Hiring Rebounded in March: April 1 – 5

Employers resumed hiring in March while consumers stayed away from stores in February. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 5.  

#1Job creation picked back up in March. Nonfarm payrolls grew a seasonally adjusted 196,000 during the month, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was a big improvement from the upwardly revised, but still weak 33,000 jobs added in February. Private sector employers’ payrolls expanded a net 182,000 workers in March, with 170,000 new jobs in the service sector. Industries adding the most workers were health care/social assistance (+61.200), professional/business services (+37,000), leisure/hospitality (+33,000), and construction (+16,000). The same report places average hourly earnings at $27.70 and average weekly earnings at $955.65, both up 3.2 percent from a year earlier.Nonfarm Payrolls 2010-19 040519

Based on a separate household survey, the unemployment rate held steady at 3.8 percent. The labor force shrank by 224,000 people during the month while the labor force participation rate slipped 2/10ths of a percentage point to 63.0 percent. Holding steady, however, was the labor force participation rate for adults aged 25 to 54 at 82.5 percent. The median length of unemployment edged up by 3/10ths of a week to 9.6 weeks while the number of part-time workers seeking a full-time opportunity expanded by 189,000 to 4.499 million. Still at its post-recession low was the broadest measure of labor underutilization (the “U-6” series) at 7.3 percent.

#2Retail sales disappointed in February. The Census Bureau estimates U.S. retail and food services sales declined 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted $506.0 billion. The same report upwardly revised January’s sales increase from +0.2 percent to +0.7 percent and left retail sales 2.2 percent ahead of that of February 2018. Sales at both auto dealers/parts stores (+0.7 percent) and gas stations (+1.0 percent) both surged during the month. Net of both, core retail sales sank 0.6 percent for the month but have grown 2.9 percent from a year earlier. In February, sales weakened at retailers focused on building materials (-4.4 percent), electronics/appliances (-1.3 percent), furniture (-0.5 percent), and apparel (-0.4 percent). Also losing track were sales at department stores, which decreased 0.5 percent. Retailers focused on health/personal care (+0.6 percent), hobbies/sporting goods (+0.5 percent), and restaurants/bars (+0.1 percent) each enjoyed sales increases. The shift to online stores continued as nonstore retailers’ sales grew 0.9 percent in February and were up 10.0 percent from a year earlier. 

#3Durable orders slumped in February. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured durable goods fell 1.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $250.6 billion. Transportation goods orders declined 4.8 percent, hurt by a sharp 31.1 percent decrease in orders for civilian aircraft and a much smaller 0.1 percent drop in auto orders. Net of transportation goods, core durable goods orders inched up 0.1 percent. Growing were new orders for electrical equipment/appliances (+1.0 percent), primary metals (+0.7 percent), and fabricated metal products (+0.3 percent) while orders slowed 0.3 percent for both machinery and computers/electronics. Durable goods shipments grew for the third time in four months (+0.2 percent). Inventories expanded 0.3 percent while the value of unfilled orders shrank 0.3 percent.

#4Purchasing managers continued to report economic growth in March. The PMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Report on Business, added 1.1 points during the month to a reading of 55.3. This was the 31st consecutive month in which the measure has been above a reading of 50.0, the threshold between a growing and contracting manufacturing sector. Three of the five PMI components improved from the February readings: employment (up 5.2 points to 57.5), new orders (up 1.9 points to 57.4), and production (up a full point to 55.8). Slipping, however, were measures tracking inventories (off 1.6 points to 51.8) and supplier deliveries (down 7/10ths of a point to 54.2). Sixteen of 18 tracked manufacturing industries expanded during the month, led by printing, textiles, and food/beverages.

Meanwhile, the ISM’s measure of service sector activity lost 3.6 points in March to a reading of 56.1. Despite the decline, this was the 110th straight month in which the NMI was above a reading of 50.0. Three of four NMI components pulled back during the month: business activity (down 7.3 points to 57.4), new orders (down 6.2 points to 59.0), and supplier deliveries (down a full point to 50.0). Sixteen of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries expanded in March, led by construction and professional/scientific/technical services. The press release characterized survey respondents’ comments as “mostly optimistic,” but noted that purchasing managers expressed “concerns about employment resources and capacity constraints.”

#5Construction spending rose again in February. The Census Bureau reports that the value of construction put in place jumped 1.0 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of $1.320 trillion (+1.1 percent versus February 2018). Private-sector construction spending inched up 0.2 percent to an annualized $994.5 billion, which was nevertheless 1.9 percent below its February 2018 annualized pace. Private residential spending grew 0.7 percent in February while nonresidential expenditures declined 0.5 percent. Public sector construction spending soared 3.7 percent and has risen 12.1 percent over the past year.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending March 30, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 202,000 (-10,000 vs. previous week; -29,000 vs. the same week a year earlier; fewest since December 6, 1969). 4-week moving average: 213,500 (-4.2% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Business Inventories (January 2019, Manufacturers’ and Trade Inventories, seasonally adjusted): $2.014 trillion (+0.8% vs. December 2018, +5.3% vs. January 2018).
Consumer Credit (February 2019, Outstanding Consumer Credit (non-real estate) Balances, seasonally adjusted): $4.046 trillion (+$15.2 billion vs. January 2019, +5.0% vs  February 2018).

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

Employers Slammed on the Brakes: March 4 – 8

The U.S. economy had its worst month for job creation in a year and a half in February. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending March 8.

#1Job creation slowed to a crawl in February. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nonfarm employers added a mere 20,000 workers to their payrolls in February, the fewest jobs added in a single month since September 2017 (then caused by hurricanes disrupting economic activity). Over the past three months, payroll gains have averaged 186,000. Private sector employers added 25,000 workers, split between a 57,000 increase in the service sector and a 32,000 job loss in the goods-producing side of the U.S. economy. Among the industries reporting job gains were professional/business services (+42,000), health/social assistance (+22,500), and wholesale trade (+10,900). Dragging down the payrolls report was the 31,000 jobs lost in construction (following a 53,000 gain in January) and an unchanged count of workers in leisure/hospitality following January’s 89,000 gain. The same report finds average hourly wages growing by 11 cents to $27.66 (up 3.4 percent over the past year) and average weekly earnings increasing by $1.02 to $951.50 (up 3.1 percent over the past year).

A separate survey of households paints a better employment picture, including showing that the unemployment rate declined by 2/10ths of a percentage point to 3.8 percent—the measure has stayed within a tight band between 3.7 percent and 4.0 percent over the past year. While 45,000 people left the labor market during the month, the labor force participation rate remained at 63.2 percent. Labor force participation among adults aged 25 to 54 lost a tenth of a percentage point to 82.5 percent, just off from its highest point since April 2010. The count of part-time workers seeking a full-time opportunity dropped to a post-recession low at 4.310 million while the broadest measure of labor underutilization (the “U-6” series) declined to its lowest point since 2001 at 7.3 percent.labor force participation 2008-18 030819

#2The trade deficit widened in 2018. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis report that export activity slowed by $3.9 billion in December to $264.9 billion (virtually unchanged from December 2017) while imports accelerated by $5.5 billion to $264.9 billion (+3.1 percent versus December 2017). This left the goods and services trade deficit at -$59.8 billion, its largest since 2008. The goods deficit grew by $9.0 billion to -$81.5 billion while the services surplus shrank by $0.5 billion to +$21.8 billion. The trade deficit for all of 2018 totaled -$621.0 billion, up 12.5 percent from 2017 and the equivalent to 3.0 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). The 2017 trade deficit of -$552.3 billion was the equivalent to 2.8 percent of that year’s GDP. Export activity grew $118.5 billion in 2018 to $1.672 trillion while imports were $2.563 trillion (up $292.2 billion from their 2017 total). 

#3The service sector expanded more robustly in February. The NMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Nonmanufacturing Report on Business, jumped three full points to a reading of 59.7. This was the NMI’s 109th straight month with a reading above 50.0, the threshold between an expanding and contracting service sector. Three of the NMI’s four components improved during the month: new orders (up 7.5 points), business activity/production (up 5.0 points), and supplier deliveries (+2.0 points). The component tracking employment shed 2.6 points during the month. All 18 nonmanufacturing sectors expanded during February, led by transportation/warehousing, management of companies/support services, and wholesale trade. While staying “most optimistic,” survey respondents were “concerned about the uncertainty of tariffs, capacity constraints and employment resources.”

#4Construction spending slowed in December. The Census Bureau places the seasonally adjusted annualized value of construction put into place at $1.293 trillion, representing a 0.6 percent drop from November but still a 1.6 percent advance from a year earlier. Private sector construction spending also slowed 0.6 percent in December to an annualized rate of $991.2 billion (+0.8 percent versus December 2018). Private residential construction spending slumped 1.4 percent while nonresidential spending edged up 0.4 percent. Public sector construction spending suffered a matching 0.6 percent drop during the month to an annualized $296.0 billion (+4.8 percent December 2017).

#5New home sales rebounded in December. The partial federal government shutdown delayed report on December new home sales found the annualized count of transactions grew 3.7 percent during the month to 621,000 units. While this was the best month for the Census Bureau data series since last May, new home sales remained 2.4 percent below the year-ago pace. Sales grew during the month in three of four Census regions during December, with the Midwest being the negative outlier. There were 344,000 new homes available for purchase at the end of December, up 3.0 percent for the month and 17.0 percent from December 2017 and the equivalent to a 6.6 month supply. The former was dragged down by declines in exports of petroleum/crude oil and aircraft while the latter blossomed because of increased imports of computers/accessories and consumer goods.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending March 2, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 223,000 (-3,000 vs. previous week; -7,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 226,250 (+0.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Monthly Treasury Statement (January 2019, Federal Government Budget Surplus/Deficit): +$8.7 billion. First 4 months of FY19: -$310.3 billion (76.6% larger than the deficit from the first 4 months of FY18).- New Home Starts (January 2019, Privately-Owned Housing Starts, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 1.230 million (+18.6% vs. December 2018, -7.8% vs. January 2018).
Productivity (Q4 2018, Nonfarm Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): +1.9% vs. Q3 2018, +1.8% vs. Q4 2017.
Consumer Credit (January 2019, Outstanding Non-Real Estate Backed Debt, seasonally adjusted): $4.035 trillion (+$17.0 billion vs. December 2018, +5.0% vs. January 2018).
Beige Book

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

The Trade Deficit Narrowed in November as Exports and Imports Both Fell: Week of February 4 – 8

The trade deficit shrank in November, as had factory orders. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending February 8.  

#1The trade deficit narrowed in November. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates export activity slowed $1.3 billion to $209.9 billion (+3.7 percent versus November 2017) while imports fell by $7.7 billion to $259.2 billion (+3.2 percent). The resulting trade deficit of -$49.3 billion was down $6.4 billion from October but 0.7 percent larger than that of a year earlier. The goods deficit contracted by $6.7 billion to -$71.6 billion while the services surplus shrank by $0.3 billion to +$22.3 billion. The former was the result a $7.9 billion drop in imported goods, including steep declines for consumer goods (including cell phones) and industrial supplies/oil. The U.S. had its biggest goods deficits in November with China (-$35.4 billion, down $2.8 billion from October), the European Union (-$13.8 billion), Mexico (-$6.8 billion), and Japan (-$5.7 billion).

#2Factory orders slowed for a second consecutive month in November. The Census Bureau estimates new orders for manufactured goods declined by $3.1 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $499.2 billion. This was 4.1 percent greater than the value of November 2017 factory orders. Transportation goods orders grew 3.0 percent, boosted by strong gains for ships/boats (+72.6 percent), defense aircraft (+31.2 percent), and civilian aircraft (+6.9 percent). Net of transportation goods, core factory orders dropped 1.3 percent following a 0.2 percent gain in October. While orders grew for fabricated and primary metals (+0.9 percent and +0.8 percent, respectively), they slowed for nondurable goods (-1.9 percent), machinery (-1.7 percent), electrical equipment/appliances (-1.1 percent), and computers/electronics (-0.3 percent). New orders for civilian capital goods orders net of aircraft (a proxy for business investment) slumped 0 6 percent in November. 

#3Service sector activity remained strong, but softened, in January. The NMI, the headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Nonmanufacturing Report on Business slipped by 1.3 points during the month to a reading of 56.7. Even with the pullback, the NMI has been above a reading of 50.0 for 108 consecutive months, indicative of an expanding service sector. Only one of the NMI’s four components grew during the month, with employment adding 1.2 points to 57.8. Shedding points from December were components for new orders (down 5.0 points to 57.7) and business activity/production (down 1.5 points to 59.7. Holding firm was the measure for supplier deliveries at a reading of 51.5. Only 11 of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries expanded during the month, however, with the most robust expansion reported in transportation/warehousing, health care/social assistance, and mining. The press released noted continued optimism but also stated that “[r]espondents are concerned about the impacts of the government shutdown.

#4Manufacturing sector productivity edged up during Q4 2018. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that manufacturing productivity grew 1.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis during the final three months of 2018, an improvement from Q3’s 1.1 percent gain. Manufacturing output had expanded 2.3 percent, supported by a 1.0 percent advance in hours worked. The productivity gain for the past year was much softer, with a 0.7 percent increase. During Q4, durable manufacturing productivity increased 2.6 percent while the productivity improvement for nondurable manufactured goods was 1.2 percent. (The BLS was unable to report on overall productivity for the U.S. economy due to the partial government shutdown.)

#5Consumers took on credit at a marginally slower pace in December. American households had $4.010 trillion in outstanding consumer debt (not including mortgages and other real estate-backed loans) in December, according to the Federal Reserve. This was up $16.5 billion from November (smaller than the prior month’s $22.4 billion gain) and a 12-month increase of 4.7 percent. Consumers had $1.045 trillion in outstanding revolving credit balances at the end of December, up $1.7 billion for the month and 2.0 percent from a year earlier. Nonrevolving credit balances expanded $14.9 billion to $2.966 trillion (+5.6 percent versus December 2017).

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending February 2, 2019, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 234,000 (-19,000 vs. previous week; +11,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 224,750 (-1.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Senior Loan Officers Survey (January 2019)

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