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Consumer Inflation Eased Slightly in July, but with Prices Up 2 Percent in the Past 12 Months

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that consumer prices increased 0.1 percent in July, its slowest pace in 6 months. Nonetheless, food prices continue to rise, up 0.4 percent in July. The price of food purchased for the home has risen 2.2 percent year-to-date, or 2.5 percent in the past 12 months. The bulk of this increase has come from meats, eggs, shellfish and fresh produce. For instance, consumers have spent 9.3 percent more year-over-year on meats (e.g., beef and veal, pork, poultry and fish and seafood), with an increase of 0.4 percent for the month, mirroring the headline figure.

In contrast, energy prices have eased, mirroring producer price data released last week. Consumers have benefited from lower prices for natural gas and petroleum. For instance, the cost of West Texas intermediate crude oil declined from a recent peak of $107.95 per barrel on June 20 to $98.23 on July 31. The consumer price index data suggest that energy prices fell 0.3 percent in July. At the same time, energy expenses have risen 1.2 percent over the past 12 months, largely from higher costs for the home.

Excluding food and energy, consumer prices were up 0.1 percent, matching the increase seen the month before. Higher prices for apparel, medical care, new motor vehicles and shelter were somewhat offset by reduced costs for transportation services and used cars and trucks.

Overall, the consumer price index rose 2.0 percent from July 2013 to July 2014, its fourth straight month with an inflation rate of 2.0 percent or more. With that said, it represents an easing from the 2.1 percent paces seen in May and June. The core inflation rate – which excludes food and energy – has been 1.9 percent for three consecutive months.

While core pricing pressures have accelerated from earlier in the year, they appear to be stabilizing somewhat this summer. That should be good news for the Federal Reserve, which has targeted 2.0 percent in its stated goals. Still, the Federal Open Market Committee will closely watch to see how pricing pressures develop in the coming months, particularly as it prepares to start normalizing short-term rates in early 2015.

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

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Housing Starts Rebounded in July to Their Second-Highest Pace since the Recession

The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that housing starts increased 15.7 percent in July, offsetting significant declines in both May and June. Starts increased from an annualized 945,000 in July to 1,093,000 in July. This was the fastest pace since the 1,105,000 rate observed in November, making it the second-highest pace since November 2007. This is a sign that the lull that we have seen in the housing market so far this year has begun to dissipate, which is definitely a positive sign. New residential construction starts have increased 21.7 percent year-over-year.

The bulk of the increase in July stemmed from the highly-volatile multi-family segment, up from 339,000 to 437,000. This was the fastest pace in multi-family construction activity since January 2006. At the same time, single-family starts also improved, up from 606,000 to 656,000, the highest rate since December. Single-family starts have increased 10.1 percent over the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, housing permits mirrored the progress with starts data, rising 8.1 percent in July after two consecutive decreases in May and June. Housing permits grew from 973,000 at the annual rate in June to 1,052,000 in July, representing an increase of 7.7 percent year-over-year. Single-family (up from 634,000 to 640,000) and multi-family (339,000 to 412,000) permitting were both higher, with the latter up a whopping 21.5 percent for the month.

Overall, July’s housing numbers were encouraging, particularly given the softness seen earlier in the year. Housing starts had averaged 961,000 from January to June, bottoming out at 897,000 in January. Financial difficulties in obtaining credit (particularly for first-time home buyers) and economic uncertainties were obstacles for some. Moving forward, we would expect August’s housing data to remain above the one-million mark, with starts solidly at 1.1 million by year’s end, representing slow-but-steady progress in the residential market.

This would be consistent with rising confidence in the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo report released yesterday. The Housing Market Index increased for the third straight month, up from 53 in July to 55 in August. It was the second month with the index above 50, an indication that more home builders were positive than negative in their outlook. More importantly, it was the highest level since January, with builder confidence lagging from February to June with an average of 46.4 over that five-month span. The latest rebound is perhaps a sign that the sector has begun to recover somewhat.

Indeed, the index of expected single-family sales over the next 6 months rose from 63 in July to 65 in August, its fastest pace in 12 months. With that said, some of the underlying data indicate that persistent challenges remain. For instance, the index of buyer traffic, while up from 39 to 42, remains below the all-important threshold of 50. Moreover, the regional data were mixed, with home builder confidence up in the Midwest and Northeast but marginally lower in the South and West.

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

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Indiana Added the Most New Manufacturing Jobs in July and also Year-to-Date

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Indiana created the most net new manufacturing jobs in July, adding 5,500 workers during the month. These gains came from both durable and nondurable goods sectors, with hiring up by 3,400 and 2,100, respectively. Other states with significant growth in manufacturing employment in manufacturing employment in July included Kentucky (up 5,000), California (up 4,600), Michigan (up 4,200) and Illinois (up 3,900).

Indiana has also generated the most employment gains year-to-date, with 13,900 additional manufacturing jobs added through the first seven months of 2014. Missouri (up 8,100), Texas (up 7,600), Ohio (up 7,600) and Michigan (up 6,800) have also added a sizable number of new manufacturing jobs so far this year. Michigan (up 111,000) continues the lead the list of the most net new manufacturing jobs added since the end of the recession.

The national unemployment rate rose to 6.2 percent in July, as we learned in an earlier release. The lowest unemployment rate continues to be North Dakota’s 2.8 percent, followed by Nebraska (3.6 percent), Utah (3.6 percent), South Dakota (3.7 percent) and Vermont (3.7 percent). Meanwhile, Mississippi (8.0 percent) had the highest unemployment rate in the country, with several states also experiencing elevated rates, including Georgia (7.8 percent), Michigan (7.7 percent), Nevada (7.7 percent) and Rhode Island (7.7 percent).

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

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Monday Economic Report – August 18, 2014

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

While geopolitical events continue to provide significant downside risks to the economy, recent data suggest that manufacturers in the United States are faring better this summer. Manufacturing production increased 1.0 percent in July, helping to lift the year-over-year pace of manufacturing output to 4.9 percent, its fastest annual pace since June 2012. Last month’s gain stemmed largely from increased motor vehicle production, with all but three of the major manufacturing sectors notching higher output levels for the month. At the same time, the utilization rate for manufacturers increased to 77.8 percent, nearly reaching pre-recessionary capacity levels.

Similarly, the Empire State Manufacturing Survey reflected strong growth in August, albeit less so than the robust levels observed in July. More importantly, respondents to the New York Fed’s survey were significantly more upbeat, with roughly 60 percent anticipating higher sales and output over the next six months. This study also reported that approximately 30 percent of manufacturers in its district planned to hire more workers and invest in additional capital expenditures in the coming months. This is welcome news, and it was largely consistent with the recent pickup in the labor market. Manufacturing job openings increased in June to their highest level in two years, with net hiring also accelerating. Of course, we already knew that to some extent. The most recent employment data found that manufacturers hired an additional 22,000 workers on average from May to July.

Meanwhile, the European economy has shown signs of backtracking, with real GDP in the Eurozone remaining unchanged in the second quarter. Germany’s economy contracted by 0.2 percent, helping to push the continent’s growth figure lower, but Italy (also down 0.2 percent) and France (flat for the second straight quarter) were also weak. In addition, industrial production has decreased in three of the past four months, with output unchanged year-over-year. We will get our first look at August purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data this week. The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI report in July provided mixed news, with activity expanding for 13 straight months but growth continuing to ease over the course of this year. The latest data suggest that Europe’s economic challenges are still not behind them.

To some extent, that is true in the United States as well. We have seen improvements in a number of economic indicators, and yet, there are also persistent worries about future growth. Some of this could stem from global anxieties, but it could also be a function of disappointment with the lack of growth in the first half of the year. Preliminary consumer sentiment data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters appears to pick up on this nuance, with Americans less confident once again in their forward-looking expectations. Indeed, retail sales data also reflect cautiousness on the part of the consumer, with spending unchanged in June.

This week, we will get additional insights about the health of the manufacturing sector worldwide. In addition to new PMI data for Europe, Markit will also release flash reports for China, Japan and the United States. While China’s economy had begun to stabilize in July, last week we learned that Japan’s real GDP contracted by 1.7 percent in the second quarter, or 6.8 percent year-over-year. Closer to home, the Federal Reserve will release the minutes of its July 29–30 Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Analysts will be looking for clues about when the Fed plans to start normalizing short-term rates. The Fed received good news last week with an easing in producer prices in July from recent highs, and this should help to alleviate some of the immediate pressure from inflation hawks, at least for now. Other highlights this week include the latest data on consumer prices, housing starts and permits, leading indicators and Philadelphia Fed manufacturing sentiment.

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

manufacturing production - aug2014

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University of Michigan: Consumer Confidence Slipped Again in August

The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters said that preliminary data on consumer confidence slipped again in August. The Consumer Sentiment Index decreased from 81.3 in July to 79.2 in August, its lowest level in 9 months and off significantly from the recent high of 84.1 in April. The average reading year-to-date in 2014 is 81.5, up marginally from the 79.2 average of 2013 as a whole.

Interestingly, as the University of Michigan’s data has reflected less optimism on the part of consumers of late, a similar report from the Conference Board had its consumer confidence measure reaching a pre-recession high in July. As such, these competing data points show the complex thinking of the American consumer right now, with economic data showing rebounding activity from earlier in the year but also with nagging worries about future growth.

Indeed, the August University of Michigan data reflect this nuance. The index for present conditions improved (up from 97.1 to 99.6), but the forward-looking expectations measure dropped significantly (down from 71.1 to 66.2). The latter measure was at its lowest level since the government shutdown last fall. It is possible that Americans are reacting to geopolitical events in this survey.

We will get final data on August consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan on August 29. The Conference Board will also release its survey data on consumer confidence on August 26.

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

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Despite Higher Food Producer Prices in July, Overall Inflationary Pressures Eased Slightly

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that producer prices for final demand goods and services increased 0.1 percent in July, slowing from the 0.4 percent gain seen in June. Specifically, producer prices for final demand goods were unchanged for the month, with food prices up 0.4 percent but energy costs down 0.6 percent. The increase in food costs stemmed largely from higher prices for meats and shellfish; however, there was some relief from recent price gains for produce. On the energy side, producers have benefited from lower prices for natural gas and petroleum of late. For instance, the cost of West Texas intermediate crude oil declined from a recent peak of $107.95 per barrel on June 20 to $98.23 on July 31.

Beyond food and energy, core prices for final demand goods rose 0.2 percent in July. The largest increases were seen in apparel for women, girls and infants; commercial furniture; industrial chemicals; light motor trucks; pharmaceuticals; and transformers and power regulators. These were offset somewhat by declines in prices for floor coverings, gold and platinum jewelry, pet food, sanitary paper products, tires and x-ray equipment.

On an annual basis, producer prices for final demand goods and services rose 1.7 percent over the past 12 months. This was down for the third straight month, off from the 2.1 percent pace observed in April. Likewise, core inflation – which excludes food and energy costs – increased 1.6 percent over the past 12 months, down from 2.0 percent in May.

Overall, this suggests that inflationary pressures have eased slightly over the past couple months. While we have seen some acceleration in producer prices since the beginning of the year, costs remain below the Federal Reserve’s stated threshold of 2 percent. This indicates the inflation remains in-check, at least for now, and the recent deceleration should ease the pressure on the Federal Open Market Committee to expedite its plans to normalize rates. Of course, the final decision to raise short-term rates will hinge on economic data in the months to come.

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

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Manufacturing Production Rose One Percent in July, with Capacity Reaching a Six-Year High

Manufacturing production increased 1.0 percent in July, its fastest pace since February’s post-weather rebound earlier in the year. The jump in output helped to lift the year-over-year pace of manufacturing production to 4.9 percent, its fastest annual rate since June 2012. As such, it illustrates the recover in output in the sector since the winter months, with the year-over-year pace up from 1.5 percent in January.

Meanwhile, manufacturing capacity utilization increased from 77.2 percent in June (and just 75.5 percent in January) to 77.8 percent in July. This suggests that utilization rates for manufacturers have nearly reached their pre-recessionary levels, with July’s rate the highest level since February 2008.

Looking at sectoral performance, durable and nondurable goods output were both higher, up 1.7 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively. The largest increase stemmed from motor vehicle production, which increased by a whopping 10.1 percent in July, recovering from being flat in June. On a year-over-year basis, motor vehicles and parts output has risen 21.9 percent. This reflected the sizable gain in 2014, but it was also a function of softness in 2013 due to the sector gearing up for a new model year.

Other sectors with notable increases in July included apparel and leather (up 1.8 percent), textile and product mills (up 1.7 percent), furniture and related products (up 1.4 percent), petroleum and coal products (up 1.3 percent), nonmetallic mineral products (up 1.0 percent), primary metals (up 1.0 percent), machinery (up 0.9 percent) and computer and electronic products (up 0.8 percent). In contrast, just 3 of the 19 major sectors had declining production for the month, and these were: miscellaneous durable goods (down 0.8 percent); food, beverage and tobacco products (down 0.3 percent); and plastics and rubber products (down 0.3 percent).

On a year-over-year basis, durable goods production has risen by a healthy 8.2 percent since July 2013, with nondurable goods output up 2.1 percent. The five sectors with the fastest growth over the past 12 months include: motor vehicles and parts (up 21.9 percent), furniture and related products (up 9.2 percent), machinery (up 8.3 percent), plastics and rubber products (up 7.4 percent) and nonmetallic mineral products (up 7.3 percent).

Meanwhile, overall industrial production rose 0.4 percent in July, equaling the increase seen in June. It was the sixth straight monthly gain in production, following January’s weather-induced decline. Since January, industrial output has risen 3.0 percent, with 5.0 percent growth year-over-year. Mining production increased 0.3 percent, but utility output continues to soften, down 3.4 percent for the month. Total capacity utilization increased from 79.1 percent in June to 79.2 percent in July, its highest rate since June 2008.

In conclusion, manufacturers continue to expand strongly in July, recovering from weaknesses earlier in the year. Moreover, surveys suggest optimism for the months ahead, including respondents from the Empire State Manufacturing Survey released this morning. Yet, manufacturing leaders have also been disappointed with the slow pace of growth in the first half of this year, and their upbeat sentiment about the second half remains is filled with caution. For that reason, policymakers should focus on those initiatives which will keep the economy growing moving forward.

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

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NY Fed: Manufacturers in its District Have Expanded Strongly for Six Straight Months

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey from the New York Federal Reserve Bank said that businesses expanded strongly for the sixth straight month in August. Yet, while growth rates remain at decent levels, the pace of expansion eased somewhat for the month. The composite index of general business conditions declined from 25.6 in July, which was a four-year high, to 14.7 in August. Given the loftiness of July’s figure, it should probably not be much of a surprise that the index came back down to earth. The good news was that much of July’s increases were sustained, with 31.4 percent saying that conditions were better and 51.9 percent suggesting that they remained the same in August.

The underlying data were mixed. On the positive side, the growth rate for shipments (up from 23.6 to 24.6) and the average employee workweek (up from 2.3 to 8.0) both picked up, reflecting increased activity levels. At the same time, new orders (down from 18.8 to 14.1) and hiring (down from 17.1 to 13.6) decelerated slightly, even as they remained at decent growth levels. Pricing pressures remained elevated (up from 25.0 to 27.3), with nearly 30 percent of survey respondents suggesting that input costs were higher in August.

Meanwhile, manufacturers in the New York Fed’s district were significantly more optimistic about the next six months. The forward-looking composite index jumped from 28.5 to 46.8, its highest level since January 2012. Roughly 60 percent of those taking the survey said that they anticipate higher sales and output levels in the months ahead, with approximately 30 percent planning to hire more workers and invest in additional capital expenditures. Still, the average workweek is predicted to be unchanged six months from now, and 46.6 percent feel that raw material prices should increase.

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

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Europe’s Economy Slowed to a Halt in the Second Quarter

Eurostat reported flat real GDP growth in the second quarter for the Eurozone, the slowest pace since the first quarter of 2013. Since emerging from a deep recession in mid-2013, Europe has grown slowly, prompting deflationary worries and dampening what would otherwise have been a psychological boost. In the 18-member Eurozone, real GDP has expanded 0.7 percent over the past 12 months. Germany (down 0.2 percent) and Italy (down 0.2 percent) were among the countries in the second quarter with declining economic growth, with French growth unchanged for the second consecutive quarter. In contrast, the United Kingdom has been of the bright spots, with 0.8 percent growth in the second quarter and 3.1 percent growth year-over-year.

Given the sluggishness of recent income and economic activity growth in the Eurozone, we have also seen prices increase very slowly, up just 0.4 percent in July and down from 0.5 percent in June. This has prompted the European Central Bank to be more aggressive, and the latest data suggest even more monetary stimulus in the months ahead.

In the manufacturing sector, industrial production declined by 0.3 percent in the Eurozone in June. It has decreased in three of the past four months. On a year-over-year basis, industrial output was unchanged since June 2013 in the 18-member Eurozone. This represents a significant deceleration in the past two months, down from 1.8 percent in April. We will get our first look at August purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data on August 21, but this data suggest weaknesses for the month. The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI report in July provided mixed news, with activity expanding for 13 straight months but with growth in activity continuing to ease over the course of this year.

Overall, these data show that Europe’s economic challenges are still not behind them, with activity slowing over much of this year. For manufacturers, this has meant cautious consumption and slowing production for both durable and nondurable goods. Energy production has declined by the largest amount year-over-year (down 3.4 percent), and tensions with Russia could present even-greater downside risks for the continent as temperatures start to fall in the fall and winter months.

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

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Retail Sales Were Unchanged in July, Slowing from a Faster Pace in the Spring Months

The Census Bureau said that retail sales were unchanged in July. Since declining due to winter weather in December and January, retail spending had rebounded in the spring months, but it has since slowed significantly. Over the course of the past 12 months, retail sales have risen 3.7 percent, down from a 4.7 percent pace experienced in April. As such, it appears that consumers have become more cautious in their spending this summer even as we have continued to see relatively modest gains so far in 2014.

Motor vehicle sales (down 0.2 percent) declined for the second month in a row. Excluding auto sales, retail spending was up just 0.1 percent, indicating broader weaknesses. Bright spots included miscellaneous store retailers (up 0.9 percent), clothing and accessory stores (up 0.4 percent), health and personal care stores (up 0.4 percent), food and beverage stores (up 0.3 percent), food services and drinking places (up 0.2 percent) and sporting goods and hobby stores (up 0.2 percent).

Yet, these gains were largely offset by spending declines for department stores (down 0.7 percent), motor vehicle and parts dealers (down 0.2 percent), electronics and appliance stores (down 0.1 percent), furniture and home furnishings stores (down 0.1 percent) and nonstore retailers (down 0.1 percent).

On a year-over-year basis, segments with the fastest retail sales growth were health and personal care stores (up 7.3 percent), food services and drinking places (up 6.2 percent), motor vehicle and parts dealers (up 6.0 percent), nonstore retailers (up 5.9 percent) and building material and garden supply stores (up 5.1 percent).

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

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