Tag: durable goods orders

Monday Economic Report – July 28, 2014

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

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its latest World Economic Outlook last week. The report reflected slower growth rates in the United States and elsewhere for 2014 mostly because of disappointing figures during the first half of the year. The IMF now predicts that U.S. real GDP will grow 1.7 percent in 2014, down from the 2.8 percent forecast in April. Much of this downgrade stemmed from the dismal 2.9 percent decline in real GDP in the first quarter, with output contracting for the first time in three years. At the same time, the manufacturing sector provided a positive contribution to growth in the first quarter, according to new data, despite bleakness in other areas. Fortunately, manufacturers are more upbeat about activity during the second half of this year and for next year. The IMF’s outlook for 2015 is for real GDP growth of 3.0 percent in the United States, which is in line with other predictions.

News regarding manufacturing activity was mostly positive last week, with surveys from the Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks both reflecting a pickup in shipments and employment in July. New orders continued to grow at a moderate pace in each region, and respondents were mostly upbeat about sales and production over the next six months. Nonetheless, raw material costs have accelerated a bit in the Richmond district, and new export orders have contracted in eight of the past 12 months in the Kansas City district. Meanwhile, new durable goods orders rebounded in June, with year-to-date growth at a reasonably healthy rate of 4.4 percent. This indicates that the sector has recovered for the most part from winter-related softness, even if some components, such as motor vehicle sales, were lower for the month. Similarly, the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) reflected relatively strong growth in sales and output for the sector despite some easing in the headline number in July.

Overseas, the data indicate that the Chinese economy has continued to stabilize from weakness in the first five months of the year. The HSBC Flash China Manufacturing PMI expanded for the second straight month in July, with the pace of activity up for new orders, exports and output. The sales pace was the fastest since January 2011, suggesting that recent measures taken by the Chinese government to stimulate growth have had a positive impact. Likewise, Japanese manufacturers also reported expanding levels of sentiment for two consecutive months, but activity decelerated overall and output stagnated. Export sales from Japan, on the other hand, grew. In other news, the European manufacturing sector made marginal progress in July, particularly for production and exports, and the Eurozone has now expanded for 13 straight months. Yet, growth varied from country to country. For instance, German manufacturing activity picked up in July, while the French economy continued to contract.

The other highlights last week centered on housing and pricing. The housing market remains weaker than we would like, as illustrated by the sharp drop in new home sales in June. Still, the June figure was consistent with the annual paces in March and April, with May’s sales numbers appearing to be an outlier. With the slower pace of sales, inventories of homes have increased. In contrast, existing home sales improved for the third straight month, with some progress in the second quarter relative to the softer first quarter. Even in the existing home sales release, however, there were some discouraging findings, including the fact that sales remain below where they were last year and that first-time homebuyers are still having difficulties making purchases. Meanwhile, on the inflation front, the consumer price index increased in June, led by higher gasoline costs. Yet, pricing pressures remain mostly in check, with core inflation up 1.9 percent over the past 12 months.

This week, the focus will be on second-quarter GDP and jobs. The expectation is that output will rebound from the drop in the first quarter, with consensus forecasts ranging from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent growth. My view is that real GDP in the second quarter should exceed 3.0 percent. Regarding hiring, manufacturers have added, on average, more than 12,500 each month since August, and I would anticipate seeing a comparable figure for July. Nonfarm payrolls should increase by at least the roughly 230,000 average so far in 2014. Other items to look for this week include manufacturing survey results from the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and the latest numbers for construction spending, consumer sentiment, employment costs and personal income and spending.

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

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New Durable Goods Orders Increased 0.7 Percent in June, Rebounding from May’s Decline

The Census Bureau said that new durable goods orders increased 0.7 percent in June, rebounding from a 1.0 percent decline in May. This suggests that durable goods sales have continued to recover from winter-related softness in December and January, and it was mostly in-line with consensus estimates. Through the first six months of this year, new durable goods orders have risen 4.4 percent, which indicates reasonably healthy growth year-to-date.

Unlike previous reports, transportation orders did not skew the data by much, with the sector having sales growth of 0.6 percent for the month. If you were to exclude transportation, June’s new durable goods orders would have increased by 0.8 percent, with a year-to-date gain of 4.4 percent.

The underlying sector-by-sector data were mostly positive. The largest increases were observed in defense aircraft and parts (up 15.3 percent), nondefense aircraft and parts (up 8.2 percent), machinery (up 2.4 percent), primary metals (up 0.9 percent) and computers and electronic products (up 0.8 percent). On the other hand, motor vehicles and parts (down 2.1 percent), which have been a bright spot in general of late, were a drag on growth in June. Year-to-date, motor vehicle and parts orders have increased 2.2 percent.

Meanwhile, durable goods shipments were up a more-paltry 0.1 percent in June, offsetting the 0.1 percent decrease in May. Excluding transportation (which was up 0.7 percent, mainly on nondefense aircraft), durable goods shipments would have fallen by 0.1 percent. This indicates that shipments activity was weaker than the headline figure suggests. In fact, the data were mixed. Increased shipments for communications equipment (up 3.3 percent), primary metals (up 0.8 percent) and fabricated metal products (up 0.7 percent) were largely counterbalanced by declines in defense aircraft and parts (down 2.3 percent), motor vehicles and parts (down 2.0 percent) and machinery (down 2.0 percent).

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

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Monday Economic Report – June 30, 2014

Here are the files for this week’s Monday Economic Report: 

The U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter more than we previously thought, with real GDP down 2.9 percent at the annual rate. The sharply lower revision was much worse than the previous estimate of a 1.0 percent drop. Decreased inventory spending and weaker goods exports accounted for much of the decline in output, but consumer spending on services also increased at a slower pace than earlier reports suggested, contributing to the latest revision. Fixed investment and government spending were also drags on growth. Overall, the data confirm that economic activity started 2014 on a disappointing note, but they also suggest that this softness went beyond weather-related slowdowns.

However, the real GDP data also point to a possible strong rebound in the current quarter. For instance, inventory spending is likely to pick up as more firms restock their shelves. In addition, other data point to recoveries in manufacturing activity and retail sales in the second quarter, which should help boost consumer and business spending figures. Real GDP should exceed 3 percent in the second quarter, bouncing back from the weak data in the first quarter. Moreover, manufacturers remain mostly positive about the second half of this year. Perhaps that is why financial markets seemed to mostly shrug off the bad news on real GDP last week.

Indeed, many of the measures of health for the manufacturing sector remain encouraging. The Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) increased from 56.4 in May to 57.5 in June. This was its fastest pace in more than four years, led by strong gains in both new orders and output. Manufacturer sentiment in both China and Japan also stabilized after contractions in previous months. At the same time, manufacturing activity in the Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Bank districts continued to expand, albeit with both at slower paces than the month before. These two releases were largely consistent with other regional surveys, including those from New York and Philadelphia, showing rebounds since the winter months.

Still, not all of the manufacturing news out last week was positive. Durable goods orders fell 1.0 percent in May, reflecting weaker-than-anticipated growth for the sector. Much of that decline stemmed from reduced nondefense aircraft and parts sales, although the broader data were also mixed. Meanwhile, European manufacturing activity continued to decelerate. The Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI declined from 52.5 to 51.9, falling for the second straight month. Slower growth on the continent has weakened many of the key activity measures, including new orders, output, exports and employment. Of course, it is also worth noting that Europe’s expansion remains uneven, with Germany seeing a marginal gain in activity in June while France fell back into a contraction.

In other news, personal spending improved in May after remaining flat in April, assisted by a decent rebound in durable goods purchases. Personal income also showed a slight uptick, with manufacturing wages and salaries continuing to move higher. Such reports have helped to lift consumer confidence, with data from the Conference Board’s index increasing to its highest level in more than six years. The consumer sentiment measure from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters also edged higher, but with persistent anxieties about future economic and income growth. Finally, there were encouraging headlines on the housing market last week, with strong gains in both existing and new home sales in May.

This week, we will get new jobs numbers on Thursday—one day earlier due to the Independence Day holiday on Friday. I would expect employment growth similar to what we saw in May, with a consensus estimate of 210,000 additional nonfarm payroll workers and around 10,000 or so net new manufacturing employees. There will also be new PMI data from the Institute for Supply Management and international trade figures. Each will be closely watched, with manufacturing activity expected to pick up and we hope better news for exports. Other highlights include news releases for construction spending, factory orders and manufacturing activity in the Dallas Federal Reserve district.

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

contributions to change in real GDP - jun2014

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Monday Economic Report – March 31, 2014

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

The U.S. economy grew 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter, according to the most recent revision, and for 2013 as a whole, real GDP growth was a rather lackluster 1.9 percent. Consumer spending, business investment and net exports were bright spots in the fourth quarter, with reduced government spending subtracting nearly one percentage point from growth.

Meanwhile, business economists predict real GDP growth of 2.8 percent on average for 2014, with 1.9 percent growth in the current quarter. (My own forecast is marginally higher for both, up 3.0 percent for the year and 2.1 percent for the first quarter of 2014.) Weather-related slowdowns account for the deceleration in activity, particularly for manufacturers, in the current quarter. However, modest growth is expected to resume once temperatures warm up, and we have already begun to see that. The National Association for Business Economics (NABE) Outlook Survey also suggested that the industry should grow 3.2 percent in 2014 and 3.4 percent in 2015, which would indicate a pickup from the current pace.

The latest manufacturing surveys show a rebound in sentiment after softness from December to February. The Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) slowed a bit, down from 57.1 in February to 55.5 in March. Despite the lower figure, new orders and production growth continued to grow relatively strongly, with overall manufacturing activity improved from January’s winter storms. A similar recovery was seen in regional data from the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, mirroring the findings from New York and Philadelphia the week before. Still, not everyone has seen improvements yet. The Richmond Federal Reserve reported lackluster growth in sales and output, with weather continuing to “wreak havoc” for many manufacturers. In addition, while new durable goods orders were up a strong 2.2 percent in February, sales growth increased at the less-than-robust rate of just 0.2 percent when transportation orders were excluded.

On the consumer front, the data were mostly positive, but with some caveats. Personal income and spending both increased 0.3 percent in February, with each rising 3.0 percent over the past 12 months. This was a decent pace, but increased purchases of nondurable goods and services mainly fueled spending growth in February. Durable goods spending declined for the third month in a row. In terms of consumer confidence, the two reports out last week were mixed. The Conference Board’s measure of consumer sentiment reached a six-year high; yet, labor market worries dampened enthusiasm for the current environment. Likewise, the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters reported that consumer sentiment edged lower in March, with employment and income growth also weighing on respondents’ minds. In both surveys, however, Americans are more confident today than in the fall during the government shutdown.

Looking overseas, Markit released preliminary manufacturing PMI data for China and the Eurozone. Chinese manufacturing activity has now contracted for three consecutive months, with March’s pace being the slowest since July. The data mirror other recent indicators, including industrial production, fixed asset investment and retail sales, which have slowed. As such, they all suggest that real GDP might fall below the 7.7 percent rate in the fourth quarter. (First-quarter real GDP for China will be released on April 15.) Meanwhile, European manufacturers have seen expanding activity levels for nine straight months, even as Eurozone PMI values eased slightly in March. New orders and production remain strong in Germany, and, of note, French manufacturers were positive in their sentiment for the first time since June 2011.

This week, the focus will be on the March jobs numbers, which will come out on Friday. The consensus expectation is for nonfarm payroll growth of around 190,000, with manufacturers hiring somewhere near the 12,000 average experienced in the sector since August. In addition, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) is expected to show a slight rebound in manufacturing PMI activity in its March data, up from 53.2 in February. Other highlights this week include the latest data on construction spending, factory orders and international trade.

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

gdp forecast - mar2014

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Monday Economic Report – March 3, 2014

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

The U.S. economy grew 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter, down from the earlier estimate of 3.2 percent. Given some of the recent weaker manufacturing, retail and housing data, the downward revision was largely expected. Still, there are some positives in the report, with strength in consumer spending, business investment and net exports. Fixed investment was higher in this revision, which was welcome news. Federal government spending accounted for the biggest drag on growth during the fourth quarter, subtracting one percentage point from the total figure.

The bottom line is that real GDP increased 3.3 percent in the second half of 2013, providing some momentum for growth moving into this year. While weather and other factors have dampened the economy recently (and will also reduce real GDP in the current quarter), we still expect 3.0 percent growth for 2014. Manufacturers continue to be mostly upbeat about demand and production over the coming months.

Despite such optimism in the outlook for the year, the current environment for manufacturers clearly has its challenges. Weather has negatively impacted production and shipments in a number of regions around the country, and surveys from the Dallas, Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks all observed some easing in activity in February. This followed similar reports from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks the week before. Meanwhile, the Census Bureau has reported lower new durable goods orders for two straight months, with poor weather conditions likely a factor, particularly for auto sales. At the same time, new durable goods orders excluding transportation were higher, suggesting that the broader manufacturing market was slightly better than the headline figure indicated.

Some of the other data remain mixed. New home sales were up sharply in January to their highest level since July 2008, but year-over-year growth was more modest, and inventories of new homes have fallen over the past few months. Nonetheless, the positive report on new home sales stands in contrast to much weaker residential construction figures of late, including housing starts and existing home sales, which have seen negative impacts from the weather. Similarly, the two major reports about consumer confidence moved in opposite directions, with the Conference Board’s measure lower in February and the University of Michigan’s figure edging slightly higher. Doubts about income and labor growth have possibly fed some anxieties in sentiment in both surveys, but the two reports differ in their findings about the economic outlook.

This week, the focus will be on manufacturing activity, employment growth and international trade. We will get February Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) later this morning. After falling from 56.5 in December to 51.3 in January, the ISM PMI is expected to increase modestly, still indicating weaknesses in new orders and production for the month. On the trade front, we will be looking for better manufactured goods exports in 2014, improving on the modest 2.4 percent growth rate seen in 2013. Still, manufactured goods exports hit an all-time high last year, providing a positive for economic growth.

The biggest news of the week will come on Friday with the release of new jobs numbers. Nonfarm payroll growth has been soft over the past two months, with just 75,000 and 113,000 net new workers added in December and January, respectively. The consensus expectation is for roughly 165,000 nonfarm workers added in February. In contrast, manufacturing job gains have been fairly decent over the past six months, averaging 15,500 since August, and we should get modest gains again in February. One of the bigger conversation pieces will be whether the unemployment rate falls to 6.5 percent in February, which is the rate specified in the Federal Reserve Board’s forward guidance. (Either way, look for the Federal Open Market Committee to change its guidance at its next meeting.) Other highlights this week include the latest data on construction spending, factory orders, personal income and spending and productivity.

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

personal consumption - mar2014

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Monday Economic Report – December 2, 2013

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

The data released last week were mostly positive regarding improvements in the economy. For instance, manufacturing activity has largely picked up since the summer, an acceleration that is welcome after softness over the past year or so. Reports from the Chicago, Dallas and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks support this, with stronger paces for new orders and production in each region. This is especially true when you look at the mostly positive assessments of future sales and output, with large percentages of survey respondents anticipating rising activity levels. The good news extends to better—although still modest at best—hiring plans. The pickup in the manufacturing sector has also been one of the positive factors helping the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) expand for four straight months, an encouraging sign for the economy for the coming months.

Yet, even among these promising reports, there were signs of continuing softness for the sector. In the Dallas Federal Reserve survey, respondents were more upbeat about their own company’s outlook than they were about the larger macroeconomy. In fact, the index for perceptions about the economy as a whole declined from 3.6 to 1.9, with 65.0 percent of respondents not expecting macroeconomic conditions to improve over the next six months. In addition, the data on new durable goods orders found broad-based softness in the sector in contrast to the various sentiment surveys. Declines in October sales went beyond the decrease in aircraft orders. Moreover, while new durable goods orders have risen 5.3 percent since October 2012, year-to-date growth in durable goods orders—excluding the highly volatile transportation sector—has increased just 0.9 percent.

Similarly, the latest housing market data were also somewhat mixed. New housing permits in October soared to more than 1 million annualized units for the first time since April. To the extent that permits serve as a proxy for future residential construction activity, this was an encouraging development. Yet, the ascent in the permitting data came entirely from multifamily units, with single-family home permits essentially stalled. Higher mortgage rates have been a factor in dampening current demand for new construction; however, the average 30-year mortgage rate of 4.29 percent last week was better than early September’s 4.57 percent. Meanwhile, new housing starts data were delayed until the December 18 release due to the government shutdown, somewhat hampering our ability to analyze the housing market beyond permits.

By now, the holiday shopping season is in high gear. We will need to wait for final numbers on whether retail spending increased over last year, although the National Retail Federation reported mixed results despite deep discounting over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We also need to closely look at consumer confidence, particularly in determining how willing Americans will be to open their wallets. The two measures of consumer sentiment released last week moved in opposite directions, providing a bit of confusion regarding current attitudes. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence data fell again in November, with respondents suggesting reduced buying intentions. October’s budget impasse was not helpful, but overall sentiment has been lower since June. In contrast, the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters surprised many with a better-than-expected final reading of its consumer sentiment index, improving from the preliminary report released just two weeks prior. Despite the recent gain, however, this report remains below the six-year high achieved in the summer.

This week will be a very busy one on the economic front. Later this morning, we will learn more about the strength of the pickup in manufacturing activity in the Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers’ Index, and on Wednesday, new international trade figures will show whether improving economies in many of our major trading partners will increase our exports. In addition, the bigger headlines will come on Thursday and Friday with a revision to third-quarter real GDP and the jobs report for November. Other highlights will be the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book and new releases on construction spending, factory orders, personal income and vehicle sales.

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

midwest manufacturing index - dec2013

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Reduced Aircraft Sales and Broader Weaknesses Send New Durable Goods Orders Lower in October

The Census Bureau said that new durable goods orders declined 2.0 percent in October. This data has been highly volatile over the past year or so, with wide swings due largely to increases or decreases in aircraft sales. Indeed, following a significant increase in September, defense and nondefense aircraft orders were off sharply in October. If you were to exclude transportation orders from the analysis, new orders would have fallen by just 0.1 percent.

On a year-over-year basis, durable goods orders have been on a slow-but-steady rise higher, with sales up 5.3 percent between October 2012 and October 2013. Excluding transportation, new durable goods orders rose 4.3 percent. Still, in the broader durable goods sector, growth has been relatively flat for much of this year. Indeed, new durable goods orders excluding transportation have edged only marginally higher since January, up just 0.9 percent. This suggests broader weaknesses in the manufacturing sector despite recent improvements in activity seen in other indicators.

Looking at the various sectors, new orders data were mostly mixed, reflecting this weakness. There were increased sales in October in the electrical equipment and appliances (up 2.8 percent), motor vehicle and parts (up 1.7 percent), primary metals (up 0.5 percent), and computers and electronic products (up 0.3 percent) sectors. Yet, these gains were counterbalanced by reduced new orders in the following segments: fabricated metal products (down 1.5 percent), machinery (down 0.3 percent), and all other durable goods (down 0.1 percent).

Core capital goods – or nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft – were down 1.2 percent, further highlighting softness in total durable goods sales in October. Yet, on a year-over-year basis, new core capital goods orders have risen 3.6 percent, suggesting modest gains overall.

Meanwhile, shipments of durable goods increased 0.2 percent in October, the third straight monthly gain. Since July, shipments have risen 1.7 percent, with year-over-year growth of 4.8 percent.  The largest increases in October shipments were in the nondefense aircraft and parts (up 2.4 percent), motor vehicles and parts (up 1.7 percent), machinery (up 0.8 percent), and primary metals (up 0.5 percent). These were somewhat offset, though, by declining shipments in the computer and electronic products (down 2.6 percent) and defense aircraft and parts (down 1.2 percent).

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

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Monday Economic Report – September 30, 2013

Here is a summary of this week’s Monday Economic Report:

Increases in consumer spending and business investment in the second quarter boosted the economy, with the government announcing real GDP growth of 2.5 percent last week in its latest revision. This did not change from its previous estimate. Nonetheless, even with modest gains in the second quarter, the United States has grown too slowly in the first half of 2013, up just 1.8 percent. There have been some indications that manufacturing activity and other data have accelerated recently. Surveys show that manufacturers are generally positive about higher orders and production moving forward. Yet, it is also clear that persistent headwinds have prevented even faster economic growth. I anticipate real GDP growth of 2.0 percent for the third quarter.

While manufacturing activity has accelerated of late from weaknesses seen in the spring and early summer, data released last week showed some easing in new orders and the overall pace of growth. The Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) declined slightly from 53.1 in August to 52.8 in September. The lower figure stemmed largely from an easing in sales growth, with new export orders down somewhat. Hiring continues to be positive, but sluggish. Along those lines, manufacturing surveys from the Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks also noted some disappointing results for September, pulling back from increases observed in August. In addition, durable goods sales edged higher in August, but new orders data generally disappointed, particularly when you look at the broader market.

Overseas data suggest that the economies in China and Europe continue to stabilize, with PMI readings showing expansion for three straight months in the Eurozone and two consecutive months in China. Hopefully, improvements in the global marketplace will result in increased exports ahead; although, that continues to be a challenge so far this year.

Meanwhile, consumer confidence has ebbed lower, with political gamesmanship and labor market concerns dampening sentiment. Americans responded less positively in surveys from both the Conference Board and the University of Michigan. In each case, the longer-term trend reflects upward movement from earlier in the year or relative to past years, but the recent declines have still been notable. At least for now, however, the reduction in consumer perceptions about the economy has not impacted overall spending behavior, at least not too much. Personal spending rose modestly in August, with year-over-year growth at 3.2 percent. This indicates a faster annual pace than in previous months, suggesting a bit of a rebound.

Looking at the housing market, new home sales rose 7.9 percent in August, recovering somewhat from the sharp drop in July. Higher borrowing costs have reduced residential sales activity, but with the Fed deciding not to taper at its last meeting, mortgage rates have begun to fall, which should be beneficial in the short term. Freddie Mac reported the average 30-year mortgage rate at 4.32 percent last week, down from 4.50 percent the week before. Still, this remains a full percentage point higher than that from the first week of May.

This week, the largest headlines will come on Friday with the release of September’s jobs numbers. Nonfarm payrolls are anticipated to show an increase of around 170,000, or roughly the same as in August. Manufacturing hiring should be positive, but only barely so. The other big news will come tomorrow with the September PMI figures from the Institute for Supply Management. Similar to other sentiment surveys, the consensus expects a modest pullback in the index, with growth easing from the strong rebound noted in both July and August, particularly for new orders. We will also get the latest reports on manufacturing activity from the Chicago and Dallas Federal Reserve Banks and new data on construction spending and factory orders.

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

personal income and spending - sept2013

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Monday Economic Report – July 29, 2013

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

For the most part, manufacturing activity continues to improve from weaknesses during the spring. The Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) increased from 51.9 in June to 53.2 in July, suggesting modest growth overall and increases in new orders, output and employment. This included export sales, which contracted in June and have been slow so far in 2013. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank’s composite index was up from -5 to 6, echoing similar improvements in the New York and Philadelphia districts. Of the regional Fed manufacturing surveys for July released so far, only the Richmond Fed’s respondents noted weaknesses, with surprisingly sharp declines in sales for that district. All of the surveys, however, reflect cautious optimism for the second half of the year. Similarly, the latest consumer confidence figures from the University of Michigan suggest sentiment has reached a six-year high.

The Census Bureau’s advance estimates of new durable goods orders provided mixed comfort on the current state of that sector’s sales environment. Strong demand for aircraft orders lifted the volume of new orders to an all-time high. Yet, when you exclude transportation from the analysis (which would also include higher auto sales), weaknesses persist in the broader industry. Without transportation, new orders would have been unchanged, and they have edged up just 1.0 percent since January. The latest National Association for Business Economics (NABE) Industry Survey gives further credence to this, with respondents noting slower sales and earnings in the goods-producing sectors (which include manufacturing) in the second quarter. Nonetheless, business economists anticipate a pickup in activity over the next year, with 70 percent of respondents expecting real GDP growth of between 2.1 and 3.0 across the next 12 months.

In international markets, exports have been slow in the early months of 2013, with particular weaknesses in Europe. The good news last week was the surprisingly positive Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI report, with its composite index for July measuring 50.1. This was its first reading above 50—the threshold for expansion—since June 2011. While Europe still has significant issues to work through, the increase in demand and uptick in output were welcome developments and perhaps indicate some stabilization. The PMI data gave markets a huge psychological boost, with many analysts suggesting that Europe might have turned the corner. In contrast, China’s economy continues to decelerate. The HSBC Flash China Manufacturing PMI declined to 47.7 in July and has now contracted for three straight months.

This week will be a big one on the economic front. The key headline to watch will come on Wednesday with the release of second-quarter real GDP, with economists revising their estimates lower in the past few weeks to 1 percent or less. If the Bureau of Economic Analysis confirms this, it would suggest extremely sluggish growth in the first half of 2013, with first-quarter growth recently revised down to 1.8 percent. In addition to output, we will also get the latest PMI data from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) and employment numbers for July. Hopefully, the ISM data will mirror the progress seen in the Markit data discussed above. The jobs figures will be watched closely to see if the manufacturing sector can reverse its recent declines in hiring.

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

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Monday Economic Report – May 28, 2013

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

Manufacturing activity worldwide has slowed noticeably. Flash Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data for China and the Eurozone both reflect contracting levels for new orders, exports and employment. Europe’s problems continue to deepen. Even with some slight easing of declining sales, May’s manufacturing PMI data mark the 22nd consecutive month of declining activity for the continent. Beyond falling activity levels, manufacturers have also reported the need to reduce the selling price for their goods. The news that China had once again slipped into negative territory was a little surprising, suggesting its economic growth has slowed again. Over the course of the next few weeks, international PMI data will come in, allowing us to see the widespread softness in the manufacturing sector. The most recent JPMorgan Global Manufacturing PMI suggested that growth worldwide was modest at best.

The Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI declined slightly from 52.0 in April to 51.9 in May, falling from 56.1 in January. One of the largest factors in May’s decline was the decrease in new export orders. Output and hiring also slowed, and domestic new orders have decreased since the beginning of the year. At the same time, the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank’s National Activity Index (NAI) declined in April, largely on weaknesses in industrial production in the early months of 2013. (continue reading…)

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