+6.7 percent), and South (+3.6 percent—but dropped 22.2 percent in the Northeast. There were 344,000 new homes available for sale at the end of March, up 13.2 percent from a year earlier and the equivalent to a 6.0 month supply.

#5Consumer confidence eased slightly in April. The Index of Consumer Sentiment lost 1.2 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 97.2 (1966Q1=100), per the University of Michigan. While the measure was off 1.6 points from a year earlier, it has stayed within a relatively narrow ten-point range (91.2 to 101.4) since November 2016. Losing a full point was the current conditions index to 112.3 (April 2018: 114.9) while the expected conditions index shed 1.4 points to 87.4 (April 2018: 88.4). The press released noted that the “data indicate that inflation-adjusted personal consumption expenditures will grow by 2.5 percent in 2019.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 20, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 230,000 (+37,000 vs. previous week). 4-week moving average: 206,000
Durable Goods Orders (March 2019, New Orders for Manufactured Durable Goods, seasonally adjusted): $258.5 billion (+2.7% vs. February 2019).
Bankruptcy Filings (12-Month Period through March 31, 2019, Business and Non-Business Filings): 772,646 (-0.9% vs. March 31, 2018).- FHFA House Price Index (February 2019, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.3% vs. January 2019, +4.9% vs. February 2018.

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