The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank reported that manufacturing activity expanded in March for the sixth straight month, even as it pulled back somewhat from its fastest rate since April 2006. The composite index of general business conditions decreased from 24.5 in February to 16.9 in March. While the headline number eased a bit, the composite index has averaged 18.7 over the past five reports, which would indicate significant progress from contracting conditions as recently as September. The recent gains in business confidence can largely be attributed to better energy commodity prices and from a post-election boost in optimism, especially as it relates to expectations regarding pro-growth policies. Read More
The Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI rose from 55.4 in February to 56.2 in March, its fastest rate since April 2011. As such, the continent’s economy continues to move in the right direction, with activity accelerating at a modest rate. The headline PMI has trended higher since bottoming at 51.6 thirteen months ago. The underlying data were mostly higher in March. New orders (up from 56.1 to 56.9), exports (up from 55.5 to 56.2) and employment (up from 54.3 to 55.1) each accelerated in the latest survey. In addition, output (down from 57.3 to 57.2) continued to expand rather strongly despite easing a little in this survey. Likewise, respondents remained upbeat about future output (down from 66.7 to 66.3) even though that measure has pulled back for the second straight month from January’s three-year high. Read More
The Census Bureau said that new durable goods orders expanded for the second straight month, up 1.7 percent in February after rising by 2.3 percent in January. New orders increased from $231.53 billion in January to $235.39 billion in February, a four-month high. However, much of the gain in February could be explained by a large jump in nondefense aircraft and parts orders, up 47.6 percent, which can often be quite volatile from month-to-month. Excluding transportation, new orders for durable goods rose 0.3 percent for the month, up from $154.41 billion to $154.99 billion. Overall, new durable goods demand has continued to trend in the right direction after stalling for much of the past couple years. New durable goods orders have increased 5.1 percent since February 2016’s $224.08 billion pace; excluding transportation, orders grew 4.6 percent year-over-year, up from $148.14 billion. Read More
The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank said that manufacturing activity expanded in March at its fastest rate since May 2011. The composite index of general business conditions rose from 14 in February to 20 in March, expanding for the fourth straight month. As such, manufacturing conditions have continued to improve after notable challenges over the past two years from global headwinds and reduced commodity prices, especially for crude oil. Outside of the headline number, the underlying indices also suggested relatively very robust gains in new orders (up from 26 to 32), production (up from 11 to 37) and shipments (up from 16 to 35). There was some easing for the employment (down from 17 to 13), the average workweek (down from 15 to 13) and exports (down from 9 to 2), but each of these indices remained promising overall. Exports, for instance, were positive for only the second time in the past 16 months. Read More
The Federal Reserve said that manufacturing production expanded for the sixth consecutive month. Output in the sector was up 0.5 percent in February, mirroring the gain seen in January. These data continue to reflect an improving manufacturing sector, with activity turning a corner after struggling for much of the past two years from a number of economic headwinds. Indeed, manufacturing production has increased 1.2 percent over the past 12 months, up from 0.6 percent in the prior report. To put the recent progress in perspective, the year-over-year rate was -0.5 percent just six months ago. The year-over-year number was also the fastest pace since April 2015. Similarly, manufacturing capacity utilization rose from 75.3 percent to 75.6 percent, a 16-month high. Read More
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that manufacturing job openings ticked higher, up from 342,000 in December to 364,000 in January, its highest level since July’s 15-year high (394,000). Job postings rose for both durable (up from 194,000 to 207,000) and nondurable (up from 148,000 to 157,000) goods firms. This report is encouraging from an openings standpoint, as elevated levels of postings should lead to better hiring numbers down the line.
For now, however, net hiring has remained weak. Total hiring edged up from 293,000 to 294,000 for the month, its fastest pace since October 2008. An increase in hiring for nondurable goods firms (up from 122,000 to 126,000) was just enough to offset fewer hires for durable goods manufacturers (down from 171,000 to 168,000). At the same time, total separations – which include quits, layoffs and retirements – increased from 287,000 to 301,000, an 11-month high. Separations were higher for both durable (up from 163,000 to 168,000) and nondurable (up from 124,000 to 132,000) goods businesses. Read More
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that manufacturing activity remained strong in March, even as headline growth pulled back from its strongest pace since November 1983. The composite index of general business activity decreased from 43.3 in February to 32.8 in March, which continued to be quite elevated. Despite the easing in the composite measure, many of the underlying data points expanded at a faster rate in March. This included new orders (up from 38.0 to 38.6), shipments (up from 28.6 to 32.9), employment (up from 11.1 to 17.5) and the average workweek (up from 13.6 to 18.5). Indeed, 53.4 percent of respondents said that sales were higher in March than in February, which should bode well for activity down the line. On the downside, faster growth appears to be leading to increased pricing pressures (up from 29.9 to 40.7), its highest level since May 2011. Read More
The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that new housing starts rose 3.0 percent in February. More importantly, it has now exceeded 1.2 million for the fourth time in the past five months—a psychological threshold that we appear to have finally sustained. New residential construction activity increased from an annualized 1,251,000 in January to 1,288,000 in February, its highest level in four months. In addition, single-family housing starts jumped from 819,000 to 872,000, a pace not seen since October 2007. Yet, the multifamily segment, which is often quite volatile month to month, eased from 432,000 to 416,000.
On a year-over-year basis, new residential construction has risen 6.2 percent, up from 1,213,000 in February 2016. Single-family and multifamily activity was up 3.2 percent and 13.0 percent, respectively, over the past 12 months.
As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted to raise short-term interest rates by 25 basis points, upping them just three months after the last action. In doing so, the Federal Reserve noted better economic data and increased pricing pressures. Specifically, the statement cited a strengthening labor market, moderate growth in consumer spending and business investment that has “firmed somewhat.” While inflation is picking up, the FOMC predicts that prices “will stabilize around 2 percent over the medium term.” Nonetheless, it wants to stay ahead of such pressures while inflation is still at acceptable ranges. Hence, the Federal Reserve will continue its process toward normalized rates, and according to the latest economic projections, participants still see three rate hikes—or two more after this one—in 2017. Assuming those increases in the federal funds rate were also 25 basis points, the target range would be at 1.25 percent to 1.50 percent by year’s end (up from 0.75 percent to 1.00 percent after this action).
Of course, future Federal Reserve moves will hinge on incoming data, and more aggressive action might be necessary if the U.S. economy and/or inflation accelerate beyond current expectations. Along those lines, the economic forecasts did not change much from December. Participants see 2.1 percent growth on average in real GDP in 2017, with the unemployment rate falling to 4.5 percent. They also predict core inflation of 1.9 percent. Looking to 2018, FOMC members anticipate thee additional federal funds rate hikes, with real GDP growth of 2.1 percent once again. They forecast core inflation to be 2 percent.
Neel Kashkari, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, was the only dissenter. He preferred to keep short-term interest rates unchanged, at least for now.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Wells Fargo reported that the Housing Market Index (HMI) rose to its highest level since June 2005. The HMI increased from 65 in February to 71 in March. Index values greater than 50 indicate strong builder confidence, with numbers greater than 70 suggesting very robust expectations for activity. Along those lines, NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald, a home builder and developer from Kerrville, Texas, said that “Builders are buoyed by President Trump’s actions on regulatory reform, particularly his recent executive order to rescind or revise the waters of the U.S. rule that impacts permitting.”
In this release, builders made healthy assessments about single-family home sales over the next six months. Mirroring the headline number, the index for expected sales increased from 73 to 78, matching the level seen in December. In the March data, sentiment was higher in every part of the country, including notable progress in the Northeast, which has struggled more than other regions.