Real GDP grew 3.5 percent in the third quarter, its fastest pace in two years. The Bureau of Economic Analysis provided more detail about growth by industry. In short, real value-added output in the manufacturing sector increased by 2.5 percent in the third quarter, its strongest rate since the first quarter of 2015. Real value-added from durable goods firms rose 5.1 percent but fell by 0.4 percent for nondurable goods businesses. As a result, manufacturers contributed 0.30 percentage points to headline growth in the third quarter, up from 0.09 percent in the second quarter but still rather subpar. Read More
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that manufacturing activity expanded at its fastest pace in 26 months, continuing to accelerate as we begin 2017. The composite index of general business activity rose from 19.7 in December to 23.6 in January, its highest level since November 2014. In addition, sentiment has now expanded for six consecutive months, improving from broad-based weaknesses in late 2015 and early 2016. Growth in new orders (up from 14.9 to 26.0) also rose strongly, with 41.4 percent of respondents noting increased sales for the month, up from 31.6 percent in the prior release. At the same time, shipments (down from 21.7 to 20.5) and hiring (up from 3.6 to 12.8) were also encouraging, albeit with a slight easing in the former. Read More
The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that new housing starts rose 11.3 percent in December, largely on a rebound in the multifamily segment. New residential construction activity rose from an annualized 1,102,000 in November to 1,226,000 in December. These data have been highly volatile, especially in the second half of 2016, with starts ranging from 1,052,000 in September to 1,340,000 in October, its fastest monthly pace since July 2007. Much of that volatility stemmed from multifamily activity, which increased from 274,000 in November to 431,000 in December. To further express recent variability, multifamily starts have risen 9.1 percent over the past 12 months, and yet, housing starts for multifamily units fell from an average of 395,333 in 2015 to 384,500 in 2016. Read More
The Federal Reserve said that manufacturing production rebounded in December after pulling lower in November, with output in the sector up 0.2 percent in the latest report. Manufacturers have struggled to increase demand over the past couple years, with a strong dollar and global headwinds dampening overall activity, but recent data have started to reflect a turnaround in sentiment. In that regard, manufacturing production grew 0.2 percent year-over-year in December, its first positive reading since June but still indicating essentially stagnant growth over the past 12 months. Similarly, manufacturing capacity utilization edged up from 74.7 percent to 74.8 percent, which, despite some progress, continued to be below the 75.2 percent utilization rate observed one year ago. Read More
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in December, rising for the fifth straight month. The increase in the latest release stemmed largely from higher energy costs, up 1.5 percent, with gasoline prices up 3.0 percent. Indeed, the average price of regular conventional gasoline was $2.25 per gallon on December 26, up from $2.08 on November 28, according to the Energy Information Administration. Over the past 12 months, energy prices have risen 5.4 percent. At the same time, food prices were unchanged for the sixth consecutive month, with a decline of 0.2 percent since December 2015. Overall, the consumer price index increased 2.1 percent year-over-year in October, up from 0.9 percent in July and the highest level since May 2014.
Core consumer prices were up 0.2 percent in December, mirroring the pace seen in November. There were higher prices for medical care, new and used vehicles, transportation services and shelter, but lower costs for apparel and household furnishings. Excluding food and energy costs, consumer prices have increased 2.2 percent over the past 12 months, which was the average for 2016. Even though core consumer price inflation has exceeded the Federal Reserve’s stated goal of 2 percent for 14 consecutive months, overall prices pressures remain modest and under control for now.
Producer prices increased 0.3 percent in December, extending the 0.4 percent gain seen in November. More importantly for manufacturers, producer prices for final demand goods accelerated in the latest report, up 0.7 percent in December. This reflected large monthly jumps in both energy and foods costs, up 2.6 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. There were higher prices for beef, chicken, dairy products, eggs, fish and shellfish, pork and vegetables for the month. Still, food costs have been on a downward trend over the past two years, down 6.1 percent over the past 24 months. On the other hand, rising natural gas and gasoline prices helped push energy costs higher in December. Since December 2015, final demand energy prices have risen 6.1 percent, but to be fair, they have fallen 23.3 percent from levels seen three years ago. Excluding food and energy, final demand goods prices for producers increased by 0.3 percent in December. Read More
The Census Bureau said that retail sales accelerated in December, finishing 2016 on a strong note. Spending at retailers grew 0.6 percent in December, increasing for the fourth straight month. In the fourth quarter alone, retail sales rose 1.5 percent, illustrating once again that Americans continued to increase their spending at year’s end after being rather cautious in their purchases earlier in the year. Over the past 12 months, retail sales have risen 4.1 percent. That represents a healthy rebound from the 1.7 percent pace observed in March. With that said, healthy sales gains at motor vehicle and parts dealers (up 2.4 percent) helped to boost the December headline number. Excluding automobiles, retail spending increased by a more modest 0.2 percent, with year-over-year growth of 3.4 percent. Read More
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that net hiring in the manufacturing sector was flat in November, continuing a trend of weak net job growth year-to-date. According to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), total hiring edged up from 274,000 in October to 275,000 in November, with marginal increases for both durable (up from 159,000 to 160,000) and nondurable (up from 114,000 to 115,000) goods firms. At the same time, total separations – which include quits, layoffs and retirements – rose from 269,000 to 275,000 for the month. Overall, net hiring (or hiring minus separations) decreased from 5,000 in October to zero in November.
Meanwhile, manufacturing job openings were little changed, up from 320,000 in October to 324,000 in November. Postings in the sector have trended lower since achieving an all-time high of 397,000 in April; yet, they remain elevated, especially relative to hiring levels. Through the first 11 months of 2016, job openings have averaged 343,000 per month, up from 311,000 for 2015 as a whole. As such, we have continued to see relatively healthy gains in manufacturing job openings, despite some easing over the past few months. This gives us optimism for faster hiring growth moving forward. In the November data, nondurable goods firms had more openings, up from 123,000 to 139,000, but there were fewer postings among durable goods manufacturers, down from 197,000 to 185,000. Read More
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said that sentiment among small business owners soared in December to its highest reading in 12 years. The Small Business Optimism Index increased from 98.4 in November to 105.8 in December. Respondents have responded quite positively in the aftermath of the election, hoping that the new Administration will bring about needed changes on the tax and regulatory front. Beyond the headline number, there were also significant jumps in the underlying data. For instance, the percentage of respondents suggesting that the next three months would be a “good time to expand” leapt from 11 percent to 23 percent, its fastest pace since the Great Recession. In addition, the percentage expecting sales to increase over the next three months rocketed from 1 percent in October to 31 percent in December, the largest level since October 2005. Read More
The Census Bureau said that new factory orders fell 2.4 percent in November, declining for the first time since June. Yet, the decrease in November came largely from a drop in nondefense aircraft sales, which can be highly volatile from month-to-month. Excluding transportation equipment, new orders for manufactured goods edged up 0.1 percent. Over the longer term, new factory orders have started to stabilize on a year-over-year basis. While orders were off 0.3 percent since November 2015 that represents progress from the 5.8 percent year-over-year declines seen in June. More positively, new factory orders excluding transportation have risen 1.45 percent over the past year in this report, only the second monthly year-over-year increase. Read More