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Shopfloor Economics

IHS Markit: Eurozone Manufacturing at 6-Year High in June; U.S. Growth Slowest since September

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The IHS Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI rose from 57.0 in May to 57.3 in June, once again its fastest pace since April 2011. This suggests that manufacturers in Europe have mostly brushed off political uncertainties, with economic growth on the continent continuing to trend in the right direction. New orders (up from 57.8 to 58.5) and output (up from 58.3 to 58.5) accelerated somewhat in June, with both at levels not seen since early 2011. At the same time, exports (down from 57.5 to 57.4) and employment (down from 56.1 to 56.0) edged lower for the month but remained encouraging overall. Looking ahead six months, the future output index reflected healthy expectations moving forward (up from 66.0 to 67.3), with that measure at its highest point since it was introduced in mid-2012. In addition to data for Europe as a whole, IHS Markit also released preliminary figures for France (up from 53.8 to 55.0) and Germany (down from 59.5 to 59.3), which were both promising despite mixed results in June.

Meanwhile, the IHS Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI eased to its slowest growth rate since September, down from 52.7 in May to 52.1 in June. It was the fifth consecutive monthly decline, down from 55.0 in January, which was the fastest growth rate in nearly two years. Nonetheless, we continue to see modest growth overall in the sector nationally, even with some softer data in most of the key variables, including new orders (down from 53.4 to 51.6), output (down from 53.3 to 52.9) and exports (down from 51.3 to 51.0). In contrast to those figures, hiring picked up somewhat in June (up from 51.9 to 52.4). While manufacturing activity in the United States was perhaps weaker than desired in this latest survey, respondents continued to be mostly optimistic about future output (down from 66.5 to 66.1), even with a slight easing in this report.

Kansas City Fed: Manufacturing Activity Continued to Expand Modestly in June

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The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank said that manufacturing activity expanded for the seventh straight month and continued to expand at a modest pace in June. The composite index of general business conditions increased from 8 in May to 11 in June, its highest reading since March’s six-year high (20). In general, manufacturers report notable improvements in activity relative to this time last year, even as sentiment has pulled back somewhat from stronger numbers at the beginning of 2017. Encouragingly, several of the key indices in May shifted strongly higher, including shipments (up from 3 to 23), production (up from -1 to 23), employment (up from 11 to 15) and the average workweek (up from 1 to 7). A couple of the sample comments cited difficulties in hiring new workers. On the other hand, new orders (down from 9 to 4) and export orders (down from 4 to 3) slowed a little in this report but remained positive indicators. Read More

Housing Starts Weakened Again in May, Dropping for the Third Straight Month

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The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that new housing starts weakened again in May, dropping for the third straight month. New residential construction fell from an annualized 1,156,000 in April to 1,092,000 in May, its lowest level since September. Since reaching 1,288,000 units in February, housing starts have pulled back considerably. This report was disappointing, especially since it was expected to rise to exceed 1.2 million again. Perhaps we will see a rebound in the summer months. For their part, the home builder optimism remains strong, with respondents to that survey predicting healthy gains in activity over the next six months. I am also predicting a bounce back in my forecast, which is for 1.25 million starts by year’s end. Read More

Philly Fed: Manufacturing Expanded Strongly in June Once Again

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The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that manufacturing activity expanded strongly in June once again. The composite index of general business activity decreased from 38.8 in May to 27.6 in June. To illustrate this recent progress, the headline index has averaged 31.4 through the first half of 2017, peaking at 43.3 in February, which was the best reading since November 1983. For comparison purposes, the average in the second half of 2016 was 9.1. In fact, growth in new orders (up from 25.4 to 25.9) accelerated in June, with nearly 45 percent of survey respondents saying that demand had risen since May. At the same time, other measures softened a bit in this release, even as they continued to expand at decent rates. Those included shipments (down from 39.1 to 28.5), employment (down from 17.3 to 16.1) and the average workweek (down from 21.7 to 20.5). Read More

New York Fed: Manufacturing Activity Bounced Back in June after a Softer May

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The Empire State Manufacturing Survey said that manufacturing activity bounced back in June after softening in May. The composite index of general business conditions rose from -1.0 in May, its first decline in nine months, to 19.8 in June, its fastest pace since September 2014. The strong rebound was buoyed by healthy accelerations in new orders (up from -4.4 to 18.1), shipments (up from 10.6 to 22.3) and the average workweek (up from 7.5 to 8.5). The percentage of respondents saying that orders had increased in the month rose from 20.7 percent in May to 35.1 percent in June. At the same time, hiring (down from 11.9 to 7.7) slowed somewhat, even as growth in employment remained modest. The labor market has generally improved, up in four of the past six months after contracting sharply in the ten months prior to that. Read More

Manufacturing Production Fell in May for the Second Time in the Past Three Months

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The Federal Reserve said that manufacturing production fell for the second time in the past three months, down 0.4 percent in May. After rebounding strongly in April, up 1.1 percent, this latest figure is a bit of a disappointment, suggesting a softening of activity following recent progress. Motor vehicles and parts production led the decline in May, down 2.0 percent for the month and off 1.5 percent year to date, as automotive demand has continued to be weaker than desired so far in 2017. Despite the easing in this latest release and some lingering challenges, the underlying data remain consistent with a manufacturing sector that has turned a corner and has moved in the right direction, especially relative to where it stood at this point last year.

Manufacturing production has risen 1.4 percent over the past 12 months, down from 1.6 percent in the previous report. Yet, it was the seventh consecutive positive year-over-year reading for manufacturing output and definite progress from the 0.3 percent year-over-year decline in May 2016. Similarly, manufacturing capacity utilization declined from 75.8 percent in April to 75.5 percent in May. For comparison purposes, utilization in the sector was 75.0 percent one year ago.

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Retail Sales Disappointed in May

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The U.S. consumer appears to be more cautious than we would expect, with disappointing retail sales figures in May, according to the Census Bureau. Spending at retailers fell 0.3 percent in May, nearly reversing the 0.4 percent gain in April and well below consensus estimates. Americans had been more willing to open their pocketbooks, especially relative to the caution seen at the beginning of 2016. This culminated in 5.6 percent year-over-year growth in January, its fastest pace since March 2012, but the year-over-year rate has eased since then. Since May 2016, retail spending has increased 3.8 percent. To be fair, sales continue to rise modestly, and year-over-year growth has trended mostly higher, up from 2.3 percent at this point last year.

Looking at the May report, the data were mixed but mostly lower. Retail segments with the largest declines in monthly sales included electronics and appliance stores (down 2.8 percent), gasoline stations (down 2.4 percent), miscellaneous store retailers (down 1.3 percent), department stores (down 1.0 percent) and sporting goods and hobby stores (down 0.6 percent), among others. While nonstore retailers (up 0.8 percent), furniture and home furnishings stores (up 0.4 percent), clothing and accessory stores (up 0.3 percent) and food and beverage stores (up 0.1 percent) saw increases in May, each experienced reduced sales compared to April. It is worth noting the contrast between nonstore retailers and department stores in this report, as retailers continue to grapple with the structural shifts taking place between online and brick-and-mortar spending habits.

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FOMC Voted to Hike Rates at Its June Meeting, Plans to Reduce Its Balance Sheet Starting This Year

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The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted to raise short-term interest rates at the conclusion of its June 13–14 meeting for only the third time since the financial crisis. After hiking the federal funds rate in December and March, the Federal Reserve increased rates by another 25 basis points, with a new target range of 1 to 1.25 percent. In making this decision, participants noted recent strengthening in the overall macroeconomy, including better data for consumer spending, business investment and hiring. Beyond this latest action, it is widely anticipated that the FOMC will increase rates one more time in 2017, perhaps as soon as its September 19–20 meeting. Such a decision, of course, would depend on continued improvements in economic activity, especially as the Federal Reserve remains “data dependent.” At this meeting, there was one dissenter: Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari, who felt that incoming data did not warrant an increase just yet. Read More

Consumer Prices in May Reflect Some Slowing in Inflationary Pressures

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that consumer prices edged down 0.1 percent in May, falling for the second time in the past three months. The lower figure mainly stemmed from reduced energy costs, down 2.7 percent, with gasoline prices off 6.4 percent. In contrast, food prices increased 0.2 percent for the second consecutive month. Over the past 12 months, food and energy costs have increased 0.9 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively. Overall, the consumer price index increased 1.9 percent year-over-year in May, its first reading below 2 percent since November. This suggests that the acceleration in pricing pressures that peaked at a 2.8 percent year-over-year rate in February has slowed since then. With that said, year-over-year consumer inflation was 1.0 percent in May 2016, suggesting that overall prices have still trended higher over the longer term.

Core consumer prices, which exclude food and energy costs, edged up 0.1 percent in May, mirroring its increase in April. Excluding food and energy costs, consumer prices have risen 1.7 percent over the past 12 months, pulling back from 2.0 percent in March and 1.9 percent in April. As such, overall pricing pressures remain modest and mostly under control for now.

NFIB: Small Business Optimism Index Was Flat in May, Remaining Highly Elevated

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The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said that the Small Business Optimism Index was flat in May, remaining at 104.5 for the second month. Sentiment among owners has remained highly elevated over the course of the past six months despite easing from January’s 105.9 reading, which was a 12-year high. Over that six-month period, the headline index has averaged 105.1. For comparison purposes, the index was 93.8 one year ago, illustrating the sizable uptick in confidence among small business leaders since November. Along those lines, the percentage of respondents suggesting that the next three months would be a “good time to expand” edged down from 24 percent to 23 percent, which was the average seen over the past six months. In May 2016, just 9 percent said the same thing. Read More