The Fed Moves, Likely to Repeat Twice More in 2018: June 11 – 15

The Fed raises its target for short-term interest rates as inflation moves ever so closer to targeted levels. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 15.  

#1The Fed boosts short-term interest rates and appears ready to do so twice more again this year. The policy statement released following this past week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) characterized economic activity as “rising at a solid rate” and that the labor market “continued to strengthen” with core inflation moving closer to the Fed’s two-percent target rate. The statement also noted that risks to future economic activity as being ”roughly balanced.” As a result, the committee voted unanimously to boost the fed funds rate by 25-basis points to a range between 1.75 and 2.00 percent. This was the FOMC’s second rate hike of 2018 but keeps the short-term interest target in a range the committee views as “accommodative.”

Accompanying the policy statement were the updated economic projections of Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents, which highlight a more optimistic view of near-term conditions. For example, the median forecast for 2018 economic growth increased by 1/10th of a percentage point to +2.8 percent and the expected unemployed rate dropped by 2/10ths of a percentage point to 3.6 percent. The forecasters also see a greater firming of inflation with the core PCE deflator (the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) at +2.1 percent, up from the prior forecast of +1.9 percent. As a result, the median forecast for the fed funds target rate suggests two more quarter-point rate hikes this year (up from a single additional rate bump previously anticipated). Further, the median forecast points to three quarter-point hikes in 2019 and one rate hike in 2020.FOMC Fed Funds Forecast--2018-2020

#2Inflation continued to build steadily in May. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the third time in four months, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Energy prices jumped 0.9 percent, as gasoline prices gained 1.7 percent. Food CPI held steady during the month. Net of energy and food, core CPI increased 0.2 percent and has grown 2.2 percent over the past year. (The 12-month comparable for the headline index was +2.8 percent). Jumping during the month were prices for medical commodities (+1.3 percent), new vehicles (+0.3 percent), and shelter (+0.3 percent) while prices declined during the month for used cars/trucks (-0.9 percent) and medical care services (-0.1 percent).

Meanwhile, the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand soared 0.5 percent (seasonally adjusted), its fastest rate of growth since January. The core measure, which nets out energy, food, and trade services, grew at a more modest 0.1 percent for a second consecutive month. Wholesale prices for final demand goods swelled 1.0 percent, led by the 4.6 percent surge in wholesale energy prices (PPI for gasoline: +9.8 percent). Final demand food PPI eked out a 0.1 percent increase.  Net of energy and food, core final demand goods PPI gained 0.3 percent. PPI for final demand services increased 0.3 percent for the fourth time in five months, which included the impact of a 0.9 percent advance in prices for trade services (reflecting larger retailer and wholesaler margins). Over the past year, final demand PPI has jumped 3.1 percent during which the core wholesale price measure (net of energy, food, and trade services) has risen 2.6 percent.

#3Retail sales surged in May. The Census Bureau estimates retail and food sales were at a seasonally adjusted $502.0 billion, up 0.8 percent from April and 5.9 percent from a year earlier. Motor vehicle sales jumped 0.5 percent while higher prices at the pump resulted in a 2.0 percent rise in gas station sales. Net of sales at auto dealers/parts stores and gas stations, core retail sales rose 0.8 percent to $443.1 billion (+5.1 percent versus April 2017). May was a good month for building material/garden supplies stores (+2.4 percent), department stores (+1.5 percent), apparel retailers (+1.3 percent), restaurants/bars (+1.3 percent), and health/personal care retailers (+0.5 percent). Sales slowed during the month at furniture stores (-2.4 percent) and sporting goods/hobby retailers (-1.1 percent).

#4Manufacturing decelerated in May. Per the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production report, manufacturing output slumped 0.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, leaving it 1.7 percent ahead of its year-ago pace. The report links much of the decline to a “major fire at a parts supplier” that had disrupted truck assemblies. Net of vehicle production, manufacturing slowed by a more modest 0.2 percent. Output of durables fell 1.2 percent (motor vehicles production plummeted 6.5 percent) while that of nondurable slipped 0.1 percent. Overall industrial production decreased 0.1 percent during the month but was up 3.5 percent over the past 12 months. Mining output grew for the fourth straight month (+1.8 percent versus April 2018 and +12.6 percent versus May 2017), led by increased oil and gas extraction. Higher demand for electricity led to a 1.0 percent increase in output at utilities.

#5Small business owners’ optimism blossomed during the spring. The National Federation of Independent Business’ Index of Small Business Optimism jumped by 3.0 points to a seasonally adjusted reading of 107.8. Not only was this a post-recession high for the sentiment measure, it also was its second-best reading in the index’s second-best reading ever (a 45-year history). Eight of the index’s ten components improved from their April readings, led by expected real sales (+10 points), expectations for the economy (+7 points), on whether it is a good time to expand (+7 points), and earning trends (+4 points). While noting difficult in their ability to find qualified workers to hire, the press release stated employers “now have more resources to commit to attracting candidates.” 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending June 9, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 218,000 (-4,000 vs. previous week; -22,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 224,250 (-8.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (May 2018, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. April 2018, +4.3% vs. May 2017. Nonfuel imports: +0.2% vs. April 2018, +1.9% vs. May 2017.
Export Prices (May 2018, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. April 2018, +4.9% vs. April 2018, Nonagricultural Exports: +0.5% vs. April 2018, +4.9% vs. May 2017.
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (June 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment, seasonally adjusted): 99.3 (vs. May 2018: 98.0, June 2017: 95.0).
Business Inventories (April 2018, Manufacturing and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.930 trillion (+0.3% vs. March 2018, +4.4% vs. April 2017).
Monthly Budget Statement (May 2018, U.S. Budget Surplus/Deficit): -$146.8 billion (vs. May 2017: -$88.4 billion). Deficit over first 8 months of FY 2019: -$532.2 billion (vs. +23.0% vs. first 8 months of FY 2018).

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

Factories and Consumers Were Active in April: May 14 – 18

Manufacturing rebounded while retail held firm in April. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 18.

#1Manufacturing output picked up in April. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing production gained 0.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month after being unchanged in March. Manufacturing output has increased 1.8 percent over the past year. Durable goods production grew 0.4 percent during the month while that for nondurables expanded 0.5 percent. Leading the former were substantial increases for machinery, aerospace equipment, electrical equipment/appliances, and computers/electronics. Boosting the latter were apparel and petroleum/coal. Overall industrial production increased 0.7 percent in April, matching March’s gain and having risen 3.5 percent over the past year. Production at utilities jumped 1.8 percent during April while mining output swelled 1.1 percent (with oil/gas extraction leading the latter).Industrial Production 2016-18 051818

#2Retail sales remained stout in April even as gas prices rise. The Census Bureau reports that retail and food services sales totaled a seasonally adjusted $497.6 billion, up 0.3 percent for the month and 4.7 percent from the April 2017 sales pace. Sales at auto dealers and parts stores inched up 0.1 percent while that as gas stations rose 0.8 percent (because of higher prices at the pump). Net of both, core retail sales increased 0.3 percent during April. Reporting higher sales during the months were retailers focused on apparel (+1.4 percent), furniture (+0.8 percent), groceries (+0.5 percent), and building materials (+0.4 percent). Sales slowed at health/personal care stores (-0.4 percent), restaurants/bars (-0.3 percent), electronics/appliance retailers (-0.1 percent), and sporting goods/hobby stores (-0.1 percent). Nonstore retailers (e.g., internet retailers) saw sales grow 0.6 percent during April and rise 9.6 percent over the past year.

#3Housing starts slowed in April, with less activity for multi-family units. The Census Bureau pegs the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of housing starts for April at 1.287 million units, off 3.7 percent for the month but still 10.5 percent ahead of the year-ago pace. Dragging down the measure was the 12.6 percent drop in starts of multifamily units (to an annualized 374,000 units). Single-family home starts edged up 0.1 percent to an annualized 894,000 units. Looking towards future activity, there were an annualized 1.352 million issued permits to build new homes. While this represented a 1.8 percent decrease from March, it was 7.7 percent above April 2017 levels. Single-family home permits were 0.9 percent higher than that of March. Home completions increased 2.8 percent during the month to an annualized 1.257 million units (+14.8 percent versus April 2017).

#4Homebuilders remained confident about the housing market during May. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index (HMI) added two points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 70. This was the 47th consecutive month with an HMI above a reading of 50 (indicative of a greater percentage of builders viewing the housing market as “good” as opposed to “bad”) and places the sentiment measure ahead of its 12-month average of 68.6. While the HMI improved in the Midwest, it lost ground in the both in the South and West and was unchanged in the Northeast. The index measuring current sales of single-family homes added two points (to 76) while measures of expected sales over the next six months (77) and traffic of prospective buyers (51) matched their April readings. The press release notes that demand for homes should remain strong due to “[t]ight housing inventory, employment gains and demographic tailwinds.”

#5Forward-looking indicators suggest continued economic growth for the remainder of 2018. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index added 4/10ths of a point in April to a reading of 109.4 (2016=100). The LEI has increased 6.4 percent over the past year. Eight of the ten components to the LEI made positive contributions, led by the interest rate spread and the average number of hours worked in manufacturing. The coincident index gained by 3/10ths of a point to 103.5 (+2.2 percent versus April 2017), with all four components of the coincident index making positive contributions in April. Also adding 3/10ths of a point was the lagging index, with the 104.7 reading being 2.5 percent ahead of that from a year earlier. The press release stated that the leading indicators data “suggest solid growth should continue in the second half of 2018.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending May 12, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 222,000 (+11,000 vs. previous week; -16,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 213.250 (-12.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).
State Employment (April 2018, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): 3 states experienced significant increases in payrolls vs. March 2018. 28 states experienced significant payrolls increases vs. April 2017 while 1 experienced a significant decline.
Business Inventories (March 2018, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.930 trillion (Unchanged vs. February 2018, +3.8% vs. March 2017).
Treasury International Capital Flows (March 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$18.6 billion (vs. February 2018: -$57.7 billion, vs. March 2017: -$35.5 billion).

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

Vehicles Drive Manufacturing and Retail Sales: April 16 – 20

Manufacturing activity grew again in March (albeit at a slower pace than in February) while retail sales had its best month since last November. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 20.

#1Manufacturing output grows at a slower pace during March. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing production increased 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month following a 1.5 percent gain in February, leaving the measure up 3.0 percent over the past year. Production of durable goods gained 0.4 percent—which included the impact of a 2.7 percent surge in motor vehicle output—and has increased 3.8 percent over the past year. Production of nondurables slowed 0.3 percent during the month but remained 2.7 percent ahead of its March 2017 mark. Overall industrial production rose 0.5 percent during March and has jumped 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. Mining output increased 1.0 percent (down from its 2.9 percent increase in February) while production at utilities surged 3.0 percent. The latter helped lead a 3/10ths of a percentage point in capacity utilization (factory utilization) to 78.0 percent, its highest point in three years.Industrial Production Capacity Utilization 042018

#2Retail sales gained in March. Retail and food services sales increased 0.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $494.6 billion, per the Census Bureau. This was the largest single-month percentage increase in retail sales since last November and left the measure up 4.5 percent over the past year. Leading the surge in retail sales was the 2.0 percent jump in sales at auto dealers/parts stores. Net of auto dealer/parts stores, retail sales gained a more modest 0.2 percent in March and was 4.5 percent ahead of the year-ago sales pace. Sales grew at retailers focused on health/personal care (+1.4 percent), furniture (+0.7 percent), electronics (+0.5 percent), general merchandisers (+0.3 percent), and groceries (+0.2 percent). Sales also improved at nonstore retailers (+0.8 percent) and restaurants/bars (+0.4 percent). Slipping were sales at sporting goods/hobby stores (-1.8 percent), building materials retailers (-0.6 percent), gas stations (-0.3 percent), and department stores (-0.3 percent).

#3Forward-looking economic indicators foretell continued economic growth in the coming months. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) added 3/10ths of a point during March to 109.0 (2016=100), rising 6.2 percent over the past year. Six of the ten LEI components made positive contributions to the index, led by the interest rate spread, the new orders index from the Institute for Supply Management, and consumer expectations for future business conditions. The coincident index increased by 2/10ths of a point to 103.4, 2.2 percent ahead of its year-ago reading. All four components of the coincident index made positive contributions, including that for industrial production and personal income net of transfer payments. The lagging index inched up 1/10th of a point to 104.5 (+2.6 percent versus March 2017), with five of seven components making a positive contribution. The press release noted that leading indicators point “to continued solid growth in the U.S. economy for the rest of the year” but that weakness in labor market indicators “bear watching in the future.”

#4Housing starts advanced in March, thanks to gains in multifamily units. The Census Bureau estimates housing starts increased 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.319 million units. This was 10.9 percent ahead of the year-ago rate of starts. Starts of multifamily units (e.g., condos, apartments) jumped 16.1 percent during the month to an annualized 439,000 units while those of single-family homes dropped 3.7 percent to 867,000 units (SAAR). Looking towards future construction activity, the annualized count of issued building permits increased 2.5 percent during March to 1.354 million permits (+7.5 percent versus March 2017). Again, the 22.9 percent bump in permits for multifamily units outpaced the 5.5 percent decline in issued permits for single-family homes. Completions of homes slowed 5.1 percent during the month to 1.217 million homes (SAAR)—this was 1.9 percent ahead of March 2017’s pace of completions.

#5Home builders’ confidence held strong in April. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index (HMI) lost a point to a seasonally adjusted reading of 69. While this was the HMI’s lowest point since last November, it represented the 46th consecutive month with a reading above 50, indicating more homebuilders see the housing market as “good” rather as “poor.” The index slipped in the South and West, held steady in the Midwest, and inched up in the Northeast. Also losing grounds were indices measuring current and expected sales, with the former shedding two points to 75 and the latter slipping by a point to 77. The index for traffic of prospective buyers was unchanged at 51. The press release said that the housing market “remains on solid ground” thanks to “strong demand” with the NAHB expecting “the market to continue to make gains at a gradual pace.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 14, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 232,000 (-1,000 vs. previous week; -15,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 231,250 (-5.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
State Employment (March 2018, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Two states had significant increases in payrolls vs. February 2018. 24 states had significant increases in payrolls vs. March 2017.
Treasury International Capital Flows (February 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$57.9 billion (vs. January 2018: +$62.5 billion; vs. February 2017: +$38.3 billion).
Business Inventories (February 2018, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.929 trillion (+0.6% vs. January 2018, +4.0% vs. February 2017).
Beige Book 

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