Monday Economic Report – April 21, 2014

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

The Federal Reserve Board’s April Beige Book brought new evidence that the moderate economic recovery is getting back on track as the impact of the harsh winter weather abates. Manufacturing improved in most of the Federal Reserve’s 12 districts, growing at a “steady pace” in New York, Atlanta, St. Louis and Dallas, and gaining “some momentum” in San Francisco. The transportation sector strengthened, with the outlook described as optimistic. Reports on both residential and commercial construction showed that the sector continues to improve, albeit slowly; this was consistent with the moderate pickup in housing starts, from 920,000 in February to 946,000 in March. Consumer spending increased in most districts, confirming that the resilience of the household sector remains a key driver of the recovery. The Beige Book also indicated that price and wage pressures remain limited. This supports the majority view of the Federal Open Market Committee that there is still sufficient slack in the labor market to warrant an accommodative monetary policy for some time.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve’s Business Outlook Survey painted a similar picture, confirming a pickup in manufacturing activity following weather-related weakness the previous month, and with respondents optimistic that growth would continue over the coming months. Demand for manufactured goods rose, with the new orders index at +5.7 compared to February’s -5.2; shipments also increased. Employment levels were steady, but the survey recorded a more optimistic outlook here as well, with the percentage of firms expecting higher employment rising to 34 percent compared to February’s 27 percent. Just under half of firms polled expected higher capital spending this year compared to 2013, with one-fifth expecting a lower level. Firms not planning to increase capital spending cited low growth, low capacity utilization and limited need to replace capital and technology equipment. Overall, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve survey and the Beige Book confirm that the recovery is gaining more traction, but also suggest it will take longer for the pace of activity to accelerate in a more decisive manner.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen underscored the benign inflation scenario in a speech at the Economic Club of New York—her second public speech since assuming the Federal Reserve’s leadership. Asked whether the Federal Reserve would be prepared to let inflation drift above 2 percent in order to provide additional support to the recovery, Yellen noted that the risks are still skewed toward inflation being too low, not too high, and the Federal Reserve’s challenge for the time being is to bring inflation up and closer to the 2 percent target. She also pointed out that this low inflation environment currently characterizes not just the United States, but other main advanced economies, notably Japan and Europe, where the European Central Bank is debating possible additional monetary stimulus. Yellen stressed, however, that the Federal Reserve is well aware that overshooting the inflation objective “can be very costly,” and will, therefore, tighten policy in a timely manner at a pace dictated by the improvement in activity and employment. Unwinding monetary stimulus at the right pace is essential to the recovery’s sustainability, and the Federal Reserve will keep striving to guide market expectations to minimize the risks of sudden adjustments in market interest rates during the transition.

Inflation, meanwhile, edged up in March, with the headline Consumer Price Index (CPI) rising to 1.5 percent year-over-year compared to 1.1 percent in February, driven by increases in the prices of food, natural gas and electricity, partially compensated by a drop in gasoline prices. Core CPI inflation, calculated by stripping out the more volatile energy and food components, rose to 1.7 percent year-over-year from February’s 1.6 percent. The Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation, however—the change in the Personal Consumption Expenditure Deflator Index—is significantly lower and stood at 0.9 percent in February (the March figure has not yet been released).

This week will allow us to take the pulse of global manufacturing, with the Markit Flash Manufacturing PMIs for the United States, China and the Eurozone. The reading for China will be followed especially closely, given that an intensification of China’s slowdown might have repercussions on global demand for commodities. The durable goods report will offer another important gauge of the pace of the recovery and the health of demand for manufacturing in the United States. Other highlights include new home sales and the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index.

Many thanks to General Electric Chief Economist Marco Annunziata for compiling this week’s Monday Economic Report.

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Monday Economic Report – April 14, 2014

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

In the minutes of its March Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, the Federal Reserve Board highlighted the negative impact of weather events on first-quarter growth. Winter storms hampered business investment, construction, consumer spending and manufacturing production. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve still anticipates real GDP growth of between 2.8 and 3.0 percent in 2014, faster than last year’s 1.9 percent expansion. While this reflects a slight downgrade in the outlook for the year from the last forecast, it continues to suggest that the economy will regain its momentum moving forward. The Federal Reserve also predicts growth of 3.0 to 3.2 percent in 2015. The International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook, which was released last week, mirrors these figures in its own forecasts for the United States.

The highlight of the FOMC minutes was the background discussion among participants regarding future monetary policy actions. The Federal Reserve largely feels that the U.S. labor market has a lot of “slack” in it, which is not reflected by the 6.7 percent unemployment rate. Despite improvements in the unemployment rate, weaknesses continue, with the participation rate near 30-year lows and high rates of both underemployment and part-time employment. While some FOMC members feel there has been sufficient economic progress to warrant less stimulative monetary policy measures, the majority view the current labor market as sufficiently weak enough to continue the Federal Reserve’s highly accommodative actions for the foreseeable future. The Federal Reserve will continue to reduce its long-term asset purchases, but short-term interest rates will likely not rise until next year at the earliest. Inflationary pressures remain modest, providing the Federal Reserve with some wiggle room to do its stimulative measures.

The most recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data suggest the labor market for manufacturers remains soft. The number of manufacturing job openings declined for the third month in a row in February. Postings have been lower since peaking in November, and the December to February time frame mirrored the weather-related weaknesses seen in other data. Net hiring was also lower in those three months, with 2,000 more separations than hires in February. Still, the manufacturing sector has added an average of 12,125 workers each month since August, mirroring the uptick in demand and production that we have seen since that point. We are hopeful that hiring begins to accelerate again in the coming months.

Looking at the sentiment surveys last week, businesses and consumers were more upbeat. The California Manufacturing Survey from Chapman University reported rising expectations for new orders and production for the second quarter, but with employment growth remaining soft. Both durable and nondurable goods activity were anticipated to expand modestly in the current quarter. Likewise, small business owners in the National Federation of Independent Business’ (NFIB) survey were more optimistic about future sales, and those saying the next three months were a good time to expand edged marginally higher. Still, earnings remained weak, and the percentage suggesting they would bring on more workers moved lower. The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters also noted improved consumer sentiment, a welcome gain after three months of dampened enthusiasm.

This week will be a busy one on the economic front, specifically with new reports on housing starts and industrial production. We hope to move beyond the weather-related weaknesses from earlier this year, and March’s manufacturing output numbers are expected to show a continued rebound. Similarly, housing starts moved slightly higher in February, but permits surpassed the 1 million mark for the first time since November; yet, rising interest rates, financial challenges for potential buyers and low inventory remain concerns. Other highlights this week include new data on consumer prices, leading indicators, manufacturing surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks and state employment.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. Note that General Electric Chief Economist Marco Annunziata will prepare the Monday Economic Report for April 21.

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Federal Reserve Participants Focused on Slack in the Economy at their March FOMC Meeting

The Federal Reserve Board released the minutes of its March 18-19 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting. While we already had the statement from this meeting, the minutes allow us to know the inner deliberations of the Committee. The participants debated, for instance, the degree to which there was “slack” in the labor market, with some feeling that the reduced unemployment rate masked continuing weaknesses (e.g., low participation rate, high rates of underemployment and part-time employment) while others felt that some of these weaknesses mirrored larger demographic trends.

FOMC members also spent some time focusing on the impact of global events on the U.S. economy.  The recent deceleration in real GDP growth in China “had already put some downward pressure on world commodity prices, and a couple of participants observed that a larger-than-expected slowdown in economic growth in China could have adverse implications for global economic growth.” The participants also discussed the events of the Ukraine and the negative impact of possible geopolitical events.

One of the more controversial – in some circles – aspect of the March FOMC meeting was the dropping of the 6.5 percent target in its forward guidance. That target had been part of their guidance since the December 2012 FOMC meeting. There were discussions about replacing the 6.5 percent target with another number. (Narayana Kocherlakota, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, dissented from the final statement and later suggested that he felt the target should have been 5.5 percent.) In the end, the majority of participants voted to approve the switch from a “quantitative” to a “qualitative” target, which would be data dependent but still provide the FOMC with flexibility to act when it needed to.

The FOMC also voted to continue tapering its long-term and mortgage-backed security purchases from $65 billion each month to $55 billion each month. The minutes go on to say the following: “Members again judged that, if the economy continued to develop as anticipated, the Committee would likely reduce the pace of asset purchases in further measured steps at future meetings.”

In general, FOMC members wanted the public to know that it would maintain a highly accommodative stance on monetary policy for the foreseeable future. While tapering of long-term assets will continue at future meetings, short-term interest rates will stay near zero throughout 2014, and it is likely that they will not start to increase the federal funds rate until sometime in 2015.

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

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Monday Economic Report – April 7, 2014

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

Manufacturers appear to be recovering from softness in the first two months of the year, mainly due to the number of severe winter storms. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reported that its Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) edged higher, up from 53.2 in February to 53.7 in March. Production began expanding again, with the pace of new orders and exports picking up slightly. Despite some degree of progress in March, sentiment remains lower than just a few months ago. PMI values averaged 56.3 in the second half of last year, with sales and output measures exceeding 60—indicating strong growth—each month from August to December.

Likewise, new factory orders increased 1.6 percent in February, partially offsetting the sharp declines in December and January. Beyond autos and aircraft, however, durable goods sales were just barely higher, suggesting more needs to be done for broader growth in the sector. Meanwhile, the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank’s manufacturing survey reflected a rebound in activity consistent with other Federal Reserve districts. Texas manufacturers remain positive about sales, output, hiring and capital spending moving forward. For example, more than half of respondents anticipate increased demand over the next six months. Still, some cited regulatory, pricing pressure, workforce and foreign competition concerns.

On the hiring front, Friday’s jobs numbers provided mixed news for manufacturers. The sector lost 1,000 workers in March, mainly due to declines in nondurable goods industries. This was particularly disappointing given consensus expectations that were closer to the ADP’s estimates, which had a gain of 5,000 workers for the month. Yet, revisions to January and February data provided some comfort, adding 15,000 more employees than original estimates. As a result, the longer-term trend for manufacturing did not change much despite March’s lower figure. Manufacturers have added more than 600,000 workers since the end of the recession, and since August, the sector has generated an average of 12,125 net new jobs per month. Another positive in this report was that the average number of hours worked and average compensation both rose, findings that mirror the rebound in overall activity.

Meanwhile, the latest international trade figures were also disappointing. The U.S. trade deficit widened from $39.28 billion in January to $42.30 billion in February. This was the highest deficit since September and the result of a decrease in goods exports and an increase in service-sector imports. Petroleum exports were also marginally lower. The numbers were particularly discouraging given that manufactured goods exports in January and February of this year were 0.6 percent lower than the first two months of last year. Still, outside of softness in our goods exports to Canada, the other top-five export markets for U.S.-manufactured goods registered increases year-to-date in 2014 relative to 2013. In addition, there remains cautious optimism that export sales will improve in the coming months.

This week, the focus will be on the release of the minutes from the March Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting. The minutes will provide additional insights on the internal debates that led the Federal Reserve Board to continue tapering but to also change its forward guidance for short-term interest rates. On Friday, the release of producer price data should continue to show that overall inflation remains minimal. Other highlights include the latest data on consumer confidence, job openings, small business optimism and wholesale trade.

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

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Business Economists Anticipate 2.8 Percent Growth in Real GDP in 2014

Economists with the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) expect real GDP growth of 2.8 percent in 2014, up from 2.5 percent predicted three months ago. This is true despite weather-related softness in January and February, with economists anticipating 1.9 percent growth in the first (or current) quarter. Respondents to the NABE Outlook Survey also predict 3.2 percent output growth for 2015, suggesting the U.S. economy will continue to accelerate into next year.

This is good news for manufacturers. Industrial production is expected to increase 3.2 percent and 3.4 percent in 2014 and 2015, respectively. This is mostly consistent with the positive outlook noting in the latest NAM/IndustryWeek survey. In terms of auto production, light vehicle sales should rise from an average of 15.5 million annualized units in 2013 to 16.0 million and 16.5 million units in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Meanwhile, housing starts are anticipated to grow to 1.07 million and 1.3 million this year and next.

A number of special questions focused on the Federal Reserve Board and monetary policy. Eighty percent of business economists expect the Fed’s quantitative easing program, with 57 percent anticipating the end of long-term asset purchases in the fourth quarter of 2014. In terms of short-term interest rates, the responses were more scattered, but more than half predict the federal funds rate to start to increase in 2015. Overall inflationary pressures are expected to stay under or at the Fed’s 2-percent goal, with consumer prices up 1.7 percent and 2.0 percent in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Those taking the survey were asked about the biggest threats to the economic expansion, and the top choice was rising interest rates, cited by 27 percent of responses. This was closely followed by the regulatory environment (14 percent), financial instability in emerging markets (14 percent), and federal fiscal gridlock (11 percent).

Labor market growth has slightly decelerated since the last survey, as we have seen in recent jobs numbers. Nonfarm payroll growth should average 188,000 per month in 2014, down from the average of 197,000 in 2013. In the December survey, respondents had predicted 197,000 for this year. In 2015, business economists predict an average of 205,000 additional nonfarm employees each month.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. Note that he was one of the panelists for the NABE Outlook Survey.

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Monday Economic Report – March 24, 2014

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

For much of the past month, people have been questioning how much of the recent softness in the manufacturing sector was due to weather and how much stemmed from other factors. The data released last week support the view that it was largely weather related, with numerous winter storms keeping shoppers from the stores and closing factories temporarily. Fortunately, manufacturing activity has rebounded in the latest reports. For instance, manufacturing production increased 0.8 percent in February, nearly offsetting January’s 0.9 percent decline, with capacity utilization for the sector rising from 75.9 percent to 76.4 percent. Similar rebounds were seen in the March surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks, and more importantly, manufacturers continue to be mostly upbeat about new orders and shipments over the next six months.

In its monetary policy statement, the Federal Reserve Board’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) acknowledged the negative effects of “adverse weather conditions” on recent activity. It also provided the following evaluation of the current economic environment:

Labor market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement. The unemployment rate, however, remains elevated. Household spending and business fixed investment continued to advance, while the recovery in the housing sector remained slow. Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth, although the extent of restraint is diminishing. Inflation has been running below the Committee’s longer-run objective, but longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.

The biggest news from the FOMC’s statement was the change in its forward guidance, as expected, to no longer mention an unemployment rate target. Since its December 2012 meeting, the FOMC has said it would pursue a highly accommodative monetary policy until the unemployment rate hit 6.5 percent and/or long-term inflation consistently exceeded 2.0 percent. With unemployment falling, this put the Federal Reserve in a predicament because job growth continues to be a challenge, particularly for the long-term unemployed, and progress in the unemployment rate fails to acknowledge loforw participation rates and underemployment that exists in the labor market. For this reason, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Narayana Kocherlakota opposed the change in the Fed’s guidance, and he subsequently said that he wanted a 5.5 percent unemployment rate target.

In the end, however, short-term interest rates cannot hover around zero percent forever, particularly with the U.S. economy improving. The Federal Reserve now forecasts real GDP growth in 2014 of 2.8 percent to 3.0 percent, with the unemployment rate falling to 6.1 percent by year’s end. The FOMC continued to taper its long-term asset purchases, down from $65 billion each month to $55 billion, and short-term interest rates are now expected to start rising sometime in 2015. (This is true even with new Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s suggestion that rates might begin to increase around six months after quantitative easing ends, a comment that spooked markets on Wednesday.)

Fortunately for the Federal Reserve, inflationary pressures remain minimal, allowing the FOMC to continue its stimulative measures for now. Consumer prices rose 0.1 percent in February, with core inflation increasing 1.6 percent over the past 12 months. Of course, higher interest rates could negatively impact spending, particularly for large consumer items and for business investments.

Along these lines, housing starts have stabilized a little, up from 905,000 annualized units in January to 907,000 in February, but still remain somewhat weak. On the positive side, housing permits—a proxy of future activity—exceeded 1 million for the first time since November, largely on gains in multifamily residential construction. Single-family permitting remained soft, however, and homebuilder sentiment continued to be down from where it was just a few months ago. In addition to weather challenges, National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Chief Economist David Crowe attributes the current weakness to “a shortage of buildable lots and skilled workers, rising materials prices and an extremely low inventory of new homes for sale.”

Today, we will get March Markit Flash Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data for the United States, China and Eurozone. In particular, economists will be looking to see if Chinese manufacturing activity continues to decelerate and if the slight easing in February’s data was a one-month phenomenon. (For more on international trends, see the latest Global Manufacturing Economic Update, which was released on Friday.) Other highlights this week include updates on consumer confidence, durable goods orders and shipments, GDP, manufacturing surveys from the Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks, personal income and spending and state employment.

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

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The Federal Reserve Continued Tapering, Changing its Forward Guidance to be More Vague

The Federal Reserve Board said that it would continue tapering its long-term asset purchases. As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted to reduce its monthly purchases of mortgage-backed and long-term securities from $65 billion to $55 billion, continuing to lower its bond-buying initiative by $10 billion with each meeting. These reductions began in December, when the Fed was still buying $85 billion in assets each month. Conventional wisdom holds that the Fed’s quantitative easing program will end by the third quarter of 2014.

The other major decision involved the 6.5 percent unemployment rate target that has been in the FOMC statement since December 2012. With the unemployment rate approaching 6.5 percent, it was widely anticipated that the Fed would change its forward guidance to stop mentioning an unemployment rate target altogether. In essence, the Fed would switch from “quantitative” to “qualitative” guidance. In its statement, the Fed said that it would continue to maintain its highly accommodative stance for some time, with the FOMC’s new goals somewhat vague in terms of data goals. It says:

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess progress–both realized and expected–toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation.

While the January FOMC minutes hinted that short-term rates might start to rise by year’s end if the economy grows sufficiently, economists have largely forecasted that the Fed funds rate would begin to increase gradually sometime in 2015. With that said, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen suggested in her first press conference that short-term interest rates might rise around six months after quantitative easing ends. Financial markets interpreted this to be sooner than expected, sending equity markets lower.

There was one dissenter to the FOMC’s actions this time. Narayana Kocherlakota, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, did not support dropping the unemployment rate target from the Fed’s forward guidance. He feels that unemployment remains elevated, and the Fed should continue its stimulative policies until the unemployment rate falls further. Specifically, the statement says that he felt that it “weakens the credibility of the Committee’s commitment to return inflation to the 2 percent target from below and fosters policy uncertainty that hinders economic activity.”

In terms of economic forecasts, the Fed slightly lowered its predictions for growth in 2014. It now expects real GDP to increase between 2.8 and 3.0 percent, down from the 2.8 to 3.2 percent range stated three months ago. Weather-related softness has likely had a negative impact on these forecasts, particularly for the first quarter. On the other hand, employment was somewhat better, with the unemployment rate falling to as low as 6.1 percent in 2014 and 5.6 percent in 2015. Pricing pressures were expected to be minimal, staying below the Fed’s threshold of 2 percent for the next couple years. This year, core inflation should increase between 1.4 percent and 1.6 percent at the annual rate.

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

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Monday Economic Report – March 17, 2014

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

Recent events around the world remind us that the global economic and political environment remains uncertain. Manufacturers have had to cope with weather-related softness over the past few months, worries about the geopolitical situation and slowing growth rates in some of our largest trading partners, specifically China. Despite these challenges, they continue to be mostly upbeat about future activity.

The latest NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers found that 86.1 percent of respondents were positive about their company’s outlook, up from 78.1 percent three months ago, with increased expectations for sales, exports, employment and capital spending. Still, smaller manufacturers were less positive, particularly in their investment plans. The top challenges were the business climate and rising health care and insurance costs, with respondents noting the need for comprehensive tax reform and expressing concern about ever-increasing regulatory burdens.

Government regulations were also cited as the most important problem in the latest National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey of small business owners. It was one of two sentiment surveys released last week showing reduced confidence. NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index fell sharply, down from 94.1 in January to 91.4 in February. The percentage saying it was a good time to expand declined, with weak sales and earnings expectations. Likewise, preliminary March consumer confidence numbers from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters were also lower, perhaps reflecting concerns about job and income growth.

On the positive side, retail sales began to rebound in February, up 0.3 percent. While this was not enough to make up for the weather-induced declines of December and January, it did suggest there were possible “green shoots” on the consumer spending front, with Americans starting to return to the stores. For instance, the auto sector saw modest sales gains in February, a trend seen in other hard-hit sectors as well.

This week, much of the focus will be on the Federal Reserve Board, with a new monetary policy statement from the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) coming out on Wednesday. While hiring remains soft (as the latest job openings numbers show), the unemployment rate is likely to reach the 6.5 percent threshold in the next month or two. Therefore, the expectation is that the FOMC will change its forward guidance on short-term interest rates to omit mention of an unemployment rate target. Fortunately, pricing pressures remain minimal, allowing the Federal Reserve to continue to pursue highly accommodative policies, even as it continues to taper its long-term asset purchases. Look for the FOMC to reduce its purchases from $65 billion each month in long-term and mortgage-backed securities to $55 billion.

It will be a busy week for economic releases, including new data on industrial production and housing starts. Manufacturing output should rebound somewhat, even as bad weather dampened activity once again. Similar findings are expected in the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank manufacturing surveys. Meanwhile, housing starts should also pick up slightly, but new residential activity will remain subpar relative to a few months ago. Still, we remain upbeat about the housing market for 2014 as a whole. Other highlights this week include new measures for consumer prices, homebuilder confidence and leading indicators.

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

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Monday Economic Report – February 3, 2014

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

While equity markets around the world continue to worry about the emerging markets, the economic news in the United States has been more encouraging. In particular, we learned that real GDP grew at a relatively strong pace in the fourth quarter, up 3.2 percent. Robust growth in consumer spending and exports boosted the nation’s output, with the main drag being federal government spending. Note that this was the quarter that included the partial government shutdown, which might explain part of that decrease, with defense and nondefense government spending lower. Yet, the key takeaway from this data was the strength of the U.S. economy as we ended 2013, with real GDP increasing 3.7 percent at the annual rate in the second half of the year.

At the same time, it is worth noting that real GDP rose a more-disappointing 1.9 percent for 2013 as a whole, below the 2.8 percent figure seen in 2012. Likewise, personal income growth also decelerated, from 4.2 percent in 2012 to 2.8 percent in 2013. Personal incomes remained flat in general for the month. Nonetheless, total wages and salaries in the manufacturing sector increased from $760.9 billion in November to $763.6 billion in December, with annual growth of 1.9 percent. Meanwhile, personal spending in December rose 0.4 percent, extending the 0.6 percent gain observed in November. While the monthly increase resulted from a huge jump in nondurable goods spending, the annual data reflected larger increases for durable goods (7.1 percent versus 2.1 percent). In other developments, consumer confidence appears to have rebounded after falling during the government shutdown, as reflected in both Conference Board and University of Michigan reports.

Some of the other reports for the manufacturing sector were mixed. Regional sentiment surveys, such as those from the Dallas and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks, continue to show expanding levels of sales and production. Moreover, respondents remain mostly upbeat in their outlook for the next six months. In contrast, new durable goods orders dipped 4.3 percent in December. Moreover, even excluding the highly-volatile transportation sector, new orders would have fallen 1.6 percent, suggesting broader weaknesses beyond aircraft and motor vehicles. Shipments of durable goods were also lower. Weather could have been a factor, as well as the timing of some orders due to the holidays. As such, it will be interesting to see if upcoming data reveals the December data as an outlier.

For its part, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Federal Reserve stressed the positive, noting that “growth in economic activity picked up in recent quarters.” As expected, the FOMC further reduced its purchases of long-term and mortgage-backed securities from $75 billion each month to $65 billion. It had begun to taper these asset purchases at its December meeting. This marked the last meeting chaired by Ben Bernanke, as Janet Yellen became the chair of the Federal Reserve Board on February 1. The FOMC will continue to maintain its “highly accommodative” monetary policies for the foreseeable future, with short-term interest rates remaining effectively zero beyond when the economy reaches 6.5 percent. One notable element in the FOMC statement was that none of the participants dissented this time around. While the committee does have new participants for 2014, this was the first statement to not have a dissention since the June 2011 meeting.

This week, the focus will return to the labor market with the release of January employment numbers on Friday. Following the lackluster nonfarm payroll growth of December, the consensus is for 175,000 net new workers to have been added in January. For manufacturers, we will be looking to see if we can extend the strong hiring gains observed from August to December, adding an average of 16,000 jobs per month during that five-month period. Another highlight will be the December trade data, which will allow us to see if manufacturers were able to improve upon the mostly discouraging export figures that we have seen so far for 2013. Other economic indicators to watch include new data on construction spending, consumer credit, the Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing managers’ index, new factory orders and productivity.

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

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Monday Economic Report – January 27, 2014

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

According to the latest data, manufacturers contributed $2.03 trillion to the economy in 2012, or 12.5 percent of GDP. This was up from $1.56 trillion in 2000 and $1.92 trillion in 2011. As such, it suggests that manufacturing remains quite strong in the United States, with output continuing to expand and recovering from the falloff during the recession. In fact, manufacturing in the United States would be the eighth-largest country in the world if you were to compare manufacturing’s contribution with worldwide GDP values. Nations with GDP greater than U.S. manufacturing’s contribution were the United States, China, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Brazil.

Looking at more current data, there were two manufacturing developments of note in the data released last week. First, Chinese manufacturing activity contracted slightly for the first time since July, spooking financial markets. This reduction in the preliminary Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data stemmed largely from fewer new orders and exports, and it provided fodder for those worried about deceleration in China’s economy. (This also fed anxieties about growth in the emerging markets in general.) Yet, Chinese manufacturing output remained expansionary, albeit at a slower pace than the month before, and production has been positive for six straight months.

The second notable trend was the negative impact of colder weather on U.S. production in January. Both the Kansas City Federal Reserve’s survey and the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI data indicated weaker output for the month, with winter shutdowns cited as one of the causes. We would expect such changes due to poor weather conditions to be temporary, and for the most part, manufacturers in the United States remain mostly upbeat about new orders, shipments, employment and capital spending moving forward. These sentiment surveys, as well as other similar ones, continue to show improvements in manufacturing sales and output since the beginning of the third quarter, with cautiously optimistic expectations for 2014.

Two indicators released last week support this more upbeat assessment of the U.S. economy’s health. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) continued to expand in December, rising 3.4 percent in the second half of 2013. One of the stronger elements in this index was the new orders component, particularly as measured by the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) PMI reports. Similarly, manufacturing was a significant positive contributor to the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank’s National Activity Index (NAI). This measure has shown strong improvement in the past few months, with overall growth now above its historical trend.

This week will be a much busier one on the economic front. However, much of the focus will be on two separate developments. The first of these will come on Wednesday with the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) release of its monetary policy statement. This will be the last meeting with Ben Bernanke as the Federal Reserve Board chair, and it is widely expected that the FOMC will continue to taper its purchases of long-term assets, probably down from $75 billion each month to $65 billion. Then, on Thursday, we will get our first glimpse of fourth-quarter real GDP growth numbers. The consensus expectation is for growth of at least 2.5 percent in the final quarter of 2013, down from 4.1 percent in the third quarter.

Other highlights for the week include new manufacturing surveys from the Dallas and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks and consumer confidence data from both the Conference Board and the University of Michigan. In addition, we will get the latest updates for new durable goods orders, personal income and spending and state employment.

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

manufacturing value-added - jan2014

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