Mixed Data as a Curve Inverts: August 12 – 16

In a week where the yield curve momentarily inverted, economic data pointed in different directions. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 16.

#1On the good news side, retail sales flourished in July. The Census Bureau estimates U.S. retail and food services sales increased 0.7 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $523.5 billion, up 3.4 percent from a year earlier. Sales at car dealers/parts stores slumped 0.6 percent but rose 1.8 percent at gas stations (thanks to higher prices at the pump). Net of both, core retail sales jumped 0.9 percent in July and 4.2 percent over the past year. Rising were sales at department stores (+1.2 percent) and restaurants/bars (+1.1 percent) and at retailers focused on electronics/appliances (+0.9 percent), apparel (+0.8 percent), groceries (+0.7 percent), furniture (+0.3 percent), and building materials (+0.2 percent).

#2But manufacturing production fell in July. The Federal Reserve estimates manufacturing output dropped 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, its first decline in three months. Durable goods production slowed 0.2 percent, with output declines of greater than one percent for wood products, nonmetallic products, and machinery. Nondurable goods production plummeted 0.5 percent, hurt by greater than one percent drops for plastic/rubber, textiles, and printing. Manufacturing has slumped 0.5 percent over the past year. Overall industrial production slipped 0.2 percent during July but remained a half percentage ahead of the year-ago pace. During the month, mining output slowed 1.8 percent (oil and gas well drilling: -3.3 percent) while production at utilities surged 3.1 percent (think hot summer weather).

#3Consumer inflation bloomed in July. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the consumer price index (CPI) grew 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, its fastest increase since April. Prices for energy jumped 1.3 percent, pulled up by a 2.5 percent surge in gasoline prices. Food CPI, however, held steady in July. Net of both energy and food, core CPI grew 0.3 percent for a second consecutive month. Rising were prices for used cars/trucks (+0.9 percent), medical care services (+0.5 percent), apparel (+0.4 percent), shelter (+0.3 percent), transportation services (+0.3 percent), and medical care commodities (+0.2 percent). Over the past year, CPI has risen 1.8 percent while core CPI had a 12-month comparable of +2.2 percent.

#4Housing starts slowed in July, or at least they did for condos. The Census Bureau indicates starts of privately-owned homes slid 4.0 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.241 million units. Despite the decline, housing starts were 0.6 percent ahead of their year-ago pace. July’s drop in starts was on the multi-unit side, which saw a 17.2 percent slump compared to a 1.3 percent increase for single-family home starts. Looking towards the future, the annualized count of issued building permits rose 8.4 percent in July to 1.336 million (+1.5 percent versus July 2018), with monthly gains for both single-family homes (+1.8 percent) and multi-family units (+24.8 percent). The annualized count of completed homes jumped 7.2 percent to 1.250 million, up 6.3 percent from the same month a year earlier.

#5And despite it all, small business owners remained confident in July. The Small Business Optimism Index from the National Federation of Independent Business added 1.4 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 104.7 (1986=100). This followed a 1.7 point drop during June. Seven of the index’s ten components improved during the month, led by higher readings for expected real sales, expectations for the economy to improve, plans to increase employment, and earnings trends. Only two components—current inventories and expected credit conditions—declined in July. The press release noted the dichotomy of “many are talking about a slowing economy” and the general optimism among its survey respondents and stated that “the small business sector remains exceptional.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 10, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 220,000 (+9,000 vs. previous week; +5,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 213,750 (-1.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (July 2019, All Imports): +0.2% vs. June 2019, -1.8% vs. July 2018. Nonfuel Imports: -0.1% vs. June 2019, -1.3% vs. July 2018.
Export Prices (July 2019, All Exports): +0.2% vs. June 2019, -0.9% vs. July 2018. Nonagricultural Exports: +0.2% vs. June 2019, -1.5% vs. July 2018.
Housing Market Index (August 2019, Index (>50 = More Homebuilders See the Housing Market as “Good” versus “Poor,” seasonally adjusted):  66 (vs. July 2019: 65, vs. August 2018: 68.
Monthly Treasury Statement (July 2019, Federal Budget Surplus/Deficit Over First 10 Months of FY2019): -$866.8 billion (+26.9% vs. First 10 Months of FY2018)
Productivity (2019 Q2, Nonfarm Business Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted): 2.3% vs. 2019 Q1, +1.8% vs. 2018 Q2).
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (August 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted):  92.1 (vs. July 2019: 98.4, vs. August 2018: 96.2).
State Employment (July 2019, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Vs. June 2019: Increased in 5 states and essentially unchanged in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Vs. July 2018: Increased in 25 states and essentially unchanged in 25 states and the District of Columbia.
Treasury International Capital Flows (June 2019, Net Foreign Purchases of Domestic Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$63.8 billion (vs. May 2019: -$4.6 billion, vs. June 2018: -$45.6 billion).
Business Inventories (June 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.036 trillion (Unchanged vs. May 2019, +5.2% vs. June 2018).

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

Retail Sales Improve, Job Openings Remain at (Near) Record Levels: June 10 – 14

The retail picture improved while employers continue to struggle filling open positions. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending June 14.

#1Retail sales firmed in May, with an upward revision for April. Retail and food services sales grew 0.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted $519.0 billion, up 3.2 percent since May 2018. The Census Bureau also upwardly revised its April sales estimate from a previously reported 0.2 percent sales drop to a 0.3 percent gain. Sales blossomed at both auto dealers/parts stores (+0.7 percent) and gas stations (+0.3 percent). Netting out both, core retail sales also gained 0.5 percent for the month and 3.2 percent over the past year. Sales increased during May at retailers focused on electronics/appliances (+1.1 percent), sporting goods/hobbies (+1.1 percent), health/personal care (+0.6 percent), and building materials (+0.1 percent). May was not as good of a month for department stores (-0.7 percent) and food/beverage stores (-0.1 percent).Retail Sales 061419

#2Employers continued posting a near-record number of job openings in April. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were a seasonally adjusted 7.449 million job openings on the final day of April, off 25.000 from the prior month but up 4.8 percent from a year earlier. (By comparison, a separate BLS report indicates that there were “only” 5.824 million unemployed people in April.) Industries reporting significant year-to-year percentage increases in openings were construction (+56.6 percent), financial activities (+11.3 percent), and manufacturing (+11.1 percent), while job openings in retail slumped 18.9 percent. Employers hired 5.937 million workers in Apri1, up 240,000 from March and 4.3 percent from a year earlier. 5.578 million people left their jobs in April, up 70,000 for the month and 2.0 percent over the previous year. This included 3.482 million people quitting their jobs during the month (+4.3 percent versus April 2018) and 1.752 million being laid off (-2.0 percent versus April 2018).

#3Manufacturing output grew in May for the first time since January. The Federal Reserve reports that manufacturing production expanded a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent during the month, following a 0.5 percent drop during the previous month. Durable goods production gained 0.3 percent, boosted by jumps for wood products, machinery; electrical equipment/appliances, and motor vehicles. The output of nondurables eked out a 0.1 percent bump. Manufacturing output has expanded by only 0.7 percent over the past 12 months. Overall industrial production grew 0.4 percent during the month, rebounding from a 0.4 percent drop in April and leaving the measure up 2.0 percent over the past year. Mining output increased 0.1 percent during the month while production at utilities rose 2.1 percent.

#4Headline inflation was soft in May. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by a modest 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, following gains of 0.3 percent and 0.4 percent during the two prior months. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report also notes that consumer energy prices fell 0.6 percent (gasoline CPI: -0.5 percent) while food prices jumped 0.5 percent (thanks to higher prices for non-alcoholic beverages and meat/poultry/fish/eggs). Net of both energy and food, core CPI grew by a 0.1 percent for the fourth consecutive month. Prices rose for medical care services (+0.5 percent), shelter (+0.2 percent), new vehicles (+0.1 percent) but fell for used cars/trucks (-1.4 percent) and medical care commodities (-0.4 percent). CPI has risen 1.8 percent over the past 12 months, while core CPI has gained 2.0 percent over the same period.

The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand edged up a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent, its smallest increase over the past four months. Core PPI for final demand, which removes the impact of food, energy, and trade services, climbed 0.4 percent (matching its increase in April).  Final demand goods PPI dropped 0.2 percent, pulled down by declines in wholesale prices for both energy (-1.0 percent) and food (-0.3 percent). Final demand services PPI grew 0.3 percent, thanks to higher prices for transportation/warehouse services. Headline PPI has risen 1.8 percent over the past year while the core measure has a more robust 12-month comparable of +2.3 percent.

#5Small business owner confidence improved for a fourth straight month in May. The Small Business Optimism Index added 1.5 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 105.0 (1986=100). This was the highest mark for the National Federation of Independent Business’ measure since last October. Six of the ten index components gained in May, led by whether it is a good time to expand, plans to make capital outlays, expectations for the economy, and expected real sales. Only one index component—expected credit conditions—slipped during the month. The press release noted that “[s]mall business owners are demonstrating a continued confidence in the strength of the economy.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending June 8, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 222,000 (+3,000 vs. previous week; -3,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 217,750 (-1.8% vs. the same week a year earlier).
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (June 2019, Index of Consumer Sentiment (100=1966Q1), seasonally adjusted): 97.9 (May 2019: 100.0, June 2018: 98.2)
Business Inventories (April 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.230 trillion (+0.5% vs. March 2019, +5.3% vs. April 2018).
Monthly Treasury Statement (1st 8 months of FY19 (May 2019), Budget Surplus/Deficit): -$738.6 billion (vs. 1st 8 months of FY18: -$532.2 billion). 

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

Retail and Manufacturing Fail to Impress: May 13 – 17

Retail and manufacturing each stumbled in April.  Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 17. 

#1Retail sales wobbled in April. The Census Bureau values retail and food services sales at a seasonally adjusted $513.4 billion, down 0.2 percent from March. Sales at auto dealers/parts stores slowed 1.1 percent but grew 1.8 percent at gas stations (thanks to higher prices at the pump). Net of both of these categories, core retail sales declined 0.2 percent in April and have risen a not particularly vigorous 3.2 percent over the past 12 months. During April, sales gained at department stores (+0.7 percent), restaurants/bars (+0.2 percent), sporting goods/hobby retailers (+0.2 percent), and grocery stores (+0.2 percent), but fell at retailers focused on building materials (-1.9 percent), electronics/appliances (-1.3 percent), apparel (-0.2 percent), and health/personal care (-0.2 percent).

#2Both manufacturing and overall industrial production faltered in April. The Federal Reserve estimates industrial production dropped for the third time in four months with a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent decline in April that left the measure up a paltry 0.9 percent over the past year. Manufacturing output also contracted by 0.5 percent during the month (also its third decrease in four months) and off 0.2 percent from a year earlier. Durable goods production slumped 0.9 percent, with drops of at least two percent for motor vehicles, machinery, and electrical equipment/appliances. The output of nondurables slowed 0.1 percent. Warmer than average April weather led to a 3.5 percent reduction in utilities’ output while mining output rose 1.6 percent, thanks to increased oil and natural gas extraction and more coal mining. 

#3Housing starts had their best month in April since last summer. The Census Bureau places housing starts at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.205 million units, up 5.7 percent from March but still 2.5 percent under from the pace of April 2018. Starts of single-family homes rose 6.2 percent to an annualized 854,000 units (its best month since January) while multi-family unit home starts edged up 2.3 percent to 359,000 (its best since last November). Permit data suggest modest growth over the near-term, as the rate of issued housing permits eked out a 0.6 percent gain to 1.96 million permits (which was 5.0 percent below the year-ago pace). Housing completions slowed 1.4 percent during the month to an annualized 1.312 million homes (+5.5 percent versus April 2018).

#4Homebuilders grew more optimistic about the housing market in May. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index (HMI) increased by three points to a seasonally adjusted 66. This was the 59th consecutive month in which the HMI was above a reading of 50, indicating that a higher percentage of homebuilders saw the housing market as being “good” rather than being “poor.” The index improved in three of four Census regions while holding steady in the Midwest. Also moving forward during the month were indices tracking single-family home sales (up three points to 72), expected sales of single-family homes (up a point to 72), and traffic of prospective buyers (up two points to 49). The press release noted that survey respondents had “characterize[d] sales as solid, driven by improved demand and ongoing low overall supply.”

#5Small business owner sentiment firmed in April. The National Federation of Independent Business’s Small Business Optimism Index grew for the third consecutive month with a 1.7 point gain to a seasonally adjusted 103.5 (1986=100). While off from the 104.8 reading a year earlier, the index has been above 100.0 for 29 straight months. Eight of the ten index components improved from their March readings, led by earnings trends, expected credit conditions, and plans to increase inventories. The press release noted that “[t]he ‘real’ economy is doing very well versus what we see in financial market volatility.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending May 11, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 212,000 -16,000 vs. previous week; -9,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 225,000 (+5.2% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (April 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. March 2019, -0.2% vs. April 2018. Nonfuel Imports: -0.1% vs. March 2019, -0.9% vs. April 2018.
Export Prices (April 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. March 2019, +0.3% vs. April 2018.  Nonagricultural Exports: +0.4% vs. March 2019, +0.7% vs. April 2018.
Leading Indicators (April 2019, Index (2016=100)):  112.1 (vs. March 2019: 111.9, vs. April 2018: 109.1).
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (May 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 102.4 (vs. April 2019: 97.2, May 2018: 98.0).
State Employment (April 2019, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Vs. March 2019: Up in 10 states, down in 1 state, and essentially unchanged in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Vs. April 2018: Up in 29 states and essentially unchanged in 21 states and the District of Columbia.
Business Inventories (March 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.018 trillion (Unchanged vs. February 2019, +5.0% vs. March 2018).
Treasury International Capital Flows (March 2019, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): -$20.6 billion (vs. February 2019: +$52.8 billion, vs. March 2018: -$14.8 billion).

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