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.

As 2017 Ends, Jobless Claims Remain Low and Sentiment Eases: December 25 – 29

Employers issued relatively few pink slips during the final days of the year. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending December 29.

#1First-time jobless claims remained near a 40+ year low as 2017 wrapped up. The Department of Labor reports that there were a seasonally adjusted 245,000 initial claims made for unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending December 23. This was unchanged from the week before and 13,000 below the number of first-time claims from the same week a year earlier. More remarkable, the jobless count has been below 300,000 claims every week since March 21,2015, with the measure remaining for much of 2017 near levels not consistently seen since 1973(!). The four-week average of first-time claims inched up by 1,750 to 237,750 claims. This was 7.2 percent below the moving average from a year ago. During the week ending December 9, 2.004 million people were receiving some form of unemployment insurance benefits, 6.4 percent below that a year earlier.First-Time Jobless Claims-2007-2017-122917

#2Another second measure of consumer sentiment eased during December. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index lost 6.5 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 122.1 (1985=100). This was up from the 113.3 reading from December 2016. The decline occurred despite survey respondents growing slightly more confident about current business conditions—the present conditions index added 1.7 points during the month to 156.6. The expected conditions index, however, plummeted by 11.9 points to 99.1. 35.7 percent of survey respondents report that jobs are “plentiful” while 15.2 percent report them being “hard to get,” with the latter being a 16-year low. The press release noted that “consumers’ expectations remain at historically strong levels, suggesting economic growth will continue well into 2018.” During the previous week, we learned that the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment had lost 2.6 points to a seasonally adjusted reading of 95.9 (1966Q1=100).

#3Home purchase contract signings inched up during November. The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) from the National Association of Realtors added 2/10ths of a point during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 109.5. This was the PHSI’s highest point since June. The index jumped 4.1 percent in the Northeast and edged up 0.4 percent in the Midwest while pulling back modestly in both the West (-1.8 percent) and South (-0.4 percent). The PHSI has grown 0.8 percent over the past year, with positive 12-month comparables in the South (+2.0 percent), Northeast (+1.1 percent), and Midwest (+0.8 percent). Meanwhile, contract signings to purchase a previously owned home in the West were 2.3 percent below that of a year earlier. While the press release notes that the “housing market is closing the year on a stronger note,” it warned that potential buyers were being “stifled by tight supply and higher prices.”

#4Home prices continued to rise in October. The 20-city Case-Shiller Home Price Index grew 0.2 percent without seasonal adjusted and jumped 0.7 percent after adjustments for seasonal variation. The measure of home prices has risen 6.4 percent over the past year, putting the index just 1.3 percent below its pre-recession peak back in 2006. The index gained on a seasonally adjusted basis in all 20-tracked markets with increases greater than 1.0 percent in Las Vegas (+1.4 percent) and San Francisco (+1.2 percent). The press release states that rising home prices have been the result of “low interest rates, low unemployment and continuing economic growth” but also notes that higher prices are making renting “more attractive than buying.” 

#5Agricultural prices jumped in November. The Department of Agriculture reports that the prices received by farmers swelled 4.2 percent during the month, its first monthly gain since May. The measure has increased 9.1 percent since November 2016. The prices received for livestock production surged 8.1 percent (and was up 18.0 percent from the same month a year earlier), as poultry & egg prices jumped 15.0 percent and that of metal animals grew 7.2 percent. Dairy product prices increased 1.0 percent. Meanwhile, prices received for crop production slumped 1.0 percent during November but was still 1.1 percent above the prices received a year earlier. Prices fell for vegetables/melons (-6.1 percent) and grain/oilseed (-3.5 percent) but gained 1.4 percent for fruit/tree nuts.

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

Housing Starts Rebound in June, Leading Economic Indicators Gain: July 17 – 21

Housing construction rebounded in June while leading economic indicators point towards accelerated economic activity during the latter half of this year. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending July 21.

#1Housing construction jumped in June. Per the Census Bureau, housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.215 million units, up 8.3 percent from May, 2.1 percent from a year earlier and its highest point since February. This had followed three consecutive monthly declines in starts. The annualized rate of single-family home starts grew 6.3 percent during the month to 849,000 units (+10.3 percent) while that for multifamily units surged 15.4 percent to 359,000 (off 10.7 percent from the year ago pace). Looking towards the future, the number of issued building permits jumped 7.4 percent during the month to 1.168 million permits (5.1 percent above the June 2016 rate). Housing completions increased 5.2 percent during June to an annualized rate of 1.144 million units. This was 8.1 percent ahead of the completions rate of a year earlier.Housing Starts-2006-2017-072117

#2Homebuilders were (slightly) less confident in July. The Housing Market Index (HMI) from the National Association of Home Builders shed two points to a seasonally adjusted reading of 64. While this was the HMI’s lowest mark since last November, it was still up six points from a year earlier and the 37th straight month in the measure was above a reading of 50, indicating more builders described housing conditions as “good” rather than “poor.” The HMI fell in two of four Census regions—South (down five points to 68) and Midwest (down four points to 64) but gained in the West (up three points to 74) and the Northeast (up two points to 48). Shedding two points were indices for both current and expected sales (to 70 and 73, respectively) while the measure of prospective buyers traffic slipped a point to 48. The press release described overall confidence as “solid,” but noted that homebuilders were “growing increasingly concerned over rising material prices, particularly lumber” that was “hurting housing affordability even as consumer interest in the new-home market remains strong.”

#3Forward looking economic indicators suggests greater economic growth for the rest of this year. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) jumped by 8/10ths of a point during June to a seasonally adjusted 127.8 (2010=100). This represented nearly a four percent increase over the past year. Eight of the LEI’s ten component made a positive contribution to the index, led by housing building permits, manufacturing new orders, and the interest rate spread. Both the coincident index and the lagging index added 2/10ths of a point to 115.5 and 124.4, respectively. All four components of the coincident index made positive contributions, including nonfarm payrolls and industrial production. Four of seven components to the lagging index made positive contributions, led by the average prime rate charged by banks. The press release said the Conference Board expects “continued growth in the U.S. economy and perhaps even a moderate improvement in GDP growth in the second half of the year.”

#4Employers added workers in 14 states during June. Detailed state-level employment data from June released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds nonfarm payrolls grew by a statistically significant amount in 14 states but were “essentially” unchanged in the other 36 states and the District of Columbia. States with the largest payroll gains during June were Texas (+40,200), Georgia (+27,400), New York (+26,000), and Maryland (+13,300). Thirty-nine states enjoyed significant employment gains over the past year but held steady in the other 11 states and in the District of Columbia. The states with the largest year-to-year percentage gains in nonfarm payrolls were Nevada (+3.8 percent), Utah (+3.0 percent), and Florida (+2.9 percent).

#5Bankruptcy filings continue to decline. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reports that there were 796,037 bankruptcy filings during the 12 month period through June 30, 2017. This was off 2.8 percent from the same 12-month period a year earlier and down 30.0 percent from the 12-month count of four years earlier. There were 23,443 business bankruptcy filings during the 12-month period ending June 30, 2017 (down 7.1 percent from a year ago) and 772,594 non-business filings (down 2.7 percent from a year earlier). 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending July 15, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 233,000 (-15,000 vs. previous week; -25,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 2435,750 (-6.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (June 2017, not seasonally adjusted):  -0.2% vs. May 2017, +1.5% vs. June 2016. Nonfuel imports: +0.1% vs. May 2017, +1.0% vs. June 2016.
Export Prices (June 2017, not seasonally adjusted):  -0.2% vs. May 2017, +0.6% vs. June 2016. Nonagricultural exports: unchanged vs. May 2017, +1.1% vs. June 2016.
Treasury International Capital Flows (May 2017, Net Foreigner Purchases of Domestic Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$95.5 billion (vs. April 2017: +$3.8 billion, vs. May 2016: +$16.3 billion).

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