Higher Gas Prices Boost Inflation, For Now: October 9 – 13

Rising gas prices boosted not only overall inflation but also retail sales. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending October 13.

#1Retail sales surged in September, but much of the advance reflected higher gas prices. The Census Bureau tells us that retail and food services sales jumped 1.6 percent during September to a seasonally adjusted $483.9 billion. This was the largest single-month gain since March 2015. Much of September sales surge was the result of higher gasoline prices leading to a 5.8 percent bump in sales at gas stations and a 3.6 percent sales increase at auto dealers (in part the result of people replacing cars damaged by recent hurricanes). Net of activity at both gas stations and auto dealers retail sales increased 0.5 percent. Sales grew at building materials retailers (+2.1 percent, boosted by hurricane preparation and recovery), grocery stores (+1.0 percent), restaurants/bars (+0.8 percent), and apparel retailers (+0.4 percent). Sales slowed at electronics/appliance stores (-0.8 percent), furniture retailers (-0.4 percent), department stores (-0.4 percent), health/personal care stores (-0.4 percent), and sporting goods/hobby retailers (-0.2 percent). Overall retail sales have grown 4.4 percent over the past year.Retail Sales September 2017-101317

#2Consumer prices roses in September, largely centered around the gas pump. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) jumped 0.5 percent during the month, its largest single monthly increase since February 2013. Much of the gain in CPI occurred at the gas pump as gasoline prices rose 13.1 percent (its largest month-to-month increase since June 2009). CPI for all energy goods surged 6.1 percent while that for food edged up by only 0.1 percent. Net of energy and food, core CPI increased 0.1 percent during September and was up 1.7 percent over the past year. The latter remained below the Federal Reserve’s two-percent inflation rate target. Prices grew for shelter (+0.3 percent), transportation services (+0.3 percent), and medical care services (+0.1 percent). Falling were prices for medical care commodities (-0.8 percent), new vehicles (-0.4 percent), used vehicles (-0.2 percent), and apparel (-0.1 percent).

#3Wholesale prices rose during September, thanks to higher prices for gasoline and services. Final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) grew 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, its biggest single-month increase since April. The core measure—final demand net of food, energy, and trade services—grew a more modest 0.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the past year, final demand PPI has increased 2.6 percent while the core measure’s 12-month comparable has grown 2.1 percent. Wholesale prices for final demand goods jumped 0.7 percent, pushed up by a 3.4 percent gain in energy prices (wholesale gasoline prices rose 10.9 percent). PPI for final demand goods was unchanged. Net of energy and food, final demand goods prices increased 0.3 percent, its largest gain since April. Prices for final demand service jumped 0.4 percent, with rises of 1.0 percent and 0.8 percent for transportation/wholesale services and trade services, respectively.

#4The count of job openings and the number of people hired slipped in August. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were a seasonally adjusted 6.082 million job openings at the end of August. This was down 58,000 from July but up 10.8 percent from the same month a year earlier. Private sector employers reported 5.566 million job openings at the end of the month, an 11.7 percent increase from August 2016. Among the industries with the largest percentage year-to-year gains in openings were construction (+34.2 percent), wholesale trade (+20.1 percent), manufacturing (+17.1 percent), transportation/wholesaling (+14.9 percent), health care/social assistance (+13.6 percent), and accommodation/leisure services (+13.1 percent). Companies hired a seasonally adjusted 5.430 million people during August, a drop of 79,000 from July but 2.7 percent above the August 2016 hiring pace. Private sector hiring totaled 5.105 million jobs, up 2.2 percent from a year earlier. Industries with the largest year-to-year percentage increases in hiring were manufacturing (+31.3 percent), construction (+14.2 percent), and financial activities (+13.3 percent). Industries with sharp year-to-year percentage declines in hiring included wholesale trade (-14.4 percent), government (-14.0 percent), and retail (-6.9 percent). 5.228 million people left their jobs during August, down 132,000 from July but 3.3 percent the year-ago pace. 3.194 million people quit their jobs during the month, up 2.5 percent from year earlier, while layoffs have increased 4.2 percent from a year earlier to 1.729 million.

#5Small business owner sentiment declined in September. The Index of Small Business, from the National Federation of Independent Business, shed 2.3 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 103.0. This was the measure’s lowest reading since last November. Six of the ten components of the index fell during the month, led by sharp declines in the indices for expected real sales (down 12 points), whether it is a good time to expand (down ten points), and on plans to make capital outlays (down five points). Only three index components increased from August: plans to increase inventories (up five points), current inventories (up two points), and plans to increase employment (up a point). The press release downplayed the impact of the recent hurricanes had on the lower index reading, noting that “[t]he drop-off was consistent around the country regardless of region.” 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending October 7, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 243,000 (-15,000 vs. previous week; -5,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 257,500 (+3.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (October 2017-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 101.1 (+6.3% vs. September 2017, +15.9% vs. October 2016).
Business Inventories (August 2017, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.889 trillion (+0.7% vs. July 2017, +3.6% vs. August 2016).
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The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current and previous employers. No endorsements are implied.

Industrial Production and Retail Sales Take a Pause: September 11 – 15

Even though the storm hit Texas during the final days of August, the impact of Hurricane Harvey was already showing up in economic data. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending September 15.

#1Hurricane Harvey slowed industrial production at the end of August. The Federal Reserve indicates that industrial production fell for the first time in seven months with a 0.9 percent decline. Manufacturing output dropped 0.3 percent after holding steady in July. The Fed estimates both measures dropped by 3/4ths of a percentage point due to storm-related effects. Durable goods output grew 0.3 percent during the month while that of nondurables fell 0.9 percent. Automobile and aerospace production boosted the former while drops in the output of chemicals and petroleum/coal products pulled down the latter. Also falling were outputs at utilities (-5.5 percent) and in mining (-0.8 percent), with the latter the result of large declines in oil and gas well drilling and servicing. Capacity utilization also fell, shedding 8/10ths of a percentage point to 76.1 percent (its lowest reading since March). Manufacturing sector capacity utilization dropped by 3/10ths of a percentage point to 75.3 percent.Industrial Production Aug17-091517.png

#2Retail sales slipped in August, although it is unclear how much of that drop was due to Harvey. The Census Bureau estimates U.S. retail and food services sales were at a seasonally adjusted $474.8 billion, off 0.2 percent from the previous month. Hurting the headline number was softer sales at auto dealers (and parts stores), which saw sales drop 1.6 percent. Net of auto dealers/parts stores, retail sales grew 0.2 percent—although this figure is pulled up by a 2.5 percent rise in gas station sales (largely due to higher gasoline prices). Sales also grew at furniture retailers (+0.4 percent), restaurants/bars (+0.3 percent), grocery stores (+0.3 percent), and general merchandisers (+0.2 percent). August was not a particularly good month for apparel retailers (-1.0 percent), electronics/appliance stores (-0.7 percent), building materials retailers (-0.5 percent), and department stores (-0.1 percent). The Census Bureau statement included comments about possible retail sales impacts resulting from Hurricane Harvey, noting that they received “indications from the companies that the hurricane had both positive and negative effects on their sales data while others indicated they were not impacted at all.”

#3Higher gasoline prices led to firmer consumer and wholesale prices in August. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) jumped 0.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month, the largest single-month increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics measure in seven months. Energy and shelter were responsible for much of the gain in consumer prices. Energy CPI jumped 2.8 percent, pulled up by a 6.3 percent gain in gasoline prices and a 2.9 percent increase in fuel oil. (Note that these figures largely do not reflect the impact of the sharp rise in gas prices caused refineries temporary closing along the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Harvey.) Food CPI inched up 0.1 percent. Net of energy and food, core CPI increased 0.2 percent, its largest single-month gain since February. Growing were prices for shelter (+0.5 percent), transportation services (+0.4 percent), medical care services (+0.2 percent), and apparel (+0.1 percent). Prices fell for used cars (-0.2 percent) and medical care commodities (-0.1 percent) while new car prices did not change from July. Over the past year, CPI has grown 1.9 percent while the core CPI measure has increased 1.7 percent.

The final demand Producer Price Index (PPI) grew 0.2 percent during August following a 0.1 percent decline in July. Net of food, energy, and trade services, core final demand PPI increased 0.2 percent during August after holding firm in July. The former has jumped 2.4 percent over the past year while the 12-month comparable for the core index was at +1.9 percent. Wholesale prices for final demand goods leaped 0.5 percent (its biggest month-to-month since April), led by a 3.3 percent jump in PPI for final demand energy goods (gasoline PPI surged 9.5 percent). Food PPI fell 1.3 percent, pulled down by lower meat prices. Net of energy and food, wholesale prices for core goods increased 0.2 percent (its biggest gain since April). Final demand services PPI eked out a 0.1 percent gain.

#4The number of job openings and people hired both edged up during July. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were a seasonally adjusted 6.170 million job openings at the end of the July, up 54,000 from a month earlier and up 3.3 percent from a year earlier, and its highest reading in the 17-year history of the data series. Private sector employers had 5.657 million job openings at the end of the month, up 4.4 percent from the July 2016 count. Among the industries with large year-to-year percentage gains in job opening were mining/logging (+130.8 percent), wholesale trade (+20.2 percent), leisure/hospitality (+12.9 percent), and financial activities (+9.9 percent). Employers hired 5.501 million people during July, up 69,000 from June and 3.2 percent from a year earlier. Private sector employers hired 5.164 million people, up 4.4 percent from a year earlier. The largest percentage year-to-year increases in hiring occurred in mining/logging (+47.8 percent), manufacturing (+20.1 percent), financial activities (+10.4 percent), and construction (+9.3 percent). 5.332 million people left their jobs during July, up 23,000 for the month and 6.6 percent from July 2016. 3.164 million people voluntarily quit their jobs during the month (+4.4 percent versus July 2016) while layoffs totaled 1.783 million (+10.8 percent versus July 2016).

#5Employers expect to continue hiring during the final months of 2017. Twenty-one percent of the 11,500 companies surveyed by Manpower indicated plans to hire more workers during the third quarter of 2017 while six percent expect to shed workers. The resulting difference—the Net Employment Outlook—of +15 increases to +17 after seasonal adjustments. This matched the Net Employment Outlook reading from three months earlier but slipped a point from a year earlier. The measure was positive for all 13-tracked industries, with the highest readings for leisure/hospitality (+28), professional/business services (+22), and transportation/utilities (+20). Similarly, there were positive seasonally adjusted Net Employment Outlooks in all four Census regions: Northeast (+18), Midwest (+16), South (+18), and West (+18).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending September 9, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 284,000 (-14,000 vs. previous week; +26,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 263,250 (+1.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Small Business Optimism Index (August 2017, Index (1986=100), seasonally adjusted): 105.3 (vs. July 2017: 105.2; August 2016: 94.4).
University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment (September 2017-preliminary, Index (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted):  95.3 (vs. August 2017: 96.8; September 2016: 91.2).
Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories (July 2017, Business Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.874 trillion (+0.2% vs. June 2017, +3.0% vs. July 2016).
Regional and State Employment (August 2017, Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted): vs. July 2017: payrolls grew significantly in 6 states and declined significantly in 3 states; vs. August 2016: payrolls increased significantly in 29 states and in the District of Columbia. No state suffered a significant year-to-year decline.
Federal Government Treasury Statement (August 2017, Surplus/Deficit): -$107.7 billion (vs. July 2017: -$42.9 billion; vs. August 2016: -$107.1 billion).

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

Retail Sales Jumped, Factory Output Slowed in July: August 14 – 18

The summer of 2017 is shaping up better for retail sales than previously believed. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending August 18.

#1Retail sales heated up in July (and the picture in June was better than previously reported). The Census Bureau tells us that retail/food services sales totaled a seasonally adjusted $478.9 billion, up 0.6 percent from May and 4.2 percent from a year earlier. The same report presented a significant upward revision to its estimate for June, raising the previously reported 0.2 percent sales decline to a 0.3 percent rise. After removing the impact of sales at auto dealers/parts stores (+1.2 percent) and gas stations (-0.4 percent), retail sales increased 0.5 percent during July. Most retail segments enjoyed sales gains during the month, led by home materials/garden stores (+1.2 percent), non-luxury department stores (+1.0 percent), furniture retailers (+0.4 percent), bars/restaurants (+0.3 percent), and sporting goods/hobby retailers (+0.3 percent). Sales slumped 0.5 percent at electronics/appliance stores and 0.2 percent at apparel retailers during July. Nonstore retailers (including web retailers) sales continued to blossom, with sales rising 1.3 percent for the month and 11.5 percent from the same month a year earlier.July17 Retail Sales-081817

#2Factory output slowed in July. The Federal Reserve’s industrial production report finds manufacturing output slipped 0.1 percent during the month, leaving factory output up a modest 1.2 percent from a year earlier. Durable goods production declined 0.5 percent while that of nondurables advanced 0.4 percent. The former was pulled down by a sharp 3.5 percent drop in motor vehicle production, along with decreases in output greater than one percent for both furniture and primary metals. Production increases greater than one percent of both apparel and chemicals led the growth in nondurables output. Overall industrial production grew 0.2 percent, putting it 2.2 percent its July 2016 level. Greater oil and gas extraction led to a 0.5 gain in mining output (+10.2 percent versus July 2016) while higher demand for electricity due to warm summer weather pushed up the production at utilities by 1.6 percent (-0.6 percent versus July 2016). Capacity utilization held steady during the month at 76.7 percent, which remained 3.2 percentage points below the measure’s long-run average.

#3Forward-looking indicators point towards continued economic growth during the remainder of the year. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) added 4/10ths of a point during July to a seasonally adjusted 128.3 (2010=100). The measure has grown 3.9 percent over the past year. Eight of ten components of the LEI made positive contributions, led by the interest rate spread, new manufacturing orders, and consumers’ expectations for future business conditions. The coincident index added 3/10ths of a point to 115.7, up 1.9 percent from a year earlier. All four components of the coincident index made positive contributions, including nonfarm payrolls and industrial production. The lagging index eked out a 1/10th of a point gain to 124.8, up 2.5 percent over the past year. Three of the lagging index’s seven components made positive contributions, led by the prime interest rate charged by banks. The press release said the results imply “the U.S. economy may experience further improvements in economic activity in the second half of the year.”

#4Housing starts slowed during July. Per the Census Bureau, housing starts declined 4.8 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 1.155 million units. This was off 5.6 percent from a year earlier. Most of the decline during July came from a sharp 17.1 percent in multi-family units (5+ units) in starts (-35.2 percent from the same month a year ago). Single-family home starts slipped 0.5 percent during July but nevertheless remained 10.9 percent above the July 2016 pace. Looking towards the future, there were 1.223 million issued building permits (SAAR), down 4.1 percent from June but up 4.1 percent from the same month a year ago. While the SAAR for single-family home issued permits held firm during July, they declined 12.1 percent for multi-family home permits. Housing completions slowed 6.2 percent during July to a SAAR of 1.175 million units. This was up 8.2 percent from the July 2016 pace.

#5And yet, homebuilders grew more optimistic during August. The Housing Market Index (HMI) from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) added four points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 68. This was up nine points from a year earlier and represented the 38th consecutive month in which the homebuilder sentiment measure was above a reading of 50, meaning more builders saw the housing market as “good” versus being “poor.” The index grew in all four Census regions: South (up seven points to 70), West (up five points to 79), Northeast (up three points to 51), and Midwest (up a point to 65). All growing during the month were indices for sales of single-family homes (up four points to 74), expected sales of single-family homes (up five points to 78), and the traffic of prospective buyers (up a point to 49). The NAHB attributes builders’ more positive outlook to “ongoing job and economic growth, attractive mortgage rates, and growing consumer confidence.” 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending August 12, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 232,000 (-10,000 vs. previous week; -29,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 240,500 (-8.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Business Inventories (June 2017, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $1.869 trillion (+0.5% vs. May 2017, +2.8% vs. June 2016).
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (August 2017-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100, seasonally adjusted): 97.6 (vs. July 2017: 93.4, vs. August 2016: 89.8).
Treasury International Capital Flows (June 2017, Net Purchases of U.S. Securities by Foreign Investors, not seasonally adjusted: +$35.3 billion (vs. May 2017: +$95.5 billion, vs. June 2016: -$1.6 billion).
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The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current and previous employers. No endorsements are implied.