Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:
The U.S. economy has been increasing a bit faster than expected, with real GDP up a surprisingly strong 2.8 percent in the third quarter. This was higher than consensus estimates of around 2.0 percent. In general, the data observed that many of the second-quarter trends extended into the third quarter, particularly with modest growth in consumer and business spending. In fact, goods spending grew an annualized 4.3 percent in the third quarter, contributing 0.99 percentage points to overall real GDP. Fixed investment was a positive contributor overall, but the largest component was inventory replenishment. Without inventory spending, real GDP would have been closer to the forecasted 2.0 percent. Other positives included stronger growth in exports and improved local and state government performance. While the data pre-dated the government shutdown, reduced federal government spending was once again a drag on growth, something that will continue moving into the fourth quarter.
October’s jobs numbers were also surprisingly strong. It was widely expected that the employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics were going to be closer to what ADP had estimated the week before, with roughly 130,000 additional workers added in the month. Instead, nonfarm payrolls increased by 204,000 in October, and when combined with significant revisions to August and September data, the average over the past three months is 201,667. This suggests hiring has picked up more recently in the larger economy, mirroring improvements in other data. However, the unemployment rate edged up slightly from 7.2 percent to 7.3 percent. This corresponded with the participation rate moving up a bit from 63.2 percent to 63.8 percent, suggesting that some workers might be returning to the market.
Manufacturers hired an additional 19,000 workers on net in October, its fastest pace since February. Both durable and nondurable goods firms brought on additional employees, up 12,000 and 7,000, respectively, for the month, and the largest increase occurred in the motor vehicle sector, which added another 5,700 workers. While this was better than recent figures, hiring growth for the sector has been disappointing. On a year-over-year basis, manufacturers have added 55,000 additional workers, or 2.4 percent of the 2.3 million nonfarm payroll workers added over the past 12 months.
Other data released last week also highlighted the recent acceleration in manufacturing activity. The JPMorgan Global Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) increased from 51.8 in September to 52.1 in October, its fastest pace since May 2011. Stabilization in Asia and Europe has helped to raise the level of new orders and output in many of our key trading partners, with modest growth in October. (For more information on these trends, see the latest Global Manufacturing Economic Update, which was released on Friday.) Increases in manufacturing sales helped lift the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) higher as well. For instance, new manufactured goods orders jumped 1.7 percent in September. Nonetheless, aircraft orders were the main driver of new factory orders, with weaknesses in the broader market.
Meanwhile, consumer confidence continued to fall in preliminary survey data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters. Since reaching a six-year high in July, the confidence measure has fallen from 85.1 to 72.0. The government shutdown dampened overall sentiment, but attitudes were already waning before that. To some extent, the diminished enthusiasm about the current and future economic environment might have impacted Americans’ purchasing decisions. The latest personal spending report suggests individuals might be more hesitant about opening their pocketbooks, with only modest growth in purchases in recent months. Consumer spending fell in the third quarter, down from a year-over-year pace of 3.3 percent in June to 2.7 percent in September. Durable goods spending declined 1.3 percent in September, bringing down the total figure. Interestingly, this slowdown in spending has corresponded with relatively strong personal income growth, up an annualized 4.45 percent in the third quarter. As a result, the savings rate increased to 4.9 percent, its highest level so far in 2013.
This week, the focus will be on price, production and trade data. Prices have been increasing minimally, with core inflation running below 2 percent. That should continue to be true with the release of October consumer and producer pricing data on Thursday and Friday. Improvements in the global economy should lead to better export figures, and manufacturing production should also be up modestly, building on recent gains. Other highlights will be the latest regional manufacturing survey from the New York Federal Reserve Board and new reports on labor productivity and small business optimism.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.