Home Sales Steady, Leading Indicators Firm: September 17 – 21

Existing home sales stalled while housing starts picked up. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending September 21.

#1Sales of previously owned homes held constant in August. The National Association of Realtors places the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate of existing homes at 5.34 million units, matching July’s sales pace and off 1.5 percent from a year earlier. Sales improved during the month in the Northeast (+7.6 percent) and Midwest (+2.4 percent) but slipped in the West (-5.9 percent) and South (-0.4 percent). Only in the South were existing home sales ahead of their year-ago pace. Also unchanged for the month was the inventory of unsold homes—the 1.92 million homes available for sale at the end of August was 2.7 percent larger than that of a year earlier but also represented a very tight 4.3 month supply. The resulting median sales price of homes sold has grown 4.6 percent over the past 12 months to $264,800. The press release was optimistic: “With inventory stabilizing and modestly rising, buyers appear ready to step back into the market.”Existing Home Sales Aug17-18 092118

#2Housing starts rebounded in August. The Census Bureau reports that housing starts rose 9.2 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.282 million units. This was 9.4 percent ahead of the August 2017 annualized rate of housing starts. Much of the gain was with multifamily units—starts of buildings with five or more units surged 27.3 percent to 392,000 (SAAR) while single-family unit starts gained a more modest 1.9 percent to 876,000 (SAAR). Looking towards the future, the number of issued construction permits slumped 5.7 percent to an annualized 1.303 million (-5.5 percent versus August 2017). The rate of issued permits fell during the month for single-family (-6.1 percent) and multi-family units (-8.0 percent). Housing completions increased 2.5 percent during August to a SAAR of 1.213 million homes. This represented an 11.2 percent improvement from the August 2017 rate of completions.

#3Homebuilder sentiment remained robust in September. The National Association of Home Builder’s Housing Market Index (HMI) stayed at a seasonally adjusted reading of 67 during the month. This was the 52nd straight month in which the HMI was above a reading of 50, meaning a greater percentage of homebuilders saw the housing market as being “good” as opposed to being “poor.” The HMI improved in the Northeast (61), slipped in the South (69) and Midwest (56), and held steady in the West (73). Gaining during the month were measures for current sales (up a point to 74) and expected sales (up two points to 74) of single-family homes while the measure of traffic of prospective buyers held steady of 49. The press release reported “firm demand for housing” but expressed concerned about both the trade tariffs’ impact on builders’ costs and rising interest rates possibly stemming housing demand.

#4Forward-looking economic indicators continued to point towards more growth this year and into 2019. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) added 4/10ths of a point to 111.2 (2016=100), up 6.4 percent from a year earlier. This was slightly smaller than the 6/10ths and 8/10ths of a point increases during the two prior months. Seven of the ten components that make up the LEI made positive contributions. The coincident index gained by 2/10ths of a point to 104.3 (+2.5 percent versus August 2017). All four components of the coincident index made positive contributions. The lagging index also increased by 2/10ths of a point to 105.4 (+2.3 percent versus August 2017), although only two of seven index components improved during August. While noting that the “strengths among the LEI’s components were very widespread,” the press release pointed out that its “growth trend has moderated since the start of the year.”

#5August’s job gains were centered mainly in just four states. The Bureau of Labor Statistics deeper state-level dive at employment trends for August finds that nonfarm payrolls had statistically meaningful increases in just four states: California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida. Payrolls were “essentially unchanged” in the other 46 states and the District of Columbia. Earlier this month, we had learned that nonfarm payrolls expanded by a seasonally adjusted 201,000 during August. Over the past year, employment had grown in 35 states with the biggest percentage gains in Utah (+3.5 percent), Nevada (+3.3 percent), and Washington state (+3.3 percent).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending September 15, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 201,000 (-3,000 vs. previous week; -54,000 vs. the same week a year earlier, lowest since November 1969). 4-week moving average: 205,750 (-21.8% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Treasury International Capital Flows (July 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$40.6 billion (vs. June 2018: -$45.5 billion, vs. July 2017: +$0.8 billion)

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

Cash Registers Rang Louder in July: August 13 – 17

Retail sales expanded while growth in manufacturing slowed. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 17.

#1Retail sales heated up in July. The Census Bureau estimates retail and food services sales rose 0.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted $507.5 billion. This was an improvement from the downwardly revised 0.2 percent sales gain in June. Sales grew 0.2 percent at auto dealers/parts stores and 0.8 percent at gas stations (think higher gas prices). Net of auto dealers and gas stations, core retail sales jumped 0.6 percent in July following a 0.2 percent bump in June. Sales improved during the month at apparel retailers (+1.3 percent), restaurants/bars (+1.3 percent), department stores (+1.2 percent), grocery stores (+0.8 percent), and electronics/appliance retailers (+0.1 percent). Sales lost traction at retailers focused on sporting goods/hobbies (-1.7 percent), furniture (-0.5 percent), and health/personal care (-0.4 percent). Retail sales have risen 6.4 percent over the past year while the core retail sales measure has a 12-month comparable of +5.6 percent.Retail Sales June-July 2018 081718

#2Industrial production slowed in July. The Federal Reserve reports industrial production crept up a modest 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month following a 1.0 percent jump in June. Growth in manufacturing slowed to a 0.3 percent increase in July after having surged 0.8 percent during the previous month. Production of durable goods gained 0.4 percent (including increases of around 1.0 percent for motor vehicles and computers/electronics) while the output of nondurables inched up 0.2 percent (with higher output of apparel, petroleum/coal products, chemicals, and plastics/rubber products). Mining output, which has surged 12.9 percent over the past year, slipped 0.3 percent during July (even as oil and gas extraction continued to rise). Utility output slowed for the third straight month with a 0.5 percent decline.

#3Forward-looking economic indicators further strengthened in July. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) jumped by 7/10ths of a point to 110.7 (2016=100). This was an improvement from the 6/10ths of a point gain in June and leaves the LEI 5.1 percent ahead of its year-ago reading. July’s increase was broad-based as nine of the LEI’s ten components made positive contributions, led by the count of jobless claims staying near multi-decade lows. The coincident index grew by 2/10ths of a point to 104.2, a 2.4 percent increase from a year earlier as all four components made positive contributions. The lagging index slipped by 2/10ths of a point to 105.2 with only two of seven components growing during the month. The backward-looking measure was still 2.3 percent above its July 2017 mark. The press release noted that the LEI’s reading indicates economic growth will be “at a solid pace for the remainder of this year.”

#4Housing starts sputtered during July. Housing starts edged up 0.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 1.168 million units, per the Census Bureau. This was a weak rebound to June’s 12.9 percent drop and left housing starts 1.4 percent below the July 2017 pace. Starts of single-family home gained 1.9 percent while those of construction with more five or more units increased 3.1 percent. Starts weakened in the West (-19.6 percent) and Northeast (-4.0 percent) but improved in both the Midwest (+11.6 percent) and South (+10.4 percent). Looking towards the future, the annualized rate of issued building permits grew 1.5 percent during the month to 1.311 million permits (+4.2 percent versus July 2017). Issued permits increased for both single-family (+1.9 percent) and multi-family (+1.7 percent). Fewer homes were completed during the month—the annualized count of homes completed slumped 1.7 percent to 1.188 million units (-0.8 percent versus July 2017). Single-family home completions plummeted 5.2 percent during the month while multi-family completions gained 8.2 percent.

#5Small business owner optimism inches ever so close to a 35-year high. The Small Business Optimism Index added 7/10ths of a point in July to a seasonally adjusted reading of 107.9 (1986=100). This was not only a 2.7 point gain from a year earlier, it was the measure’s best reading since July 1983 (which itself was the best reading for the National Federation of Independent Business index in its 45-year history). Six of the ten index components improved from their June readings, including three-point gains for indices tracking expected real sales, plans to increase employment, and whether it is a good time to expand. Only two measures—current inventories and plans to increase inventories—declined from their June readings. The press release notes that business owners “anticipate more sales and better business conditions.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 11, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 212,000 (-2,000 vs. previous week; -24,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 215,500 (-10.5% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (July 2018, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): Unchanged vs. June 2018, +4.8% vs. July 2017. Nonfuel imports:  -0.3% vs. June 2018, +1.3% vs. July 2017.
Export Prices (July 2018, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.5% vs. June 2018, +4.3% vs. July 2017. Nonagricultural imports: Unchanged vs. June 2018, +5.0% vs. July2017.
Housing Market Index (August 2018, Index (>50=”Good” housing market, seasonally adjusted): 67 (vs. July 2018: 68, vs. August 2017: 67).
Productivity (2018 Q2-preliminary, Nonfarm Business Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): +2.9% vs. 2018Q1 +1.3% vs. 2017Q2.
State Employment (July 2018, Change in Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): Vs. June 2018: Increased in 6 states, decreased in 1, and essentially unchanged 43 states and the District of Columbia. Vs. July 2017: Increased in 34 states and essentially unchanged in 16 states and the District of Columbia
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (August 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 95.3 (July 2018: 97.9 August 2017: 96.8).
Treasury International Capital Flows (June 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): -$45.5 billion (vs. May 2018: +$20.3 billion, vs. June 2017: +$35.5 billion).

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

Manufacturing and Retail Thrived in June: July 16 – 20

A series of economic news points to activity heating up during the first days of summer. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending July 20.  

#1Manufacturing (and industrial production as a whole) rebounded in June. The Federal Reserve indicates manufacturing output gained 0.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, following a 1.0 percent pullback in May. Virtually all of June’s gain was on the durable goods side, where production swelled 1.6 percent. This included a 7.8 percent surge in automobile production (which had slumped 8.6 percent in May) and gains of at least one-percent for computers/electronics, wood products, and aerospace/transportation equipment. Nondurable output eked out a 0.1 percent increase during June. Overall industrial production grew 0.6 percent during the month following May’s 0.5 percent drop. Mining output increased 1.2 percent (with oil and gas extraction leading the way). Meanwhile, utility output slumped 1.5 percent. Over the past year, industrial production has grown 3.8 percent, with positive 12-month comparables for manufacturing (+1.9 percent), mining (+12.9 percent), and utilities (+5.0 percent).Industrial Production Manufacturing 072018

#2Retail sales remained solid as we entered the summer. The Census Bureau estimates retail and food service sales grew 0.5 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $506.8 billion. This was 6.6 percent ahead of the year-ago sales pace. Net of sales at auto dealers/parts stores (+0.9 percent) and gas stations (+1.0 percent, thanks to higher prices at the pump), core retail sales increased by a still decent 0.3 percent during the month and has grown 5.6 percent over the past year. The report also featured significant upward revisions to May sales, showing the headline and core sales rising 1.3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. Sales improved during June at retailers focused on health/personal care (+2.2 percent), building materials (+0.8 percent), and furniture (+0.6 percent). Sales also jumped 1.5 percent at restaurants/bars. But the news was not positive everywhere, with sales slumping at sporting goods/hobby stores (-3.2 percent), apparel retailers (-2.5 percent), electronics/appliance retailers (-0.4 percent), and grocery stores (-0.2 percent). 

#3Forward-looking economic indicators point to an accelerating U.S. economy in June. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) added a half point to a seasonally adjusted reading of 109.8 (+5.8 percent versus June 2017). Seven of the ten components of the LEI made positive contributions during the month, led by new orders as measured by the Institute for Supply Management and the interest rate spread. The coincident index gained by 3/10ths of a point to 103.9 (+2.3 percent versus June 2017), aided by positive contributions for all four its components (including industrial production and nonfarm payrolls). The lagging index also increased by 3/10ths of a point (to a reading of 105.4, +2.7 percent versus June 2017). Four of the seven lagging index components made positive contributions, including those for the amount of outstanding commercial & industrial loans and the average length of unemployment. The press release said that the results do “not suggest any considerable growth slowdown in the short-term.”

#4Housing construction slowed in June. The Census Bureau reports that housing starts sank 12.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.173 million units. This represented a 4.2 percent decline from the June 2017 pace. Single-family home starts dropped 9.1 percent to 858,000 units (SAAR), just 0.2 percent under the year-ago pace while multifamily units started fell 20.2 percent to 304,000 units (-15.3 percent versus June 2017). Also declining was the annualized number of building permits, down 2.2 percent for the month to 1.301 million permits (-3.0 percent versus June 2017). The rate of housing completions held firm for the month at 1.261 million homes, which was nevertheless 2.3 percent ahead of that from a year earlier.

#5Homebuilders have remained confident this summer. The Housing Market Index (HMI) from the National Association of Home Builders held steady at a seasonally adjusted reading of 68. Not only was this the third time over the past four months in which the HMI was at 68, it also was the 49th consecutive month the index was above a reading of 50 (indicative of more homebuilders viewing the housing market as being “good” versus being “poor.” The HMI improved in the Midwest, was unchanged in the Midwest but lost ground in both the West and Northeast. The index measuring current sales of single-family homes remained at 74 while the expected sales index shed two points to 73. The index tracking the traffic of prospective buyers added two points to 52. The press release noted that even with the solid level of confidence, homebuilders are “burdened by rising construction material costs.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending July 14, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 207,000 (-8,000 vs. previous week; -32,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 220,500 (-9.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Business Inventories (May 2018, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.937 trillion (+0.4% vs. April 2018, +4.4% vs. May 2017).
Treasury International Capital Flows (May 2018, Net Foreign Purchases of U.S. Securities, not seasonally adjusted): +$20.3 billion (vs. April 2018: +$22.6 billion, vs. May 2017: +$95.5 billion).
Beige Book

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