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.

Job Creation Solid, If Slower: December 3 – 7

Job creation mellowed a bit in November while the trade deficit widened again in October. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending December 7.

#1Job creation slowed in November, but wage growth held firm. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nonfarm employers added a seasonally adjusted 155,000 workers during the month, down from the 237,000 added in October and below the 211,000 average of the past 12 months. The private sector added 161,000 workers during the month while government employment contracted by 6,000. Industries expanding their payrolls the most include health care/social assistance (+40,100), professional/business services (+32,000), manufacturing (+27,000), transportation/warehousing (+25,400), retail (+18,200), and leisure/hospitality (+15,000). Average hourly wages have grown 3.1 percent over the past year to $27.35 with average weekly earnings increased a more modest 2.8 percent because the average workweek slipped by 1/10th of an hour to 34.4 hours.

Based on a separate survey of households, the unemployment rate held steady at its post-recession low of 3.7 percent. 133,000 people entered the labor force during the month, but the labor force participation rate remained at 62.9 percent. The labor force participation rate for adults aged 25 to 54 edged down by 1/10th of a percentage point to 82.4 percent. While just off its post-recession high, this measure remained its peak during the previous business cycle (October 2000: 83.4 percent). The median length of unemployment dropped by a half week to a post-recession low of 8.9 weeks while the count of part-time workers seeking a full-time job (“involuntary part-time workers”) grew by 181,000 to 4.802 million.  The broadest measure of labor underutilization by the BLS (the U-6 series) inched up 2/10ths of a percentage point to 7.6 percent.Unemployment Rate 2008-2018 120718

#2The U.S. trade deficit widened once again in October. The Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis report that exports slowed $0.3 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $211.0 billion (+6.3 percent versus a year earlier) while imports grew by $0.6 billion to $266.5 billion (+8.5 percent versus a year earlier). As a result, the U.S. goods and services deficit expanded by $0.9 billion to -$54.6 billion. The deficit was 18.1 percent larger than that of the year earlier and was its largest reading since October 2008. The goods deficit expanded by $0.9 billion to -$78.1 billion while the surplus on services shrank a modest $0.1 billion to +$22.6 billion. The former was hurt by a decline in exports of soybeans and civilian aircraft/engines and increased imports of pharmaceutical preparations and automotive vehicles/engines. The U.S. had its biggest trade deficits in goods with China (-$38.2 billion), the European Union (-$15.1 billion), and Mexico (-$6.4 billion).

#3October factory orders were soft. The Census Bureau indicates new orders for manufactured goods dropped by $10.5 billion during the month to a seasonally adjusted $502.7 billion. New orders for transportation goods fell 12.0 percent, pulled down by massive declines in orders for defense (-59.3 percent) and civilian (-22.2 percent) aircraft (both of which tend to be volatile month-to-month). Net of transportation goods, new orders increased 0.3 percent. Durable goods orders slumped 4.3 percent while nondurable orders gained 0.3 percent. Unchanged were orders for civilian capital goods net of aircraft (a proxy of business investment). Shipments slipped 0.1 percent to $508.4 billion, its first drop after 15 consecutive monthly increases, with unfilled orders also contracting by 0.1 percent to $1.184 trillion. Inventories expanded for the 24th straight month with a $0.9 billion gain to $681.7 billion.

#4Purchasing managers say business activity accelerated in November. The headline index from the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Report on Business, the PMI, added 1.6 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 59.3. This was the PMI’s 27th consecutive month above a reading of 50.0, indicative of an expanding manufacturing sector. Four of five PMI components improved from their October readings: new orders (up 4.7 points), inventories (up 2.2 points), employment (1.6 points) and production (up 7/10ths of a point). The measure tracking supplier deliveries lost 1.3 points. Thirteen of 18 tracked manufacturing industries reported growth during the month, led by computers/electronics, plastics/rubber product, and paper products. Survey respondents’ comments stated that “[d]emand remains strong” but noted many detrimental impacts of tariffs (both current and pending).

The NMI, the headline index from ISM’s Non-Manufacturing Report on Business, has been above a reading of 50.0 for 106 straight months. In November, the NMI edged up by 4/10ths of a point to 60.7. Only two of the NMI’s four components improved during the month:  business activity/production (up 2.7 points) and new orders (up a full point). Slipping were components tracking employment (off 1.3 points) and supplier deliveries (down a full point). Seventeen of 18 tracked nonmanufacturing industries expanded during the month, led by education services, professional/scientific/technical services, and health care/social assistance. The press release stated that survey respondents “remain positive about current business conditions and the direction of the economy.”

#5Construction spending sputtered again in October. The Census Bureau estimates the value of construction put in place edged down 0.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of $1.309 trillion, its third monthly decline. Construction spending has grown 4.9 percent over the past 12 months. Private sector spending decreased 0.4 percent to $998.7 billion (SAAR), up 3.9 percent from October 2017. Residential private sector spending dropped 0.5 percent while the nonresidential private sector measure shrank more slowly (-0.3 percent). Public sector construction gained 0.8 percent to an annualized $304.2 billion, up 8.8 percent from a year earlier.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending December 1, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 231,000 (-3,000 vs. previous week; -4,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 228,000 (-5.3% vs. the same week a year earlier).
University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (December 2018-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment, seasonally adjusted): 97.5 (vs. November 2018: 97.5; vs. December 2017: 95.9).
Productivity (2018 Q3-revision, Nonfarm Labor Productivity, seasonally adjusted annual rate): +2.3% vs. 2018 Q2, +1.3% vs. 2017 Q3.
Beige Book

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