Author Archive

University of Michigan: Consumer Confidence Rose to a Pre-Recessionary High in October

The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters said that preliminary data on consumer confidence reflects a pre-recessionary high in October. The Consumer Sentiment Index increased from 84.6 in September to 86.4 in October, its highest level since July 2007. This mirrors similar data from the Conference Board, which has also reached pre-recessionary levels of late (although that measure unexpectedly declined in September, reflecting a public that remains on edge).

Even with the increase in October, the University of Michigan report also shows these anxieties. The index for the current economic environment was unchanged at 98.9, and it remains below its recent peak of 99.8 in August. Geopolitical events, slowing global growth, stock market volatility and worries about Ebola might help to explain this hesitance. Moreover, Americans remain concerned about labor market and income growth, despite better data of late on the hiring front.

At the same time, the future-oriented index rose from 75.4 to 78.4, its highest level in two years. Lower gasoline prices likely lifted people’s spirits, helping to increase disposable income, at least for now. Overall, this survey suggests that consumers’ views about the economy are quite nuanced, and at least for this month, optimism about the future outweighed the concerns.

We will get final data on October consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan on October 31. The Conference Board will also release its survey data on consumer confidence on October 28.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


Housing Starts Exceed 1 Million Units Again in September

The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that housing starts exceeded one million units again in September.  It was the third time this year that it had done so, or the second in three months. Housing starts increased from an annualized 957,000 units in August to 1,017,000 in September. This continues a slow-but-steady trend upward, with an average of 978,111 so far in 2014 relative to an average of 930,000 for all of 2013. Still, there was relatively weak housing activity throughout much of the second half of last year and the first half of this year, and the latest data suggest that the data have begun to stabilize somewhat.

As usual, the bulk of the monthly change stemmed from an increase in the highly volatile multi-family segment. Multi-family housing starts rose from 318,000 at the annual rate in August to 371,000 in September, and the average year-to-date has been 353,667 units. Yet, multi-family starts have ranged from 314,000 in January to 446,000 in July, with large shifts from month to month. Even with such unpredictability, multi-family unit activity has trended higher, up 32.0 percent over the past 12 months.

At the same time, single-family starts were also higher, up from 639,000 to 646,000. The average through the first nine months of 2014 is 624,444, and year-over-year growth in September was 11.0 percent. The recent peak was 652,000 in July.

Meanwhile, housing permits mirrored many of these same developments, with permitting up from 1,003,000 to 1,018,000. On a year-over-year basis, housing permits grew 2.5 percent since September 2013. The underlying data were mixed, however. Multi-family permits were up from 376,000 to 394,000; whereas, single-family permitting edged slightly lower, down from 627,000 to 624,000. Permits for single-family homes have improved after bottoming out at 593,000 in February, but the data have been in a narrow range over much of the past year, with a year-over-year decline of 0.5 percent.

Nonetheless, we still remain optimistic about residential construction activity moving forward, and I would expect continued movement in the right direction, even with some volatility. I continue to predict housing starts solidly in the 1.1 million unit range by the beginning of 2015. One thing that might help spur more activity – beyond an improving economy, of course – is lower interest rates. According to Freddie Mac, average 30-year fixed mortgage rates fell to 3.97 percent this week, their lowest level since June 2013.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


MAPI: Manufacturing Activity Expanded at a Slightly Slower Pace in October

The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) Foundation said that its Composite Business Outlook Index dropped from 71 in July to 67 in October. Despite the decline, manufacturing activity remained quite strong, with index readings over 50 indicating expansion. Indeed, the pace of new orders was unchanged (78) at a healthy rate of growth in the fourth quarter report, continuing to reflect improvements from six months ago (71).

Still, several of the key indicators eased in this survey. This included export orders (down from 67 to 65), the orders backlog (down from 72 to 69), prospective U.S. shipments (down from 87 to 83) and prospective foreign shipments (down from 76 to 72). Each of these readings, however, continues to reflect both strong growth.

In contrast, there were some areas of weakness to note. The percentage of respondents operating above 85 percent capacity dropped from 30.0 percent in July to 26.7 percent in October. Expected business investments also slowed considerably in this survey, with 2015 U.S. investment spending nearly just barely above 2014’s pace (down from 67 to 52) whereas foreign investment activity was expected to decline next year relative to this year (down from 64 to 48). On the other hand, the rate of R&D spending was expected to accelerate slightly (up from 67 to 70).

Overall, these data support the notion that manufacturing activity continues to improve, mirroring similar findings from other indicators. The MAPI Foundation has a generally upbeat outlook for the coming months. They predict that manufacturing production will increase by 3.4 percent and 4.0 percent in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


Philly Fed: Manufacturing Activity Continued to Ease, but Growth Remains Strong

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that manufacturing activity continued to ease, but growth remained strong in its district. The Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey’s composite index of general business activity has declined from 28.0 in August to 22.5 in September to 20.7 in October. While this figure has decreased somewhat, sentiment remains mostly positive. For instance, just over one-third of manufacturers in the Philly Fed district felt that business activity had increased in October, with 13.5 percent noting a worsening of conditions.

The pace of new orders (up from 15.5 to 17.3) picked up in October, which bodes well for future activity. This shift occurred largely because the percentage of respondents citing declining sales dropped from 22.1 percent in September to 18.9 percent in October. At the same time, rates of growth for shipments (down from 21.6 to 16.6) and employment (down from 21.2 to 12.1) have both decelerated for the month. Along those lines, the average workweek contracted slightly, down from 4.4 to -1.3, falling for the first time since February.

Manufacturers remained overwhelmingly upbeat in their outlook despite a decrease in the forward-looking composite measure (down from 56.0 to 54.5). In fact, 58.0 percent of respondents anticipate increased new orders in the next 6 months, with 58.5 percent seeing higher shipment levels. Regarding employment, 33.1 percent expect to add new workers in the coming months, with just 5.1 percent indicating possible declines. Capital spending was also expected to increase at decent rates, particularly for equipment, computers and software and energy-saving investments.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


Manufacturing Production Rebounded in September from a Soft August

Manufacturing production increased 0.5 percent in September, offsetting the revised 0.5 percent decline observed in August. Over the past 12 months, manufacturing output has risen 3.7 percent. This was slower than the 4.7 percent pace observed in July but a nice improvement from the more-sluggish 1.5 percent rate observed in January. As such, this latest data reflects some a bit of softness in market, most notably for motor vehicles, which had a 1.4 percent decline in production in September. Still, auto sector output has expanded 5.7 percent year-over-year, continuing to make it one of the brighter spots overall.

Capacity utilization in the sector was also higher, up from 77.1 percent to 77.3 percent. On a year-over-year basis, capacity has expanded by a modest 2.1 percent.

Both durable and nondurable goods production rose 0.5 percent in September. Furniture and related products (up 2.4 percent), aerospace and other transportation equipment (up 1.7 percent), miscellaneous durable goods (up 1.6 percent), apparel and leather products (up 1.5 percent) and plastics and rubber products (up 1.2 percent) were among the leaders for production growth in the month. In contrast, sectors with declining output included motor vehicles and parts (down 1.4 percent), wood products (down 0.8 percent), nonmetallic mineral products (down 0.2 percent) and machinery (down 0.1 percent).

Meanwhile, overall industrial production jumped 1.0 percent in September, a nice gain after declining by 0.2 percent in August. Mining (up 1.8 percent) and utilities (up 3.9 percent) were up strongly for the month. Mining production, in particular, has increased significantly over the past 12 months, up 9.1 percent, largely due to the pickup in energy exploration. Total capacity utilization rose from 78.7 percent to 79.3 percent, its highest level since May 2007.

In conclusion, manufacturers have continued to be mostly upbeat about the economy. These production figures suggest that manufacturing output growth remains relatively healthy, with durable and nondurable goods production up 5.4 percent and 2.7 percent year-over-year, respectively. Each represents progress from earlier in the year (even if the durable goods figure has fallen since July).

Nonetheless, volatility in global markets and a still-cautious consumer pose downward risks moving forward, and it will be interesting to see how events play out in the coming days and weeks to see if they derail what had been a relatively positive outlook for manufacturers.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


NY Fed: Growth in Manufacturing Activity Slowed Considerably in October

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey from the New York Federal Reserve Bank showed growth in manufacturing activity slowing considerably in October. The composite index of general business conditions declined from 27.5 in September to 6.2 in October, its lowest level in six months. Indeed, one –quarter of those taking the survey said that conditions had improved in October, down from 46.0 percent who said the same thing in September.  As such, manufacturers in the New York Fed’s district were clearly more anxious this month, a disappointment after signs of relative strength in the sector from May to September.

A decrease in new orders (down from 16.9 to -1.7) helped to explain the change in sentiment. The percentage of respondents suggesting that sales had increased in the month dropped from 40.1 percent in September to 21.9 percent in October, a shift that produced the change in direction for the new orders index. Growth in shipments (down from 27.1 to 1.1) followed the same pattern, but with the percentage of firms saying that shipments had declined in the month jumping from 16.7 percent to 25.0 percent.

On the positive side, manufacturing activity has now expanded for 21 months, and businesses have reported rebounding levels of activity overall since earlier in the year. In addition, employment (up from 3.3 to 10.2) picked up somewhat in October. Pricing pressures (down from 23.9 to 11.4) have also eased.

Looking ahead six months, manufacturers in the New York Fed region remain mostly optimistic. While many of the forward-looking measures pulled back slightly in October, they still indicate expected strength in the outlook. For instance, 52.9 percent of respondents anticipate higher levels of new orders over the coming months, down from 57.1 percent in the prior survey. Nearly 24 percent expect to add more workers over the next six months, with 34.1 percent planning additional capital expenditures. These figures tend to indicate a brighter future for manufacturers, even if the current sales and shipments data are soft.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


Lower Energy and Food Costs Push Producer Prices Down in September

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that producer prices for final demand goods and services were down 0.1 percent in September. It was the third straight month with inflationary pressures easing, a positive development that helps both businesses and consumers. On a year-over-year basis, final demand producer prices have risen 1.6 percent over the past 12 months, decelerating from 2.1 percent in May. Producer prices for final demand goods were off 0.2 percent, extending the 0.3 percent decline observed in August, with both food and energy costs lower.

Energy prices have fallen in four of the past five months, declining by 0.7 percent in September. One of the key drivers of this decrease was the fall in gasoline prices, down 2.6 percent for the month. Indeed, the price of West Texas intermediate crude was $97.86 per barrel on August 29, but by September 30, that figure had fallen to $91.17 a barrel. (It has declined further since then, closing at $81.84 per barrel yesterday. This could indicate further deceleration in energy and producer prices in October.)

Meanwhile, food prices also decreased 0.7 percent in September. After rising 5.4 percent from December to April, producer prices for final demand food products have eased by 1.5 percent. As such, the cost of food remained 3.8 percent higher in September than at the start of the year. This has largely stemmed from higher prices for meats, eggs, dairy and produce. The largest price declines in August were seen in beef and veal, chicken, cooking oils, eggs, grains, milled rice, pork, oilseeds and turkey products.

Beyond food and energy, core prices for final demand goods were up 0.2 percent. There were higher monthly costs for commercial products, floor coverings, industrial chemicals, pumps and compressors and women’s apparel. At the same time, producer prices for footwear, household appliances and furniture, jewelry, lawn and garden equipment, passenger cars, toys and games and truck trailers were lower.

Core inflation for final demand goods and services was 1.6 percent in September, down from 1.8 percent in August and 2.1 percent in May. As such, the reduction in inflation seen in the past few months should take some pressure off of the Federal Reserve Board as it prepares to normalize its monetary policies.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


Retail Sales Were Weaker in September

The Census Bureau said that retail sales declined 0.3 percent in September, suggesting softness in consumer spending as we begin the autumn months. Indeed, spending was down mostly across-the-board, which was disappointing. It was the first decline in retail sales since the weather-induced weakness observed in January. On the positive side, year-over-year growth in retail spending continues to be at fairly decent rates, up 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. This was down from a 5.0 percent pace, however, in August.

Clothing and accessories (down 1.2 percent), building materials (down 1.1 percent), nonstore retailers (down 1.1 percent), gasoline stations (down 0.8 percent) and motor vehicles and parts (down 0.8 percent) were among the sectors with the largest declines in retail spending. A fair share of the decrease for gasoline stations stemmed from lower gasoline prices, with the average price per gallon of regular gasoline dropping from $3.410 for the week of September 1 to $3.304 for the week of September 29. (The average has fallen further to $3.147 a gallon this week.) In addition, motor vehicle sales have continued to be a strength (up 9.5 percent year-over-year) despite the decline in September.

In contrast, electronics and appliances (up 3.4 percent), food services and drinking places (up 0.6 percent), health and personal care (up 0.3 percent) and general merchandise (up 0.2 percent) stores notched retail sales gains in September. The increase in electronics spending was likely spurred by the introduction of new iPhones from Apple.

Overall, retail sales figures suggest that Americans remain quite cautious. Lower gasoline prices should help fuel additional spending in the coming months, with the National Retail Federation forecasting holiday sales growth of 4.1 percent this year. Yet, the fact that we are starting fall with weaker data suggests that consumer sentiment remains anxious. Hopefully, retail spending will pick up in the coming months.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


NFIB: Small Business Optimism Edged a Little Lower in September

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said that small business sentiment edged lower in September. The Small Business Optimism Index dropped from 96.1 in August to 95.3 in September. Still, small business owners’ sentiment has largely improved after waning in the first quarter of 2014, when the index bottomed out at 91.4 in February. Nonetheless, after peaking at 96.6 in May (its highest level since September 2007), the index has eased somewhat. This suggests that small firms continue to have anxieties about economic growth despite recent progress. Moreover, the index remains below 100 – a level that would indicate health in the small business sector.

Indeed, many of the underlying data points were softer in September. For instance, the net percentage of respondents expecting sales to be higher in the next three months has fallen from 15 percent in May to 5 percent in September. Along those lines, the net percentage planning to hire more workers in the next three months has declined from 13 percent in July (a seven-year high) to 9 percent in September. In addition, capital spending plans over the next three to six months also dropped slightly, down from 27 percent in August to 22 percent in September.

Interestingly, the percentage of small business owners saying that the next three months were a “good time to expand” improved, up from 9 percent in August to 13 percent in September (its highest level since December 2007, the first month of the recession). As such, these data definitely have a nuanced perspective, showing both improvements in the economy and persistent challenges. Economic worries and the political climate were the main reasons noted for those suggesting that it was not a good time for expansion. Regulations were the “single most important problem,” cited by 22 percent of respondents. This was followed by taxes (21 percent) and poor sales (14 percent).

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


Monday Economic Report – October 14, 2014

Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report: 

Financial markets have been rocked by worries about slowing economic growth, particularly in Europe. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 4.2 percent so far this month, declining to 16,321.07 yesterday on Columbus Day. The concern started after the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) released the minutes from its September 16–17 meeting last Wednesday. Indeed, the participants discussed how softer economic activity and geopolitical events could risk U.S. economic progress.

Then, on Thursday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) slightly downgraded its global outlook, with Asia, Europe and South America growing slower than expected three months ago. The IMF now expects world output to expand 3.3 percent and 3.8 percent in 2014 and 2015, respectively, down from 3.4 percent and 4.0 percent as estimated in its July report.

Interestingly, the IMF raised its forecast for the United States, with the estimate of real GDP growth for 2014 up from 1.7 percent to 2.2 percent. This reflects recent strength in the U.S. economy, particularly when compared to other nations. To be fair, the IMF had more optimistic expectations for growth coming into this year, projecting 2.8 percent growth in 2014 in its January report. After disappointing growth in the first quarter, however, it lowered its outlook projections, much like everyone else.

Otherwise, last week was light on economic indicators. Of the ones that were released, the data were mostly mixed. California manufacturers reported a slight easing in the pace of new orders and output, particularly for durable and high-tech industries. Nonetheless, the data still reflect relatively health gains in activity, and hiring in California ticked higher.

In contrast, net hiring in the sector slowed in August nationally. On the positive side, manufacturing job openings have risen steadily this year after bottoming out in February, rising to 297,000 postings in August. These gains were part of a larger upward trend, with total nonfarm job openings increasing to their highest level since January 2001.

Beyond those measures, we learned that wholesale sales were somewhat soft in August—not unlike a number of other indicators. In addition, consumers were less willing to take on credit card debt. At the same time, wholesale spending has increased 5.9 percent over the past 12 months, indicating decent growth, with consumer indebtedness rising 6.8 percent. As such, it is clear that Americans have continued to spend, even if the pace lessened somewhat in August.

After some unexpectedly soft data in August, we will be looking for better housing starts and industrial production figures for September, both of which come toward the end of this week. Industrial production is expected to increase around 0.3 percent, and housing starts should once again exceed an annualized 1 million units. There will also be manufacturing surveys from MAPI and the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve banks. Beyond those indicators, other highlights include the latest data on consumer and producer prices, consumer sentiment, retail sales and small business optimism.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

job openings - oct2014

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)


A Manufacturing Blog

  • Categories

  • Connect With Manufacturers

            
  • Blogroll