Tame Inflation in September: October 7 – 11

The running theme of last week’s economic data was softness. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending October 11.

#1Consumer prices held steady in September. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) failed to increase for the first time since January and was up by “only” 1.7 percent over the past year, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food prices edged up 0.1 percent while energy prices fell 1.4 percent (gasoline prices: -2.4 percent versus September 2018). Net of food and energy, core CPI grew 0.1 percent, its smallest increase since May. Despite the softness, the core measure has risen 2.4 percent over the past year. Prices jumped 0.4 percent for health care services and 0.3 percent for shelter and transportation services. Prices slumped for used trucks/cars (-1.6 percent), health care commodities (-0.6 percent), apparel (-0.4 percent), and new vehicles (-0.1 percent).

#2…While wholesale prices slid. The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand fell 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in September, its biggest decline since January. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ core measure—which removes food, energy, and trade services—held steady during the month after rising 0.4 percent in August. Wholesale energy prices fell 2.5 percent versus August (gasoline: -7.2 percent), while food prices increased (boosted in part by higher meat prices). Core goods prices slipped 0.1 percent. Over the past year, PPI has risen 1.4 percent while the core measure also remained below the two percent target at +1.7 percent.

#3The number of available jobs fell to a 1.5-year low in August. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a seasonally adjusted 7.051 million open jobs at the end of the month, down 123,000 from July and 4.0 percent from a year earlier. (Some context: even with the drop, the number of openings remained quite strong by historical standards.) The private sector was responsible for 6.320 million job openings, off 4.4 percent from August 2018 levels. Weighing down the number of job openings were year-to-year drops in wholesale trade (-17.9 percent), financial activities (-16.3 percent), accommodation/food services (-10.7 percent), professional/business services (-8.4 percent), retail (-8.2 percent), and manufacturing (-3.4 percent). Hiring also slowed—falling by 199,000 jobs to 5.779 million (-0.8 percent versus August 2018)—as did separations, with 228,000 fewer people departing their jobs in August (and off 2.4 percent from a year earlier). The count of people leaving their jobs—a proxy for workers’ confidence in the labor market—slowed by 142,000 during the month (but still 1.5 percent ahead of the year-ago pace) to 3.526 million. Layoffs, however, were essentially unchanged for the month at 1.787 million (-1.2 percent versus August 2018).

#4Small business owner sentiment moderated slightly in September. The Small Business Optimism Index, from the National Federation of Independent Business, shed 1.3 points during the month (after losing 1.8 points in August) to a seasonally adjusted 104.7 (1986=100). The measure was 6.1 points below its year-ago mark. Seven of the ten index’s components fell during the month, led by declines on whether it is a good time to expand, plans to increase employment, and expectations for the economy to improve. The press release noted that the index remained at high levels but that the tariffs were “adversely affecting many small firms.”

#5Growth in consumer credit slowed as summer ended. The Federal Reserve reports that consumer had a seasonally adjusted $4.141 trillion in outstanding debt balances at the end of August, up $17.9 billion for the month and 5.0 percent over the past year. This was down from the $23.0 billion increase in July. (These figures do not include mortgages and other real estate-backed debt). Outstanding balances of nonrevolving credit (e.g., auto and student loans) expanded by $19.9 billion to $3.062 trillion (+5.5 percent versus August 2018). Contracting, however, were revolving credit balances (e.g., credit cards), which shrank by $2.0 billion to $1.079 trillion (+3.8 percent versus August 2018).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending October 5, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 210,000 (-10,000 vs. previous week; -2,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 213,750 (+0.1% vs. the same week a year earlier).
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (October 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 96.0 (vs. September 2019: 93.2, vs. October 2018: 98.6).
Import Prices (September 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. August 2019, -1.6% vs. September 2018. Nonfuel Imports: -0.1% vs. August 2019, -1.1% vs. September 2018.
Export Prices (September 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.2% vs. August 2019, -1.6% vs. September 2018. Nonagricultural Exports: -0.1% vs. August 2019, -1.9% vs. September 2018.
Wholesale Trade (August 2019, Merchant Wholesalers Inventories, seasonally adjusted): +0.2% vs. July 2019, +6.2% vs. August 2018.
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Autos Fuel Retail Sales, Prices Firm: September 9 – 13

Consumers were buying vehicles in August. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending September 13.

#1Auto sales outpaced an otherwise modest retail sales report for August. The Census Bureau reports that retail and food services sales totaled $526.1 billion, up 0.4 percent from July and 4.1 percent from a year earlier. Sales at auto dealers and parts stores jumped 1.8 percent while those at gas stations fell 0.9 percent (due to lower prices at the pump). Net of both, core retail sales grew a tepid 0.1 percent following a 0.9 percent surge in July (12-month comparable: +4.2 percent). Sales rose during the month at building material/garden stores (+1.4 percent), sporting goods/hobby retailers (+0.9 percent), and health/personal care stores (+0.7 percent). Sales slumped, however, at department stores (-1.1 percent), furniture retailers (-0.5 percent), and grocery stores (-0.3 percent).

#2Core consumer prices rose for a third straight month in August. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) grew 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the third time over the past four months, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Energy CPI fell 1.9 percent (pulled down by a 3.5 percent drop in gasoline prices) while food CPI held steady. Net of both, core CPI grew 0.3 percent for a third consecutive month. Rising were prices for used cars/trucks (+1.1 percent), medical care services (+0.9 percent), transportation services (+0.4 percent), medical care commodities (+0.3 percent), apparel (+2.2 percent), and shelter (+0.2 percent). Prices slipped 0.1 percent for new vehicles. While headline CPI has grown by “only” 1.7 percent over the past year, the core measure of consumer prices has climbed 2.4 percent over the same 12 months.

#3And wholesale prices firmed too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand increased 0.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in August after rising 0.2 percent in July. The core measure—PPI net of energy, food, and trade services—jumped 0.4 percent after slipping 0.1 percent during the prior month. PPI for final demand goods dropped 0.5 percent, pulled down by declines for both energy (-2.5 percent—gasoline prices plummeted 6.6 percent) and food (-0.6 percent). Core goods PPI was unchanged for the month. PPI for final demand services grew 0.3 percent—but more notable was the core measure (which nets out trade services and transportation/warehousing) growing 0.5 percent. Over the past year, headline PPI has risen 1.8 percent while the 12-month comparable for the core wholesale prices was +1.9 percent.

#4The number of job openings pulled back slightly, but workers continued to quit their jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a seasonally adjusted 7.217 million open jobs on the final day of July. While still near the historical high for the data series, this was off 31,000 from June and 3.0 percent from a year earlier. While both construction (+18.8 percent) and manufacturing (+7.0 percent) had sizable year-to-year percentage increases in job openings, other industries reported negative 12-month comparables: financial activities (-15.3 percent), retail trade (-15.2 percent), and accommodation/food services (-10.2 percent). Hiring picked up during July, rising by 237,000 to 5.953 million (+2.1 percent versus July 2018). 5.759 million people departed their jobs during the same month, up 246,000 from June and 1.5 percent ahead of the year-ago pace. This included 3.592 million people who voluntarily quit their jobs (up 130,000 for the month and 4.3 percent from July 2018), a signal suggesting Americans remain confident about the labor market. 1.799 million left their jobs due to a layoff, up 88,000 for the month but down 3.2 percent from a year earlier.

#5The federal budget deficit crossed the trillion dollar threshold, and the fiscal year is not even over yet. The Department of the Treasury reports that the U.S. government has collected $3.088 trillion in receipts through the first 11 months of FY2019, up 3.5 percent from the same 11-month period last year. Expenditures, however, have grown 7.0 percent over the same period to $4.155 trillion. The resulting budget deficit of $1.067 trillion was 18.9 percent ahead of that from the first 11 months of FY2018. Year-to-date individual income tax revenues were 0.9 percent ahead of that a year earlier while corporate tax receipts have expanded 4.5 percent. Among the notable gainers in expenditures were defense (+9.0 percent), debt service (+9.0 percent), and health & human services (+8.4 percent)

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending September 7, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 204,000 (-15,000 vs. previous week; -4,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 212,500 (+0.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Import Prices (August 2019, All Imports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.5% vs. July 2019, -2.0% vs. August 2018; Nonfuel Imports: Unchanged vs. July 2019, -1.0% vs. August 2018.
– Export Prices (August 2019, All Exports, not seasonally adjusted): -0.6% vs. July 2019, -1.4% vs. August 2018; Nonagricultural Exports: -0.4% vs.
NFIB Small Business Optimism (August 2019, Index (1986=100), seasonally adjusted): 103.1 (vs. July 2019: 104.7, August 2018: 108.8).
University Surveys of Consumers (September 2019-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 92.0 (vs. August 2019: 89.8, vs. September 2018: 100.1).
Business Inventories (July 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.043 trillion (+0.4% vs. June 2019, +4.8% vs. July 2018).
Consumer Credit (July 2019, Outstanding Consumer (non-real estate-backed) Loan Balances, seasonally adjusted): $4.123 trillion (+$23.3 billion vs. June 2019, +5.2% vs. July 2018).

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

Open Jobs Remained Open in June: August 5 – 9

Employers continued to seek workers, but producer prices and service sector growth both staggered. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 9.

#1Job openings continued to outpace the number of unemployed Americans in June. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that there were a seasonally adjusted 7.348 million jobs available on the final day of June. While this was a decline of 36,000 from May and 0.6 percent from a year earlier, job openings remained near record-high levels. Further, job openings well outpaced the 5.975 million unemployed people the BLS had reported previously. Compared to a year earlier, industries reporting substantial percentage increases in open jobs included government (+12.2 percent), construction (+7.4 percent), manufacturing (+5.9 percent), professional/business services (+4.6 percent), and health care/social assistance (+3.5 percent). Hiring slowed by 58,000 to 5.702 million jobs (-2.2 percent versus June 2018). Also taking a step back was the number of people separated from their jobs: 5.481 million (down 76,000 from May and 1.5 percent from a year earlier). Voluntarily quits were up 2.4 percent from a year earlier to 3.478 million while layoff activity was off 7.7 percent from the year-ago pace (at 1.702 million).Job Openings and Unemployed 2014-9 080919.png

#2Core wholesale prices contracted in July. Final demand producer price index (PPI) grew a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent during the month, its largest single-month gain since April. But much of the increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics measure resulted from a 5.2 percent jump in wholesale gasoline prices. Netting out the impact of gains in energy goods (+2.3 percent), foods (+0.2 percent), and trade services (+0.2 percent), core PPI fell 0.1 percent during the month, its first decline in nearly four years (October 2015). Final demand PPI for goods grew 0.4 percent following two consecutive declines while final demand for PPI for services gained 0.2 percent. The 12-month comparables for both headline PPI and core PPI were +1.7 percent, lowest levels for each since late 2016 or early 2017.

#3Expansion in the service sector mellowed in July. The NMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Nonmanufacturing Report on Business, shed 1.4 points during the month to a reading of 53.7. While this was the 114th straight month in which the NMI was above a reading of 50.0 (indicative of an expanding service sector), it was its lowest reading since August 2016. Of the NMI’s four components, two pulled back in July: business activity/production (down 5.1 points) and new orders (down 1.7 points). While the employment component added 1.2 points during the month, the supplier deliveries component held steady. Thirteen of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries report growth, led by accommodation/food services, professional/scientific/technical services, and real estate. The press release noted “concerns related to tariffs and employment resources.”

#4Consumers took on more debt in June, all nonrevolving. The Federal Reserve reports that outstanding consumer credit balances grew by $14.6 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $4.102 trillion (+5.3 percent versus June 2018). Outstanding balances of nonrevolving credit (e.g., auto loans, college loans) widened by $14.7 billion to $3.031 trillion (+5.6 percent versus June 2018). Revolving credit balances (e.g., credit cards), however, contracted by $0.1 billion to $1.072 trillion (+4.6 percent versus June 2018).

#5Wholesale inventories held steady in June. The Census Bureau estimates merchant wholesalers’ inventories were at a seasonally adjusted $679.7 billion. While essentially matching May’s reading, this represented a 7.6 percent increase over the past year. Inventories of durable goods expanded by 0.3 percent, with increases of at least one percent for computer equipment, furniture, and lumber. Nondurables inventories shrank 0.4 percent, pulled down by sizable for drugs and chemicals. The inventory-to-sales ratio of 1.36 was unchanged from May but was up 10-basis points from a year earlier.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 3, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 209,000 (-8,000 vs. previous week; -6,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 212,250 (-1.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
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The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.