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Consumer Prices Rose 0.1 Percent in April

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that consumer prices rose 0.1 percent in April, slightly lower than the 0.2 percent gains observed in both February and March. Lower energy prices helped to reduce the pace of the headline number, with energy costs down 1.3 percent for the month. Gasoline prices declined 1.9 percent in April, easing a bit after 2.4 percent and 3.9 percent increases observed in February and March, respectively. On a year-over-year basis, gasoline sells for 31.7 percent less today than in April 2014. Note that the average price of gasoline has risen a little since then, with the Energy Information Administration reporting that the average price of regular gasoline was $2.604 per gallon on May 18, up from $2.315 on April 6. This is still more than one dollar lower than seen 12 months ago. (continue reading…)

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Kansas City Fed Reported Contracting Activity for the Third Consecutive Month in May

The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank said that manufacturing activity contracted for the third consecutive month in May. The composite index dropped from -7 in April to -13 in May, suggesting a sharper drop in activity than the month before. Indeed, several of the key data points declined at faster rates in May than in April. This included new orders (down from -12 to -19), production (down from -2 to -13), shipments (down from -7 to -9) and the average workweek (down from -10 to -14). At the same time, employment (up from -18 to -17) decreased sharply, and exports (up from -12 to -9) contracted for the fifth straight month, even as both measures fell at slightly slower paces for the month. (continue reading…)

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Philly Fed: Manufacturing Outlook Eased Slightly in May

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said that the manufacturing outlook eased slightly in May. The composite index of general business activity dropped from 7.5 in April to 6.7 in May. In general, the outlook has weakened so far this year relative to last year, with the headline measure averaging 6.1 through the first five months of 2015. This compares to the more-robust average of 25.1 observed in the second half of 2014, with the softness experienced year-to-date largely the result of a number of headwinds seen in the U.S. and global economy. At the same time, manufacturers in the Philly Fed district have reported expanding levels of activity for 15 straight months. (continue reading…)

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Markit: U.S. Manufacturing Activity Slowed in May; Europe Improved, but China Contracted Once More

The Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI declined from 54.1 in April to 53.8 in May, easing to its lowest level since October 2013. It was the second straight monthly deceleration in manufacturing activity, and the slowing in May reflected slower growth in new orders (down from 55.3 to 54.2) and output (down from 55.3 to 55.0). Exports (up from 48.8 to 49.6) continued to contract, but declined by less for the month. On the positive side, hiring (up from 53.7 to 54.3) accelerated to its fastest rate in six months. Moreover, even with some weakening in sentiment, the measures for demand and production growth for U.S. manufacturers remains decent overall. (continue reading…)

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Housing Starts Rebounded Strongly in April, Growing at Fastest Pace since November 2007

The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that residential construction activity rebounded strongly in April. New housing starts jumped from an annualized 944,000 in March to 1,135,000 in April, its fastest pace since November 2007, the month before the start of the Great Recession. As such, it appears that the housing market has begun to move beyond the weather-related softness seen in some regions of the country in February and March. On a year-over-year basis, housing starts have risen 9.2 percent since April 2014.

Both single-family (up from 628,000 to 733,000) and multi-family (up from 316,000 to 402,000) housing starts were higher in April, which was encouraging. The single-family growth rates was the fastest since January 2008, with multi-family starts reaching a nine-month high. (continue reading…)

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Monday Economic Report – May 18, 2015

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

One of the larger headlines of the past week was the renewed strength of the euro, which closed at $1.1449 on Friday. To put that exchange rate in perspective, the euro traded for $1.0582 on April 13, and Friday’s close was the highest level for the euro since February 2. To be fair, the U.S. dollar remains strong against the euro, up 17.8 percent since May 6, 2014. Yet, the recent weakness in the dollar (and strength in the euro) has been the result of weaker-than-expected economic data in the United States and better-than-anticipated numbers coming out of Europe. Many of the underlying long-term fundamentals in these two regions remain the same, but those manufacturers worried about the negative impact of a soaring dollar got some welcome relief last week in the recent easing of the greenback. (continue reading…)

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Industrial Production Unchanged in April

Manufacturing production was unchanged in April, slowing from the 0.3 percent gain experienced in March. Overall, output in the sector has been very soft for five straight months. Manufacturers have struggled with a number of significant headwinds in the U.S. and global economies, including challenges in growing exports, residual impacts from the West Coast ports slowdown, regional weather challenges and an anxious consumer. As a result, the year-over-year pace has slowed from 4.5 percent in November to 2.3 percent in April.  Similarly, capacity utilization in manufacturing has dropped from 79.8 percent five months ago to 78.2 percent today.

Durable goods production increased 0.1 percent in April, with output for nondurable goods firms off 0.1 percent. There were strong increases for manufacturing production for nonmetallic mineral products (up 1.4 percent), electrical equipment and appliances (up 1.3 percent), motor vehicles and parts (up 1.3 percent) and wood products (up 1.3 percent). However, these were offset by declining output in the machinery (down 0.9 percent), aerospace and miscellaneous transportation equipment (down 0.6 percent), and food, beverage and tobacco products (down 0.6 percent) sectors, among others. (continue reading…)

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Reduced Energy Costs Continue to Push Producer Prices Lower in April

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that producer prices for final demand goods and services fell 0.4 percent in April, with prices for goods down 0.7 percent. Final demand goods prices have declined in nine of the past ten months, driven lower largely on reduced energy costs. Final demand energy goods were off 2.9 percent in April, or 24.3 percent since peaking 10 months ago in June. Producer prices for final demand food goods also declined in April, down 0.9 percent. Sharply lower egg prices helped push overall food costs down, along with chicken, cooking oils, oilseeds, pork, processed fruits and vegetables and roasted coffee. Through the first four months of 2015, food costs have declined 4.2 percent. (continue reading…)

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Consumers Remained Cautious in their Spending in April

Consumers remained cautious in their spending in April, according to the Census Bureau. Retail sales were unchanged for the month, softening from the rebound seen in March. Overall, spending has decelerated significantly over the past few months, down from a year-over-year rate of 4.7 percent in November to just 0.9 percent in April.

With that said, the longer-term view is perhaps more encouraging than the headline number might suggest. Total retail spending includes gasoline station sales, which have fallen 22.0 percent since April 2014 on lower prices. Excluding gasoline stations, retail sales grew 3.6 percent year-over-year. This suggests modest growth in the broader retail market over the past 12 months. Still, this figure has also eased recently, down from 5.8 percent year-over-year in November. (continue reading…)

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JOLTS: Manufacturing Net Hiring Was Negative in Both February and March

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that net hiring in the manufacturing sector was negative in both February and March, according to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) release. This was the first declines in net hiring for the sector in nearly two years, a reflection of the recent headwinds seen in the economy so far this year.

Manufacturers hired 254,000 workers in April, down from 259,000 in March. At the same time, total separations – including layoffs, quits and retirements – were unchanged at 264,000. Therefore, net hiring (or hires minus separations) declined from -5,000 to -10,000. This represents a deterioration from the more-robust pace of net hiring growth seen in the second half of 2014, which averaged nearly 25,000 per month. Hopefully, we will see a rebound in net employment growth in the coming months. (continue reading…)

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