Hiring and Consumer Spending Bloomed This Spring: April 29 – May 3

The labor market continued to create jobs in April. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending May 3.

#1Hiring accelerated while the unemployment rate fell to a 50-year low in April. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nonfarm employers added a seasonally adjusted 263,000 workers during the month. This was the most jobs added since January and was above the average 213,000 monthly gain over the past year. Private employer payrolls expanded by 236,000, split by 202,000 jobs in the service sector and 34,000 in the goods-producing side of the economy. Industries with sizable payroll gains included professional/business services (+76,000), health care/social assistance (+52,600), leisure/hospitality (+34,000), and construction (+33,000). Hourly earnings averaged $27.77 (+3.2 percent versus April 2018) while mean weekly earnings have risen 2.9 percent over the past year to $955.29.

The separate household survey finds the unemployment falling to its lowest point since December 1969 at 3.6 percent. Some of the drop in the unemployment rate reflects the impact of the labor force shrinking by 490,000 people. The typical length of unemployment narrowed by 2/10ths of a week to 9.4 weeks (April 2018: 9.8 weeks) while the count of “involuntary” part-time workers grew by 155,000 to 4.654 million (April 2018: 4.952 million). Finally, the broadest measure of labor underutilization—the U-6 series—remained at its post-recession low of 7.3 percent.

#2Personal spending enjoyed a spurt in March. Real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) rose 0.9 percent during the month, following smaller 0.3 percent and 0.1 percent increases in January and February, respectively. The Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates spending on goods jumped 1.4 percent, led by strong gains for both durable (+2.9 percent) and nondurable (+0.8 percent) goods, while services spending had a more modest 0.3 percent bump. Without controlling for prices, nominal PCE swelled 0.9 percent. The higher expenditures occurred despite a modest increase in nominal personal income (+0.1 percent). Nominal disposable income was unchanged for the month while, after adjusted for price variations, real disposable income contracted 0.2 percent. As a result, the savings rate narrowed by 8/10ths of a percentage point to +6.5 percent. Over the past year, real personal spending has risen 2.9 percent while real disposable income has grown 2.3 percent. The PCE deflator (a measure of inflation) had grown 2.0 percent over the past year, while the core measure (which nets out energy and food) had increased 1.8 percent. The latter was below the Federal Reserve’s two-percent interest rate target. 

#3With inflation tracking below the target, the Fed held firm (as expected). The policy statement released following the week’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) noted the U.S. economy “rose at a solid rate” and that the labor market “remains strong.” But it also warned that core inflation had “declined and [was] running below two percent.” As a result, the FOMC voting members voted unanimously to keep the fed funds target at a range between 2.25 and 2.50 percent. The statement also emphasized that it would “patient” before it makes a move to raise or lower the short-term interest rate target in the future.

#4Purchasing managers signal a slightly slower growth rate in economic activity in April. The Institute for Supply Management’s PMI, the headline index from its Manufacturing Report on Business, lost 2.5 points during the month to a reading of 52.8. Even though this was the PMI’s lowest reading since October 2016, this was the 32nd straight month in which the measure indicated an expanding manufacturing sector. Three of the five PMI lost ground from their March readings: new orders, employment, and production. Showing improvements were indicators measuring inventories and supplier deliveries. Thirteen of 18 manufacturing industries expanded during the month, led by textiles and electrical equipment/appliances.

The ISM’s measure for activity in the nonmanufacturing side of the economy pulled back by 6/10ths of a point to 55.5, the NMI’s lowest reading since August 2017 but its 111th month above a reading of 50.0. Just a single component of the NMI improved from its March reading—business activity/production—while the other three declined in April: employment, supplier deliveries, and new orders. Fifteen of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries grew during April, led by transportation/warehousing, professional/scientific/technical services, and construction. The press release noted that survey respondents were “still mostly optimistic about overall business conditions, but concerns remain about employment resources.”

#5Meanwhile, factory orders rebounded in March. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured goods jumped 1.9 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $508.2 billion, following a 0.3 percent drop in February and holding steady in January. Orders for transportation goods rose 7.0 percent, boosted by gains for civilian aircraft (+31.0 percent), defense aircraft (+17.7 percent), and motor vehicles (+1.5 percent). Net of transportation goods, new factory orders increased a still-robust 0.8 percent, following a 0.3 percent gain in February. Durable goods orders jumped 2.6 percent while nondurable goods rose 1.1 percent. Less favorable was data on new orders for nondefense, non-aircraft capital goods—a proxy for business investment—which held steady in March after gains of 1.0 percent and 0.3 percent in January and February, respectively.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 27, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 230,000 Unchanged vs. previous week; +17,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 212,500 (-3.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Conference Board Consumer Confidence (April 2019, Index (1985=100), seasonally adjusted): 129.2 (vs. March 2019: 124.2.
Construction Spending (March 2019, Value of Construction Put in Place, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): $1.282 trillion (-0.9% vs. vs. February 2019, -0.8% vs. March 2018).
Pending Home Sales (March 2019, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 105.8 (+3.8% vs. February 2019, -1.2% vs. March 2018).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (February 2019, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. January 2019, +3.0% vs. February 2018.
Productivity (2019Q1, Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted): +3.6% vs. 2018Q4, +2.4% vs. 2018Q1.
Agricultural Prices (March 2019, Prices Received by Farmer): +2.8% vs. February 2019, -3.4% vs. March 2018 

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

A Slowdown in Growth: March 25 – 29

Economic activity was lukewarm in Q4 and early 2019. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending March 29.

#1Q4 economic growth was less robust than previously believed. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ third release of fourth quarter 2018 gross domestic product (GDP) finds the U.S. economy grew 2.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis. This was a downward revision from the Q4 GDP report published a month ago that had indicated a 2.6 percent increase, and it was below Q3’s 3.4 percent annualized gain. Even with the downward revision, GDP grew 2.9 percent for all of 2018, ahead of increases of 2.2 percent and 1.6 percent for 2017 and 2016, respectively. The downward revision was the result of lower than previously believed levels of personal consumption expenditures, government spending, and business spending. The same report indicates that business profits slipped 0.4 percent from Q3 to an annualized $2.311 trillion. Corporate earnings for all of 2018 were $2.263 trillion, up 7.8 percent from 2017. The first view of Q1 2019 GDP comes out in late April, with early indications suggesting a weaker report (see next).GDP 2007-2018 032919

#2Meanwhile, economic activity appears to have been tepid in February. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index lost four basis points during the month to a reading of -0.29. This was the third consecutive month in which the CFNAI was negative, indicative of below-average economic growth. Of the 85 data points included in the CFNAI, only 38 made positive contributions, and just 37 indicators showed improvement from their January readings. Among the four major categories of indicators, two improved from the previous month: production (up 13-basis points to a contribution of -0.16) and sales/orders/inventories (up two-basis points to +0.02). Slipping in February were measures related to employment (down 17-basis points to a -0.10 contribution) and personal consumption/housing (down three-basis points to -0.03). The CFNAI’s three-month moving average fell to its lowest reading since October 2016, shedding 18-basis points to a reading of -0.18 (again, indicative of below-average economic growth). 

#3Real personal spending slightly grew in January. Real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month following December’s 0.6 percent decline, per the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Spending grew for both nondurable goods (+0.5 percent) and services (+0.2 percent) but plummeted 1.6 percent for durable goods. Nominal (not inflation adjusted) spending also grew 0.1 percent. The modest gain in spending occurred despite a 0.1 percent drop in nominal personal income and with disposable income (both nominal and real) falling 0.2 percent. Over the past year, real disposable income has grown 3.0 percent while real PCE increased 2.3 percent. January’s saving rate of 7.5 percent was off 2/10ths of a percentage point from December.

#4The trade deficit narrowed (but remained rather wide) in January. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that exports grew by $1.9 billion to $207.3 billion (+3.0 percent versus January 2018) during January while imports shrank by $6.8 billion to $258.5 billion (+1.6 percent versus January 2018). The resulting trade deficit of -$51.1 billion was down $8.8 billion from the previous month and 3.7 percent smaller than that of January 2018. The goods deficit plummeted by $8.2 billion to -$73.3 billion (down 2.8 percent from a year earlier) while the services surplus grew by $0.5 billion to +$22.1 billion (off 0.7 percent over the previous year). The former was the result in a $1.8 billion gain in exported goods (due to increased food and automotive exports) and a $6.5 billion decline in imported goods (due to a decrease in imports of capital goods and crude oil). The U.S. had its biggest goods deficits with China (-$33.2 billion), the European Union (-$13.1 billion), and Mexico (-$7.2 billion).

#5Differing stories from two measures of consumer sentiment. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index shed 7.3 points during March to a seasonally adjusted reading of 124.1 (1985=100). Also falling were indices for present conditions (slumping 12.2 points to 160.6) and expected conditions (off 4.0 points to 99.8). Dropping hard was the percentage of survey respondents who viewed current business conditions as “good,” declining from 40.6 percent to 33.4 percent. However, only 13.6 percent of consumers viewed current conditions as “poor.” The press release characterized sentiment as “volatile,” as consumers “have had to weather volatility in the financial markets, a partial government shutdown and a very weak February jobs report.”

Presenting a different story was the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment, which added 4.6 points during March to a seasonally adjusted reading of 98.4 (1966Q1=100). The present conditions grew by 4.8 points to 113.3 (March 2018: 121.2) while the expectations index rose by 4.4 points to 88.8 (which matched its reading from a year earlier). The press release noted that the improvement in the headline measure “was entirely due to households with incomes in the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending March 23, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 211,000 (-5,000 vs. previous week; -6,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 217,250 (-1.6% vs. the same week a year earlier).
New Home Sales (February 2019, New Houses Sold, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 667,000 (+4.9% vs. January 2019, +0.6% vs. February 2018).
Housing Starts (February 2019, Housing Starts, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 1.162 million (-8.7% vs. January 2019, -9.9% vs. February 2018).
Pending Home Sales (February 2019, Index (2001=100), seasonally adjusted): 101.9 (-1.0% vs. January 2019, -4.9% vs. February 2018).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (January 2019, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.1% vs. December 2018, +3.6% vs. January 2018).
FHFA Housing Price Index (January 2019, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. December 2018, +5.6% vs. January 2018. 

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

GDP Growth Slowed in Q4, Was Solid for 2018: February 25 – March 1

GDP growth slowed during Q4 but was relatively healthy for all of 2018. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending March 1. 

#1The economic expansion slowed a bit during the final three months of 2018. The first estimate of fourth-quarter 2018 gross domestic product (GDP) places economic growth at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of +2.6 percent, compared to gains of +4.2 percent and +3.4 percent in Q2 and Q3, respectively. GDP has expanded 3.1 percent since Q4 2017. The Bureau of Economic Analysis also reports that GDP grew 2.9 percent for all of 2018, an improvement over gains of +1.6 percent and +2.2 percent in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Positive contributors to Q4 GDP growth were (in decreasing order) personal consumption expenditures, nonresidential fixed investment (i.e., business investment), exports, the change in private inventories, and government spending. Dragging down Q4 GDP were imports and residential fixed investment (i.e., housing). The BEA will update its Q4 GDP estimate twice over the next two months.GDP Growth 2015-2018 03019

#2Personal spending slumped in December, as had personal income in January. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that real personal consumption expenditures (PCE) fell 0.6 percent in December. Real spending on goods slumped 1.4 percent during the month, pulled down by declines for durable and nondurable goods of -1.9 percent and -1.2 percent, respectively. The reduction in spending on services was at a more modest -0.2 percent. Real personal disposable income jumped 1.0 percent in December, with gains for nominal disposable income and nominal personal income growing 1.0 percent the same month. (“Real” measures control for inflation while “nominal” measures do not.) The same report also included January nominal income data, but the story was not as good as nominal personal income slipped 0.1 percent (its first drop since November 2015) while nominal disposable income declined 0.2 percent. Delayed data collection due to the partial federal government shutdown prevented the publication of January data of real disposable income and personal consumption expenditures.

#3Manufacturing activity grew at a slower rate in February. The PMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Report on Business, lost 2.4 points during the month to a reading of 54.2. Despite the PMI dropping to its lowest point since November 2016, the measure has been above a reading of 50.0 for 30 straight months, indicative of an expanding manufacturing sector. Four of five PMI components declined in February: production (-5.7 points), employment (-3.2 points), new orders (-2.7 points), and supplier deliveries (-1.3 points). The index tracking inventories added 6/10ths of a point during the month. Sixteen of 18 tracked manufacturing sector expanded in February, led by printing, textile mills, and computer/electronics.

#4Housing starts plummeted in December. The Census Bureau estimates housing starts dropped 11.2 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.078 million units. This was 10.9 percent under the year-ago pace of starts. Starts of multi-family units (five or more units) slumped 22.0 percent while single-family home starts slowed 6.7 percent. Starts fell in three of four Census regions during December but held steady in the Northeast. Looking towards the future, the number of issued building permits edged up 0.3 percent to 1.326 million (SAAR), an increase of 0.5 percent from a year earlier. The number of permits issued to build single-family homes dropped 2.2 percent while that for multi-family units of at least five units jumped 5.7 percent. The annualized rate of completed homes slowed 2.7 percent to 1.097 million, an 8.4 percent decline from December 2017.

#5Consumer sentiment rebounded in February. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence jumped by 9.7 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 131.4 (1985=100), its first increase in four months. Much of the gain came from an improved outlook for near-future business conditions as the expectations index surged a full 14 points to 103.4. The current conditions measure added 3.3 points to 173.5. 41.2 percent of surveyed consumers saw current business conditions as “good” compared to just 10.8 percent saying there were “bad.” Similarly, 46.1 percent of survey respondents viewed jobs as being “plentiful” versus 11.8 percent of them as being “hard to get.”

Meanwhile, the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment grew to a seasonally adjusted reading of 93.8 (1966Q1=100), up 2.6 points for the month but still below the year-ago reading of 99.7. The present conditions index edged down by 3/10ths of a point to 84.4 (February 2018: 90.0) while the expectations index improved by 4.5 points to 84.4 (February 2018: 90.0). The press release said that the survey data suggests real personal spending will grow 2.6 percent for all of 2019, which “will mean that the expansion is expected to set a new record length by mid-year.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending February 23, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 225,000 (+8,000 vs. previous week; +8,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 229,000 (+2.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Chicago Fed National Activity Index (January 2019, Index (0.00=U.S. Expanding at its Historical Average): -0.43 (vs. December 2018: +0.05; January 2018: -0.29).
Factory Orders (December 2018, New Orders for Manufactured Goods, seasonally adjusted): $499.9 billion (+0.1% vs. November 2018, +2.4% vs. December 2017).
Pending Home Sales (January 2019, Index (100=2001), seasonally adjusted): 103.2 (December 2018: 98.7; January 2018: 105.6).
FHFA House Price Index (December 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.3% vs. November 2018, +5.6% vs. December 2017.
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (December 2018, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. November 2018, +4.2% vs. December 2017.
Agricultural Prices (January 2019, Prices Received by Farmers (Index: 2011=100)): -4.5% vs. December 2018, -0.7% vs. January 2018.

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