Economy

Conference Board: Consumer Confidence Unexpectedly Fell in September

The Conference Board said that consumer sentiment unexpectedly fell in September to its lowest level since May. The Consumer Confidence Index declined from a revised 93.4 in August to 86.0 in September. This pullback was even more disappointing given the fact that August’s reading had been the highest since October 2007, nearly seven years ago and pre-dating the recession. Therefore, while confidence remains higher today than earlier in the year, it is clear that Americans still remain anxious about the economy and about labor and income growth. It is also possible that geopolitical events have put the public on edge, dampening optimism. We have similar concerns in comparable data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters.

Indeed, perceptions about current (down from 93.9 to 89.4) and future (down from 93.1 to 83.7) conditions were both lower for the month, particularly the latter. The percentage of respondents saying that jobs were “plentiful” dropped from 17.6 percent to 15.1 percent, and the percentage expecting their incomes to decrease rose from 11.6 percent to 13.4 percent. These data tend to suggest that there are nagging worries about jobs and the economy. Yet, there were also some positives. The percentage of those taking the survey who felt that their incomes would increase rose from 15.5 percent to 16.8 percent, and overall, many of these measures had made improvements over recent months despite the declines in September.

Buying intentions were also mixed, largely mirroring the reduced confidence described above. The percentages planning to buy a new automobile (down from 13.5 to 12.0 percent) and home (down from 5.3 percent to 4.9 percent) were both lower; yet, the percentage planning to purchase new appliances increased from 45.7 percent to 51.3 percent.

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

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Dallas Fed: Manufacturing Activity Picked Up in September

The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said that manufacturing activity picked up in September. The composite index of general business activity increased from 7.1 in August to 10.8 in September, and in general, the data continue to show stronger growth since being nearly stagnant in February. In fact, the paces for production (up from 6.8 to 17.6), capacity utilization (up from 3.6 to 20.2) and shipments (up from 6.4 to 15.9) were all up strongly in September, which was encouraging.

At the same time, there were also measures that expanding at a less-robust pace. New orders (up from 2.2 to 7.5) rose modestly, but with somewhat less gusto than the production figures. Just over one-quarter of those taking the survey said that their sales had increased in September, with 18.4 percent noting declines and 55.7 percent saying that orders were unchanged. Along those lines, hiring (down from 11.1 to 10.6) and capital spending (down from 6.6 to 4.4) both eased slightly, even as they both continued to reflect modest expansion.

The sample comments tend to reflect this nuanced view of the current economic environment, noting both strengths and some challenges. For instance, a chemical manufacturer said, “Our increased business activity is based on orders placed this time last year. We see some softening, especially in demand from Europe and China, while the U.S. remains strong.” Other concerns include cautious consumer behavior and wage and price pressures. A food manufacturer noted, for example, “We remain concerned that our consumers remain under serious financial pressure.” Indeed, where we have seen pricing pressures this year, it has largely been in the food category, with higher costs for meats, eggs, dairy and produce.

Manufacturers in the Dallas Fed region were mostly positive in September about the next six months, albeit less so than in August. The forward-looking measure of business activity dropped from 18.7 to 12.1. With that said, over 40 percent of respondents expect higher levels of production,  new orders, and shipments in the coming months, with nearly 30 percent planning to add new workers and 35.7 percent predicting increased capital spending. The one negative remains elevated pricing pressures, with 45.5 percent of those taking the survey seeing higher input costs over the next six months versus 9.1 predicted lower costs.

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

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Business Economists Anticipate “Steady” Growth in Second Half of 2014 and for 2015

Economists with the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) expect steady growth for the rest of this year and for next year. Respondents predict real GDP growth of 3.0 percent in the third quarter of 2014, 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter, and 3.0 percent for all of 2015. As such, it suggests that business economists feel that we have made significant progress in growth since weaknesses in the first quarter of this year.

You can see this rebound in the manufacturing figures, with panelists predicting 4.0 percent and 3.6 percent industrial production growth in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Each figure was marginally higher than in the June survey. These results are consistent with the mostly upbeat data seen in the latest NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers, which had sales, capital spending and hiring expectations at two-year highs. In terms of auto production, light vehicle sales should rise from an average of 15.5 million annualized units in 2013 to 16.3 million and 16.7 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Meanwhile, housing starts should continue to move higher, up from an annualized 1.00 million in 2014 to 1.17 million in 2015, according to the panelists. Note that this reflects some easing in growth rates for the housing sector, as the June survey had predicted 1.27 million units by the end of 2015. The inability of business to obtain credit was the biggest factor for recent softness in the housing market, cited by 65 percent of those taking the survey. Yet, the longer-term trend remains positive.

The forecast was also encouraging in other areas. For instance, capital spending should continue to improve, with healthy gains for fixed investments in nonresidential structures, equipment and software, and intellectual property products. In terms of jobs, nonfarm payrolls should average 228,000 per month in 2014 and 211,000 in 2015. Business economists also expect the unemployment rate to drop to 5.7 percent by the end of 2015, down from 6.1 percent right now.

Regarding the Federal Reserve, nearly 70 percent of all respondents felt that the Fed would start raising short-term interest rates in either the second or third quarters of 2015.

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

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Personal Spending Rebounded in August from Cautiousness in July

The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that personal spending rebounded in August after being unchanged in July. Personal spending increased 0.5 percent in August. Aside from the brief pause in July, consumers have been more willing to open their wallets since the weather-related storms in January. Indeed, since January, personal spending has risen 2.7 percent, with 4.1 percent growth year-over-year. The August consumption figure was boosted by strength in durable goods spending, which rose 1.8 percent for the month.

Meanwhile, personal income was also modestly higher, up 0.3 percent in August. Over the past 12 months, personal incomes have expanded by 4.3 percent. For manufacturers, total wages and salaries increased from $786.1 billion in July to $789.7 billion in August. This continues an upward trend for compensation in the sector, with average wages and salaries of $734.4 billion and $747.6 billion in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

With the pace of spending growth outpacing income growth in August, the savings rate edged down from 5.6 percent in July to 5.4 percent in August. Still, the longer term trend reflects upward movement in the savings rate, up from 4.1 percent in December.

In other news, the personal consumption expenditure (PCE) deflator was unchanged in August, with falling energy prices helping to reduce inflationary pressures. Nonetheless, food costs continue to move higher, up 0.3 percent in the month. On a year-over-year basis, the PCE deflator has increased 1.5 percent, down from 1.7 percent in May. Core inflation (which excludes food and energy costs) was also at a 1.5 percent pace in August. While pricing pressures have accelerated somewhat from earlier in the year, the recent easing will provide a little breathing room to the Federal Reserve as its seeks to normalize its policies.

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

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Monday Economic Report – September 29, 2014

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

The U.S. economy grew an annualized 4.6 percent in the second quarter of this year, its fastest pace since the fourth quarter of 2011. Consumer and business spending were the big bright spots in the real GDP report, with strong rebounds after softness in the first quarter. This latest revision reflected improved nonresidential fixed investment and goods exports data relative to prior estimates. At the same time, it is hard to forget that real GDP fell by 2.1 percent in the first quarter, with growth in the first half of 2014 expanding by a frustratingly slow 1.2 percent. Moving forward, manufacturers remain mostly upbeat. For instance, the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) held firm at 57.9, its fastest pace since May 2010.

I estimate real GDP growth of 3.3 percent for the third quarter, which ends this week. Nonetheless, there are a number of downside risks, and business leaders and the public remain tentative in their optimism.

Along those lines, regional surveys from the Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks continued to show expanding activity levels in their districts. The Richmond release found that activity has now grown for six straight months since winter-related contractions earlier in the year. It also reflected an uptick in production and demand, with the pace of hiring accelerating to its highest level since December 2010. All of this was encouraging. In the Kansas City district, manufacturers remained mostly positive, with more than half of respondents expecting increased production and shipments in the next six months. Among the issues cited in the Kansas City survey, manufacturers noted persistent challenges in attracting and retaining skilled workers. Other sample comments mentioned rising pricing pressures, both for wages and raw materials.

Turning to the global economy, the HSBC Flash China Manufacturing PMI edged slightly higher, up from 50.2 in August to 50.5 in September. This marked the fourth consecutive month with expanding manufacturing activity, improving from contractions in the first five months of the year. Yet, even with some signs of stabilization in China in recent data, the country is expected to continue to decelerate in its growth rates moving forward, something that it continues to grapple with. Similarly, the European Central Bank has struggled to cope with slow economic and income growth in the Eurozone, with persistent worries about deflation. Indeed, the Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI eased yet again, down from 50.7 to 50.5. This was the lowest level of growth since July 2013, the first month that the Eurozone emerged from its deep two-year recession.

Meanwhile, housing data released last week were mixed. New home sales rose sharply, up from an annualized 427,000 in July to 504,000 in August. This was the highest level in more than six years, and the pace of sales in August starkly contrasts with what we have seen so far in 2014. This makes it likely that September figures will pull back a little, but the trend line remains promising. In contrast, existing home sales decreased 1.8 percent in August, which was disappointing given recent improvements. It is likely that August’s decline was the result of a strong July reading, with some easing probably inevitable. Moving forward, the expectation is that existing home sales should move higher, continuing a longer-run trend in the data since March.

This week, the focus will be on jobs. After a disappointing employment report in August, we anticipate better news in September. I would not be surprised if the zero jobs figure in August for manufacturing was revised higher, and I continue to expect manufacturing jobs gains to revert to an average of 12,500 to 15,000 per month for the rest of the year. Nonfarm payrolls should once again exceed 200,000 in September, an improvement from the 142,000 figure in August (which is also likely to get revised upward). Other highlights this week include the latest data on construction spending, factory orders, international trade, personal income and manufacturing activity in the Dallas Federal Reserve district.

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

real GDP forecast - sept2014

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The U.S. Economy Grew 4.6 Percent in the Second Quarter

The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that the economy expanded an annualized 4.6 percent in the second quarter. This is the second revision for real GDP growth rates, up from earlier estimates of 4.0 percent and 4.2 percent.  This was the fastest pace of quarterly growth since the fourth quarter of 2011. Still, the second quarter figure largely reflected a rebound from softness in the first quarter, with activity down 2.1 percent. As such, the U.S. economy grew frustratingly slow in the first half of 2014, averaging 1.2 percent at the annual rate between the first and second quarters.

This revision reflected improved nonresidential fixed investment and goods exports data relative to prior estimates. Nonetheless, the overarching conclusions remained the same. Consumer and business spending were the big bright spots in the second quarter, collectively adding 4.6 percentage points to real GDP. Changes in inventories alone contributed 1.4 percentage points to growth, with businesses restocking their shelves after letting them deplete in the first quarter. There were also strong rebounds in goods spending and investments in both residential and nonresidential fixed investments.

In contrast, net exports and government spending offset each other in their quarterly contribution to real GDP. Goods exports increased sharply, but not enough to counteract even-stronger gains in goods imports. Likewise, reduced defense spending at the federal level served as a drag to real GDP growth; however, state and local government spending reflected generally improved financial positions, making their largest contribution to real GDP growth since the second quarter of 2009.

Moving forward, manufacturers remain mostly upbeat, and I estimate real GDP growth of 3.3 percent for the third quarter (which ends on September 30th next week). Moreover, my forecast for 2015 is for 3.2 percent real GDP growth, with continuing consumer and business spending strength and hopefully better export numbers.

Nonetheless, there are a number of downside risks out there, and it is clear that the public and business leaders remain tentative in their optimism. Beyond geopolitical worries, manufacturers would like to see better economic growth globally, a less-cautious consumer domestically, and continued improvements in the housing sector. In addition, policymakers would be wise to adopt pro-growth measures that will enable even-stronger growth in the sector such as focusing on a long-term re-authorization of the Export-Import Bank.

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

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After a Strong July, the Pendulum Swung Back for New Durable Goods Orders in August

The Census Bureau said that new durable goods orders plummeted 18.2 percent in August, with the pendulum swinging back after soaring 22.5 percent in July. These large shifts were largely the function of changes in nondefense aircraft sales which measured $16.8 billion, $70.0 billion and $18.0 billion, respectively, in June, July and August. Commercial airplane orders are choppy, with sales usually announced in batches, helping to explain this volatility.

Outside of transportation, the manufacturing data were more encouraging. New durable goods orders excluding transportation rose 0.7 percent in August, rebounding from the decline of 0.5 percent in July. Indeed, we have seen this broader measure of durable goods manufacturing activity improve at a fairly decent rate since the winter months, with 6.8 percent growth year-to-date.

On a sector-by-sector basis, the largest monthly increases in new orders in August were seen in electrical equipment and appliances (up 3.1 percent), computers and electronic products (up 1.7 percent), machinery (up 0.7 percent), other durable goods (up 0.6 percent) and fabricated metal products (up 0.3 percent). In contrast, new orders of motor vehicles and parts (down 6.4 percent), primary metals (down 0.7 percent) and defense aircraft and parts (down 0.6 percent) were lower. Still, motor vehicle and parts sales have risen 6.3 percent year-to-date despite the decline in August.

Meanwhile, durable goods shipments were off 1.5 percent for the month, or if you exclude transportation, shipments edged slightly higher, up 0.1 percent. Since December, durable goods shipments have grown 5.5 percent, reflecting moderately strong gains since the winter. Softer motor vehicle shipments were a drag in August, down 6.7 percent, following a healthy 10.1 percent increase in July. Overall, there were increased shipments for electrical equipment and appliances (up 0.9 percent), primary metals (up 0.5 percent) and other durable goods (up 0.5 percent), but these were offset by decreases for transportation equipment (down 5.1 percent), computers and electronic products (down 0.8 percent) and machinery (down 0.2 percent).

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

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Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Continued to Expand at Fastest Pace in Over 3 Years

The Richmond Federal Reserve Bank said that manufacturing activity continued to expand at its fastest pace since March 2011. The composite index of general business conditions rose from 12 in August to 14 in September. It was the sixth consecutive monthly expansion since the winter-related contractions in both February and March. Indeed, much like other regional surveys, these data show an uptick in demand and production for manufacturers recently, with a mostly upbeat assessment for the coming months.

Looking specifically at current activity, manufacturing leaders in the Richmond Fed district noted increased paces for many of the key measures. This included new orders (up from 13 to 14), shipments (up from 10 to 11), the average workweek (up from 8 to 10) and the number of employees (up from 11 to 17). Regarding hiring, that measure was the highest level observed since December 2010, suggesting that manufacturers in the region are adding new workers at an accelerated pace. The only measure to decelerate slightly in the month was capacity utilization (down from 17 to 13), but it continues to expand at a decent rate.

Manufacturers in the region remain relatively optimistic in their expectations for the next six months, albeit marginally less positive than the month before. Indices for a number of indicators shifted somewhat lower in September but still indicate strong growth ahead. This includes new orders (down from 47 to 37), shipments (down from 43 to 41), capacity utilization (down from 35 to 26), hiring (down from 18 to 17) and the workweek (unchanged at 10). On the positive side, capital expenditures picked up the pace, with the index increasing from 27 to 38. Wages (up from 28 to 35) also accelerated convincingly.

Inflationary pressures picked up once again in September, bucking the trends seen in national pricing data.  Manufacturers in the region said that prices paid for raw materials grew 2.10 percent at the annual rate in September, up from 1.39 percent in August. Yet, looking ahead six months, respondents expect input costs to increase an annualized 2.00 percent, down from 2.05 percent the month before. This suggests that businesses anticipate modest gains in input prices over the course over the next few months, mostly in-line with Federal Reserve projections.

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

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Markit: Chinese Manufacturing Picks Up Slightly, While Europe’s Eases Yet Again

The HSBC Flash China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) edged slightly higher, up from 50.2 in August to 50.5 in September. The Chinese economy nearly stalled in July, and these latest data suggest that there are some signs of stabilization. For instance, this was the fourth consecutive month with expanding manufacturing activity – an improvement from earlier in the year when demand and output were contracting. In August, growth in new orders (up from 51.3 to 52.3) and exports (up from 51.9 to 53.9) accelerated somewhat, but production growth was unchanged at 51.8. One negative continues to be employment (down from 47.4 to 46.9), with hiring contracting for 11 straight months.

If the Chinese economy has rebounded marginally in September, it would be welcome news. Industrial production plummeted from 9.0 percent year-over-year in July to 6.9 percent in August, the slowest pace since December 2008. Fixed asset investments also slowed, down from an annual rate of 17.0 percent to 16.5 percent. Nonetheless, real GDP growth improved from 7.4 percent year-over-year growth in the first quarter to 7.5 percent in the second quarter. The latest data suggest that the annual pace of growth might decelerate further, however.

At the same time, the Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI eased yet again, down from 50.7 to 50.5. This was the lowest level observed since July 2013, the first month that the Eurozone emerged from its deep two-year recession. As such, it indicates the extent to which activity in Europe has come to a halt. New orders (down from 50.7 to 49.7) contracted slightly for the first time in 15 months. Output was unchanged at 51.0, and export sales were flat at 51.7. Hiring advanced to a neutral position (up from 49.3 to 50.0). On the closely-watched inflation measures, both input (down from 51.8 to 49.4) and output (down from 50.3 to 49.2) prices moved into negative territory.

There have been persistent worries about deflation on the continent, with the European Central Bank lowering rates recently in the hope of spurring more economic activity and additional lending. As of August, Eurozone inflation had risen just 0.3 percent over the past 12 months, prompting continued worries about deflationary pressures in the economy. The annual inflation pace is down from 1.3 percent in August 2013. Real GDP remained unchanged in the second quarter, down from 0.2 percent growth in the first quarter. Moreover, it has increased just 0.7 percent year-over-year, illustrating just how sluggish the recovery has been.

Meanwhile, the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI was unchanged at 57.9, its fastest pace since May 2010. This report continues to show strong growth in manufacturing activity in the U.S., a sign that the sector has regained the robustness seen at the end of 2013. The pace of new orders were unchanged at 60.5, indicating healthy gains, and hiring (up from 54.6 to 56.6) accelerated to its highest level since March 2012. Production (down from 60.7 to 59.9) growth was healthy, and export orders (down from 54.4 to 53.8) expanded modestly despite a slight deceleration in each figure.

Overall, the U.S. data suggest that manufacturers remain upbeat in September about overall activity, with the sector continuing to recover from softness earlier in the year. This data is largely consistent with other indicators, as well.

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

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Georgia Added the Most Manufacturing Employees in August

Georgia added the most net new manufacturing employees in August, according to new state-wide employment data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Georgia manufacturers hired an additional 5,500 workers in the month. This was followed by Florida (up 4,500), Colorado (up 2,100), Illinois (up 2,100) and Michigan (up 2,000). On a year-to-date basis, Georgia also fared well, making the top five states for manufacturing job growth. The top five states for manufacturing job gains through August were Indiana (up 14,300), Ohio (up 9,400), Georgia (up 9,100), Texas (up 9,100) and Michigan (up 7,100).

Since the recession, manufacturers have added 681,000 net new workers. Michigan has added the most manufacturing employees since the end of 2009, hiring 111,300 on net. Other top states since the recession ended include Texas (up 80,100), Indiana (up 72,600), Ohio (up 61,300) and Wisconsin (up 41,600).

In terms of the unemployment rate, North Dakota’s 2.8 percent rate remains the lowest in the United States, with shale exploration continuing to pay benefits that that state’s economy. Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah also have very low unemployment rates, each with 3.6 percent of their populations unemployed. At the other end of the spectrum, Georgia (8.1 percent) has the highest unemployment rate, followed by Mississippi (7.9 percent), Rhode Island (7.7 percent), the District of Columbia (7.6 percent) and Nevada (7.6 percent).

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

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