GDP Jumped Again in Q3, New Home Sales Slowed in September: October 22 – 26

The U.S. economy chugged along during Q3, albeit at a slower pace than before.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending October 26.

#1GDP moderated during Q3, propped up in part by inventory gains. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ first estimate of third-quarter 2018 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) finds the U.S. economy expanded 3.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis between July and September. While down from Q2’s 4.2 percent increase, this was the second best quarter for GDP since Q2 2014. The biggest positive contributor to Q3 GDP growth was personal consumption, which added 269-basis points to the final figure. The second largest contributor was the $113.1 billion increase in private inventories, which swelled GDP by 207-basis points. (The large impact of the expansion in inventories may signal a slower GDP growth rate in Q4 as business burn through these stockpiles.) Rising government expenditures contributed 56-basis points to GDP growth while business investment (fixed nonresidential investment) added 12-basis points. Trade became a significant drag on economic growth as falling exports and rising imports led to net exports having a negative GDP contribution of -0.45. Housing also continued to flag with a third straight quarterly negative contribution (-0.16). The BEA will revise its Q3 GDP estimate twice over the next two months.GDP-2015-8 102618

#2Economic growth slowed specifically in September. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators, lost ten basis points during the month to a reading of +0.17 (the fourth straight month in which the CFNAI came in with a positive reading). Even though the CFNAI’s three-month moving average slipped by six-basis points to +0.21, the moving average’s continued positive reading was indicative of economic growth above the historical average. Forty-six of the 85 tracked indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI while 36 indicators advanced during the month. Three of four major categories of indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI: production (+0.11), employment (+0.07), and sales/orders/inventories (+0.05). Indicators related to consumption/housing had a negative contribution of -0.05.

#3Durable goods flew in September because of defense aircraft orders. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured durable goods jumped 0.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $262.1 billion, its third gain in four months. Leading the way was a 1.9 percent gain in orders for transportation goods, boosted by a 119.1 percent surge in orders for defense aircraft and a 1.3 percent rise in orders for motor vehicles. Durable goods orders net of transportation equipment inched up by only 0.1 percent. Rising during the month were orders for machinery (+0.8 percent), and primary metals (+0.1 percent) while orders fell for fabricated metal products (-0.7 percent), electrical equipment/appliances (-0.5 percent), computers (-0.4 percent), and communications equipment (-0.1 percent). Also slumping was a proxy for business investment as non-aircraft civilian capital goods orders slipped 0.1 percent.

#4New home sales slumped again in September. Sales of single-family homes fell 5.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 553,000 units, per the Census Bureau. Sales declined in three of four Census regions: Northeast (-40.6 percent), West (-12.0 percent), and South (-1.5 percent). Transactions increased by 6.9 percent in the Midwest. Sales were off 13.2 percent from a year earlier, with deals down in the Northeast (-51.3 percent), West (-15.8 percent), and South (-11.4 percent). Again, the Midwest was the exception with a positive 12-month comparable of +4.1 percent. Inventories of new homes continued to grow, with a 2.8 percent increase to 327,000 units (+16.8 percent versus September 2017). This was the equivalent to a 7.1 month supply.

#5Consumer sentiment flagged ever so slightly in October. The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment pulled back by 1.5 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 98.6 (1966Q1=100). While 4/10ths of a point of drop from the preliminary October reading reported a few weeks ago and 2.1 points below the year-ago reading, the sentiment measure remained near its post-recession highs. The current conditions index shed 2.1 points during the month to 113.1 (October 2017: 116.5) while the expectations index’s decline was smaller, losing 1.2 points to 89.3 (October 2017: 90.5). Partisanship continued to have a significant influence on one’s sentiment—the headline index for those identifying as Republican was 126.4, compared to 81.0 for those identifying as a Democrat and 96.2 for those who view themselves of politically independent.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending October 20, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 215,000 (+5,000 vs. previous week; -19,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 211,750 (-11.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
FHFA House Price Index (August 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +03% vs. July 2018, +6.1% vs. August 2017.
Beige Book

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.

Q4 GDP Revised Up, Consumer Spending Paused: March 26 – 30

Q4 GDP was revised upward, but consumer spending has been sluggish during the first two months of 2018. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending March 30.

#1A new estimate finds that the U.S. economy expanded during Q4 more quickly than previously reported. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ third estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) finds the U.S. economic swelled 2.9 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) during the final three months of 2017. This was up from the 2.5 percent annualized growth rate reported a month earlier. With the upward revision, BEA now estimates the U.S. economy expanded 2.3 percent for all of 2017, which was an improvement from the 1.5 percent growth rate in 2016 but below 2015’s 2.9 percent gain. The latest revision to Q4 GDP was the result of higher than previously believed levels of personal spending and private inventory investment. Positive contributors to GDP growth during the quarter were personal spending, fixed investment, and government spending, while net exports and private inventory accumulation were both drags on economic growth. Corporate profits slipped 0.1 percent during Q4 following a 4.3 percent bump during Q3.Gross Domestic Product 2000-2017-033018

#2The U.S. economy gained momentum in February. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted average of 85 economic indicators, surged by 86-basis points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of +0.88. This was the CFNAI’s best reading since last October. Much of the gain came from production-related economic indicators, which made a +0.50 contribution to the CFNAI (a big improvement from January when the same measures had made a negative -0.15 contribution). Also making positive contributions during the month were indicators tied to employment (+0.31) and sales/orders/inventories (+0.09). Dragging down the CFNAI were indicators related to consumption/housing (-0.02). In all, 63 of the 85 economic indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI. The CFNAI’s 3-month moving average gained by 21-basis points to +0.37. Since the CFNAI is indexed such that a reading of 0.00 means the U.S. economy is growing at its historical level, the +0.37 moving average indicates the U.S. economy is expanding at an above average rate.

#3Personal spending failed to grow for a second consecutive month. The Bureau of Economic Analysis finds real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) were unchanged during February after having contracted 0.2 percent during January. Even with the recent lack of increases, real PCE has increased 2.8 percent over the past year, matching January’s 12-month comparable. Real spending on services and goods also was steady during February, with the latter split between a 0.6 percent increase in spending on durable goods and a 0.3 percent contraction for nondurables. Over the past year, spending on goods has grown 4.3 percent while that on services was 2.1 percent ahead of year-ago levels. Real disposable personal income gained 0.2 percent during February, slower than January’s 0.6 percent advance. Over the past year, real disposable income has increased 2.1 percent. The gap between spending and income has been covered by a slowdown in savings, although this has recovered in recent months. The personal savings rate was at +3.4 percent in February, up 2/10ths of a percentage point from January. Finally, the Federal Reserve’s preferred gauge of inflation continues to gradually creep up. The PCE deflator has grown 1.8 percent over the past year while the core measure (which removes the impact of energy and food) gained 1.6 percent over the same 12 months.

#4Two measures of consumer sentiment moved in opposite directions during March, although both indicate that Americans remain optimistic. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index shed 2.3 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 127.7 (1985=100). Despite losing a step during the month, the measure remained 2.8 points ahead of its year-ago reading and stayed close to the 18-year high achieved in February. The present conditions index lost 1.3 points during March to a reading of 159.9 while the expectations index shed three full points to 106.2. 37.9 percent of survey respondents described current business conditions as “good” versus 13.4 percent seeing them as “bad.” Similarly, 39.9 percent of consumer saw the number of available jobs as “plentiful” while only 14.9 percent viewed them as “hard to get.” The press release noted that the results suggest “suggest further strong [economic] growth in the months ahead.”

The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment added 1.7 points during March to a seasonally adjusted 101.5 (1966Q1=100). While this was a small pullback from the preliminary March reading reported a few weeks earlier, this final reading represented a 14-year high point for the sentiment measure and a 4.5 point improvement over the previous year. The current conditions index jumped 6.3 points to a record-high of 121.2 (March 2017: 113.2) while the expectations index slipped 1.2 points to 88.8 (March 2017: 86.5). The press release indicates that the index readings suggest a real growth rate in real personal spending of 2.6 percent from mid-2018 to mid-2019.

#5Pending home sales picked up in February. The National Association of Realtors says that its measure of contract signings to purchase a previously owned home gained 3.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted index reading of 107.5 (2001=100). Even with the gain, this was 4.1 percent under the year-ago contract signing pace. The index improved during February in all four Census regions, led by a 10.3 percent bounce in the Northeast. The Pending Home Sales Index also grew 3.0 percent in the South, 0.7 percent in the Midwest and 0.4 percent in the West. All four regions had negative 12-month comparables, spanning from a 9.5 percent drop in the Midwest to a 1.5 percent year-to-year slowdown in the South. The press release notes that the “minuscule” number of homes on the market and “its adverse effect on affordability” as weighing on the housing market.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending March 24, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 215,000 (-12,000 vs. previous week; -38,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 224,500 (-11.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Case-Shiller House Price Index (January 2018, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.8% vs. December 2017, +6.4% vs. January 2017.
Agricultural Prices (February 2018, Prices Received by Farmers (Index (2011=100)): 90.8 (+5.7% vs. January 2018, -0.2% vs. February 2017). 

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