Payrolls Expand Again, But at a Slower Rate: January 1 – 5

Payroll growth slowed in December, but purchasing managers indicate robust economic activity. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending January 5.

#1Employers added fewer workers during December, but the unemployment rate remained at a 17-year low. Nonfarm payrolls expanded by a seasonally adjusted 148,000 during the month, the slowest pace of job creation since hurricanes dragged down hiring back in September. Bureau of Labor Statistics data finds that nonfarm employment grew by 2.055 million for all of 2017, the fewer number of jobs added in a year since 2010. Private sector employers added 146,000 workers during the month, split between 55,000 new goods-producing jobs and 91,000 new service sector workers. Industries adding the most workers during the month were construction (+30,000), health care/social assistance (+29,200), leisure/hospitality (+29,000), manufacturing (+25,000), and professional/business services (+19,000). Retail was a big drag as the industry shed 20,300 workers during December. The average workweek held firm at 34.5 hours (December 2016: 34.4 hours). Average weekly earnings grew by $3.11 during December to $918.74, up 2.8 percent from a year earlier.Job Creation 2005-2017--010518

Based on a separate survey of households, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent, where it has been for the past three months. Before that, the unemployment rate had not been this low since December 2000. 64,000 people entered the labor force during the month, but the labor force participation rate remained stuck at 62.7 percent. The median length of unemployment fell by 4/10ths of a month to 9.1 weeks (December 2016: 10.8 weeks). 4.915 million people were “involuntary” part-time workers (i.e., had a part-time position but were seeking a full-time opportunity), down from 5.514 million a year earlier. The broadest measure of labor underutilization from BLS (the “U-6” series) inched up by 1/10th of a percentage point to 8.1 percent. This same measure was at 9.1 percent a year earlier and was dramatically below its recession peak of 17.1 percent during both March and April 2010.

#2Both exports and imports grew during November as the trade deficit expanded. The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis report that exports increased by $4.4 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $200.2 billion (+8.3 percent versus November 2016) while imports surged $6.0 billion to $250.7 billion (+8.4 percent versus November 2016). The resulting trade deficit of -$50.5 billion was an increase of $1.6 billion from October, up 8.9 percent from a year earlier, and the largest trade deficit since January 2012. The goods deficit expanded by $1.7 billion to -$70.9 billion while the services surplus widened by $0.1 billion to +$20.4 billion. A closer look at the former finds exports of goods grew by $4.3 billion, led by a $2.5 billion increase in capital goods exports (including civilian aircraft), a $1.0 billion increase in automotive vehicles/parts/engines exports, and a $0.7 billion gain in consumer goods exports. Imports of goods grew by $6.0 billion, reflecting a $2.4 billion jump in consumer goods exports, a $2.2 billion hike in industrial supplies and materials exports (including crude oil), and a $1.6 billion increase in capital goods orders. The U.S. had its biggest goods trade deficits with China (-$33.5 billion), European Union (-$13.5 billion), Mexico (-$5.8 billion), and Japan (-$5.8 billion).

#3Purchasing managers report business activity growth continued during December. The Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) increased by 1.5 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 59.7. This was the 16th straight month in which the PMI was above a reading of 50.0—indicative of an expanding manufacturing sector—and its best reading since September. Four of the PMI’s five components improved during the month: new orders (up 5.4 points to 69.4), production (up 1.9 to 65.8), inventories (up 1.5 points to 48.5), and supplier deliveries (up 1.4 points to 57.9). The index tied to employment shed 2.7 points to a reading of 57.0. Sixteen of the 18 tracked manufacturing sectors expanded during December, led by machinery, computer/electronic products, and paper products. The press release noted that survey respondents’ comments “reflect[ed] expanding business conditions.”

The ISM’s measure for the service sector shed 1.5 points to a reading of 55.9. Even with the decline to its lowest point since August, the NMI has remained above a reading of 50.0 for 96 consecutive months. Only two of the NMI’s four components showed growth during November:  supplier deliveries (up 1.5 points to 55.5) and employment (up a full point to 56.3). Losing ground were index components for new orders (off 4.4 points to 54.3) and business activity/production (off 4.1 points to 57.3). Fourteen of 18 tracked service sector industries expanded during the month, led by retail, utilities, and entertainment/recreation. The press release noted commenters reported they had “finished the year on a positive note” and were optimistic about “business conditions and the economic outlook going forward.”

#4Factory orders gained during November. New orders for manufactured goods jumped 1.3 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $488.1 billion, per the Census Bureau This was the fifth increase in factory orders over the past six months, placing the measure 8.0 percent above its year-ago mark. Transportation goods orders increased 4.1 percent, reflecting gains for civilian and defense aircraft of 14.7 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively, and a 1.1 percent bounce in orders for motor vehicles. Net of transportation goods, factory orders rose 0.8 percent during the month and has gained 7.6 percent over the past year. Rising during the month were orders for furniture (+1.6 percent), primary metals (+0.9 percent) and electrical equipment/appliances (+0.6 percent) while new orders dropped for machinery (-1.0 percent), computer/electronics (-0.5 percent), and fabricated metal products (-0.2 percent). Shipments gained for the 11th time in 12 months, with a 1.2 percent increase to $491.2 billion. Unfilled orders rose eked out a 0.1 percent increase (its third consecutive advance) while inventories expanded 0.4 percent (its 12th gain over the past 13 months). 

#5Construction spending rose during November. The Census Bureau estimates the seasonally adjusted annualized value of construction put into place grew 0.8 percent during the month to $1.257 trillion. This represented a 2.4 percent increase from the same month a year earlier. Private sector construction spending jumped 1.0 percent to an annualized $964.3 billion (+2.6 percent versus November 2016). Residential expenditures also gained 1.0 percent to $530.8 billion (+7.9 percent versus November 2016) while nonresidential spending increased 0.9 percent to $433.5 billion (which was nevertheless off 3.1 percent from a year earlier). Public sector construction spending edged up 0.2 percent in November to an annualized $292.7 billion. This was up 1.8 percent over the previous year. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending December 30, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 250,000 (+3,000 vs. previous week; +9,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 241,750 (-4.7% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Vehicle Sales (December 2017, Light Vehicle Retail Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 17.85 million (+1.8% vs. November 2017, -1.7% vs. December 2016).
FOMC minutes

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

Payrolls Expand for the 86th Straight Month: December 4 – 8

Employers continued to expand their payrolls this fall. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending December 8.

#1Hiring remained solid in November. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nonfarm payrolls grew by a seasonally adjusted 228,000 during the month, following a gain of 244,000 during October. In all, payrolls have expanded by 2.071 million over the past year and have increased in each of the past 86 months. The goods-producing side of the economy added 62,000 jobs during November, led by manufacturing (+31,000) and construction (+24,000). The private service sector added 159,000 workers, with large increases seen in professional/business services (+46,000), health care/social assistance (+40,500), retail (+18,700), and leisure/hospitality (+14,000). The average workweek length increased by 1/10th of an hour to 34.5 hours (November 2016: 34.3 hours) while average weekly earnings grew by $4.38 to $915.98 (+3.1 percent versus November 2016).Payroll Gains 2011-2017 120817

Meanwhile, a separate household survey finds the unemployment rate held steady at its 17-year low of 4.1 percent (seasonally adjusted) The civilian labor force grew by 148,000, but the labor force participation rate remained at 62.7 percent. The labor force participation rate for adults aged 25 to 54 increased by 2/10ths of a percentage point to 81.8 percent (matching September as its highest point in nearly seven years). The median length of unemployment fell by 3/10ths of a week to 9.6 weeks (November 2016: 10.2 weeks) while the count of part-time workers seeking a full-time job grew slightly by 48,000 to 4.801 million (November 2016; 5.659 million). Finally, the broadest measure of labor underutilization (the U-6 series) inched up by 1/10th of a percentage point to 8.0 percent, just above its post-recession low.

#2Rising imports in October led to the largest trade deficit since January. Exports essentially held steady during the month at $195.9 billion (+5.6 percent versus October 2016) while imports jumped by $3.8 billion to $244.6 billion (+7.0 percent versus October 2016). As a result, the trade deficit expanded by $3.8 billion to -$48.7 billion according to the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis. The goods deficit also grew by $3.8 billion to -$69.1 billion (+9.0 percent versus October 2016) while the services surplus held firm at +$20.3 billion (also virtually unchanged from a year earlier). In the case of the former, imports grew for crude oil (+$1.5 billion) and consumer goods (+$0.8 billion). Meanwhile, a $2.6 billion rise in industrial supplies/materials exports was counterbalanced by declining exports of soybeans (-$1.4 billion) and civilian aircraft (-$1.1 billion). The U.S. has its largest goods deficits with China (-$31.9 billion), the European Union (-$12.0 billion), Mexico (-$6.0 billion), and Japan (-$5.3 billion).

#3The service industry grew at a slower pace during November. The headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Non-Manufacturing Report on Business slumped 2.7 points during the month to a reading of 57.4. Despite the decline, this was the 95th straight month in which the NMI was above a reading of 50.0 (indicative of a growing service sector). All four components of the measure fell during the month: new orders (-4.1 points), supplier deliveries (-4.0 points), employment (-2.2 points), and business activity/production (8/10ths of a point). Sixteen of 18 tracked service sector industries expanded during November, led by retail, wholesale trade, and utilities. The press release noted that survey respondents’ comments “indicate that the economy and sector will continue to grow for the remainder of the year.”

#4Factory orders sputtered in October. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured goods slipped 0.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $479.6 billion. Even with the decline, this represented a 3.7 percent increase from the same month a year earlier. Transportation orders fell 4.2 percent as orders for civilian and defense aircraft slumped 18.5 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively. Net of transportation goods, orders jumped 0.8 percent for the month and was 6.8 percent ahead of year-ago levels. Growing for the month were new orders for machinery (+1.9 percent), electrical equipment/appliances (+0.8 percent), computers/electronics (+0.7 percent), and nondurable goods (+0.7 percent). New orders for nondefense capital goods net of aircraft (a proxy for business investment) gained 0.3 percent during October and has risen 9.6 percent over the past year. Shipments grew for the tenth time in 11 months with a 0.6 percent increase to $484.2 billion. Unfilled orders were essentially unchanged for the month at $1.135 trillion while inventories grew for the 11th time in 12 months with a 0.2 percent increase at $661.6 billion.

#5Q3 productivity growth remained solid after a revision The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates nonfarm business sector productivity grew 3.0 percent during the quarter, matching the previous estimate of Q3 productivity reported a month earlier and the most significant gain in productivity since Q3 2014. This was the result of a 4.1 percent rise in output generated by a 1.1 percent gain in the number of hours worked during the quarter. Even with the bounce during the quarter, productivity has grown by a mere 1.5 percent over the past year. Manufacturing sector production fell 4.4 percent during the quarter, split by falls of -4.7 percent and -4.4 percent for durable and nondurable manufacturing, respectively. 

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending December 2, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 236,000 (-2,000 vs. previous week; -15,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 241,500 (-3.4% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Consumer Credit (October 2017, Outstanding Consumer Credit Balances (net of mortgages and other real estate-backed loans), seasonally adjusted): $3.802 trillion (+$20.5 billion vs. September 2017 +5.4% vs. October 2016).
University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment (December 2017-preliminary, Index (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 96.8 (vs. November 2017: 98.5; vs. December 2016: 98.2).
Wholesale Inventories (October 2017, Inventories of Merchant Wholesalers, seasonally adjusted): $605.3 billion (-0.5% vs. September 2017, +3.9% vs. October 2016).

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

Employers Resume Hiring: October 30 – November 3

Employers resumed adding workers in October while holds off another rate hike until (probably) December. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending November 3.

#1Payrolls rebounded in October while the September jobs decline turned into a small gain. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payroll employment grew by a seasonally adjusted 261,000. This followed September’s hurricane caused weak payroll expansion of a mere 18,000 jobs. The latter represented an improvement from the previously reported estimate for September payrolls, which had shown a contraction of 33,000 jobs. Because of the revision to September’s payrolls data, employment has now grown for 85 consecutive months with nonfarm employers adding 162,000 workers on average over the past three months. The goods-producing side of the private sector economy added 33,000 workers while private service sector payrolls swelled by 219,000 workers. The most notable industry was leisure/hospitality, which added 106,000 jobs following a hit of 102,000 jobs during September. Other sectors adding significant numbers of workers were professional/business services (+50,000), health care/social assistance (+33,500), and manufacturing (+24,000). Wage growth remained weak: average weekly earnings were at $912.63, up 2.4 percent from the same month a year earlier.

A separate survey of households has the unemployment falling by 1/10th of a percentage point to 4.1 percent. This is down 7/10ths of a percentage point from a year earlier and its lowest point since December 2000. The unemployment rate was pulled down in part by the 765,000 people who had exited the labor force during the month. The resulting labor force participation rate of 62.7 percent was its lowest point since May and puts it near a 40+ year low. (Some of that reflects an aging population reaching retirement age—the labor force participation rate for adults aged 25 to 54 was at 81.6 percent, matching its year-ago rate). Falling to post-recession low is the count of part-time workers who are seeking a full-time opportunity. This count of “involuntary” part-time workers declined by 369,000 to 4.753 million (-18.8 percent versus October 2016). The typical length of unemployment decreased by 4/10ths of a week to 9.9 weeks (October 2016: 10.2 weeks). Finally, the broadest measure of labor underutilization published by the BLS (the U-6 series) dropped 4/10ths of a percentage point to 7.9 percent. The last time the U-6 series was this low was back in December 2006 (which ended up being the lowest reading for the measure during the 2001-2007 economic recovery).Labor Force Participation Rate 2007-2017

#2The Federal Reserve leaves its short-term interest rate target alone, for now. Minutes released following this past week’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting notes that both economic activity and the labor market had continued to improve “despite hurricane-related disruptions.” This included household spending continuing to expand “at a moderate rate” and business investment that “has picked up in recent quarters.” The committee believes the hurricanes are “unlikely” to have a significant impact on economic activity over the medium term, with further strengthening of the labor market expected to continue. In this environment, the FOMC voted unanimously to keep the fed funds target rate at a range between 1.00 and 1.25 percent. The policy statement, without being explicit, would seem to indicate that we should expect a quarter point target rate bump at the FOMC’s final 2017 meeting in December. (The other Fed news of the week was President Trump’s nomination of Fed governor Jerome Powell as the new chairman of the central bank.)

#3Personal spending surged in September. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that “real” personal consumption expenditures (PCE) grew 0.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month. This was its largest monthly gain since March. Real spending on durable goods jumped 3.5 percent while that on both nondurables and services grew a more modest 0.3 percent during September. The surge in durable goods spending is partially the result of deferred and replacement purchases following the recent hurricanes. Over the past year, real PCE has grown 2.7 percent, which includes a 7.3 percent bump up in durable goods spending. Nominal spending, which is not adjusted for inflation, jumped 1.0 percent. Both nominal personal and nominal disposable incomes grew 0.4 percent during the month. After adjusting for price variation, real disposable income was unchanged during the month and has risen 1.2 percent over the past year. The savings rate dropped by a half percentage point during September to +3.1 percent, its lowest reading since early 2008.

#4The trade deficit widened slightly during September. Per the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, exports increased $2.1 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $196.8 billion (+4.6 percent versus September 2016). At the same time, imports expanded by $2.8 billion to $240.3 billion (+6.1 percent versus September 2016). The resulting trade deficit of -$43.5 billion was up $0.7 billion from August but 13.1 percent greater than that of a year ago. The goods deficit grew by $0.6 billion during September to -$65.4 billion (+10.0 percent versus a year earlier) while the services surplus shrank by $0.2 billion to +$21.9 billion (+4.4 percent versus a year earlier). Industrial supplies exports (particularly crude oil) grew by $1.9 billion while pharmaceutical preparation exports fell by $1.0 billion. Capital goods imports jumped $1.5 billion while industrial supplies/materials increased by $1.1. billion. Passenger car imports declined $0.5 billion during September. The U.S. had its biggest goods trade deficits with China (-$29.9 billion), the European Union (-$14.6 billion), Germany (-$5.9 billion), and Japan (-$5.9 billion).

#5Purchasing managers describe robust business activity in October. The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) from the Institute for Supply Management shed 2.1 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted reading of 58.7. Even with the drop, this was the 14th consecutive month in which the PMI –a measure of activity in the manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy—was above a reading of 50.0, the threshold between a growing and contracting manufacturing sector. All five components of the PMI declined from September: inventories (-4.5), supplier deliveries (-3.0), new orders (-1.2), production (-1.2), and employment (-0.5). Sixteen of 18 tracked manufacturing industries expanded during October, led by paper products, nonmetallic mineral products, and machinery. The press release noted survey respondents’ comments had reflected “expanding business conditions.”

The headline index from the ISM’s Report on Business for the nonmanufacturing sector of the economy inched up by 3/10ths of a point to 60.1, measure’s highest market in its nine-year history and the 94th straight month in which it was above 50.0. Two of the index’s four components grew during the month: business activity/production (up 9/10ths of a point to 62.2) and employment (up 7/10ths of a point to 57.5). The new order index slipped 2/10ths of a point to 62.8 while the supplier deliveries measure held steady at 58.0.  Sixteen of 18 tracked service sector industries reported growth during October, led by agriculture, construction, and transportation/warehousing. The press release indicated that survey respondents continued to have a “positive outlook for business conditions.”

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:

Jobless Claims (week ending October 28, 2017, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 229,000 (-5,000 vs. previous week; -32,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 232,500 (-9.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Factory Orders (September 2017, New Orders for Manufactured Goods, seasonally adjusted): $478.5 billion (+1.4% vs. August 2017, +7.0% vs. September 2016).
Vehicle Sales (October 2017, Light Vehicle Retail Sales, seasonally adjusted annualized rate): 18.09 million units (-2.6% vs. September 2017, +1.2% vs. October 2016).
Conference Board Consumer Confidence (October 2017, Index (1985=100), seasonally adjusted): 125.9 (vs. September 2017: 120.6).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (August 2017, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.5% vs. July 2017, +5.9% vs. August 2016.
Agricultural Prices (September 2017, Prices Received by Farmers): 91.8 (-1.7% vs. August 2017, +6.3% vs. September 2016).

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