Tag: FOMC

Consumer Prices Ease a Bit in June, Still Reflect an Acceleration in the Second Quarter

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that consumer prices increased 0.3 percent in June, easing a bit from the 0.4 percent growth rate seen in May. Still, it is clear that prices have accelerated in the second quarter, led by higher food and energy costs. The annualized rate of growth in the second quarter was 3.5 percent, a substantial jump from the 1.8 percent annual pace seen in the first quarter. Of course, this figure perhaps overstates the significance of the last three months, with the consumer price index up 2.1 percent over the past 12 months. Even there, though, the year-over-year rate has jumped from being just 1.1 percent in February.

In the June data, the largest jump in consumer prices came from energy, up 1.6 percent for the month and building off of the 0.9 percent increase in May. Indeed, the price of West Texas intermediate crude has increased from an average of $97.63 per barrel in December to $100.80 in March to $105.79 in June. Much of the latest rise in prices has stemmed from Middle Eastern turmoil, particularly in Iraq at that time. Energy costs have risen 2.8 percent in the past three months alone, primarily from higher gasoline prices.

Meanwhile, food prices were up 0.1 percent, its slowest pace of growth in four months. In fact, prices of food for the home were unchanged in June, the first non-positive growth figure in six months. Higher prices for meats and eggs were offset by some easing in the costs of bakery items, cereals, dairy products and fruits and vegetables. Nonetheless, the cost of food for the consumer has risen 1.8 percent over the past six months, something that Americans are bound to notice in the grocery aisle.

Outside of food and energy, core consumer inflation decelerated in June to 0.1 percent growth in June. Over the past 12 months, core consumer prices have risen 1.9 percent, unchanged from May but up from 1.6 percent in January. In June, the largest increases were seen in airfare, apparel, housing, medical care and tobacco.

While pricing pressures have definitely picked up in the second quarter, the year-over-year pace still remains mostly in-line with the Federal Reserve Board’s stated goals. They will no-doubt continue to watch inflation numbers closely, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is unlikely to deviate from its current monetary policy trajectory at next week’s meeting.

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

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Monday Economic Report – June 23, 2014

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

The Federal Reserve Bank downgraded its estimates of growth for 2014, with real GDP growth of 2.1 percent to 2.3 percent. This was down from its March projection of 2.8 percent to 3.0 percent, largely due to weaknesses in the first quarter. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve still projects a pickup in activity during the second half of the year that will continue into 2015, with an unchanged outlook of 3.0 percent to 3.2 percent growth next year. The unemployment rate is anticipated to fall to 6.0 percent by year’s end and as low as 5.4 percent in 2015.

With that in mind, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) observed that “growth in economic activity has rebounded in recent months,” even as it cited continued slack in the labor market. The FOMC continued to taper its asset purchases, down from $45 billion per month to $35 billion, and it mostly reiterated its intent to keep a highly accommodative monetary policy stance for the foreseeable future. Short-term interest rates are expected to start rising at some point next year. Yet, there is renewed chatter among “inflation hawks” about increased pricing pressures of late. Core consumer prices, which exclude food and energy costs, rose 1.95 percent over the past 12 months, its fastest year-over-year pace in 19 months. While inflation still appears to be in check, the recent run-up in costs has fueled a debate about whether short-term rates might need to increase sooner than conventional wisdom might suggest.

For manufacturers, activity continues to recover from winter-related softness at the beginning of the year. Manufacturing production has risen 2.8 percent since January’s decline, with 3.6 percent growth over the past 12 months. Capacity utilization for the sector increased to 77.0 percent in May, its highest level since March 2008. Similarly, manufacturers in the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve districts reported strong growth in their respective June surveys. More importantly, respondents were mostly optimistic about future activity. More than half of those taking each survey said they anticipate increased new orders over the next six months. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve report also noted that 73.9 percent of its manufacturers predicted increased production in the second half of this year, with nearly 48 percent forecasting output growth of more than 4 percent.

Meanwhile, the housing market has provided mixed progress so far this year, even as we remain cautiously optimistic about future months. New housing starts decreased from an annualized 1,071,000 units in May to 1,001,000 in June. Despite the decline, it was the second straight month that starts have exceeded 1 million units, and the underlying trend remains positive. April’s figure was an outlier, with the year-to-date average being 969,000. As such, we continue to make slow-but-steady progress. At the same time, housing permits also declined, but single-family permitting increased from 597,000 units at the annual rate to 619,000, the fastest pace since November. This could be a sign that residential construction will accelerate in the months ahead. I still believe we will reach 1.1 million housing starts by year’s end. Moreover, homebuilder confidence was also higher for the month.

This week, we will get additional data on the health of the housing and manufacturing sectors. The Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks will unveil their latest surveys, and Markit will release Flash Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data for China, Japan, the Eurozone and the United States. We hope they will continue to reflect rebounding activity in the United States, and analysts will be closely following the June Chinese PMI data to see if the sector expands for the first time in 2014. The other key number to watch will be the second revision of real GDP for the first quarter. The consensus estimate is for the decline in output to exceed 1.5 percent, worse than the 1.0 percent decrease in the first revision. Other highlights include new data on consumer confidence, durable goods orders and shipments, existing and new home sales and personal income and spending.

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

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Monday Economic Report – June 16, 2014

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

Despite a very weak start to 2014, there is an expectation among manufacturers that the second half of the year will be better than the first. Indeed, average manufacturing sales forecasts in the latest NAM/IndustryWeek survey were the highest in two years, with capital investment and hiring plans also moving in the right direction. Indeed, these data points were consistent with 4.0 percent production growth in the sector between now and the fourth quarter of this year, and roughly 86 percent of respondents were either somewhat or very positive in their outlook. These findings mirrored similarly optimistic assessments from business economists, who predict real GDP growth of 3 percent or more in each of the remaining quarters of 2014, with industrial production up 3.7 percent for the year as a whole.

Despite more upbeat perceptions for the coming months, concerns continue to linger. Respondents to the NAM/IndustryWeek survey remain frustrated with political inaction and the slow pace of economic growth. The top business challenges continue to be rising health care costs (72.7 percent) and an unfavorable business climate (71.4 percent). When asked about policy priorities for the next few years, slowing entitlement spending (84.4 percent), finding a long-term budget deal (82.9 percent), reducing regulatory burdens (81.9 percent) and controlling health care costs (78.5 percent) were at the top of the list.

At the same time, consumers remain cautious. The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters reported that consumer confidence edged lower for the second straight month, although sentiment has not changed much in the first six months of this year. There are persistent worries about labor and income growth, which appear to be preventing Americans from being more optimistic about the future.

These anxieties might also have been a factor in the weaker-than-expected retail spending numbers for May. While retail sales rose for the fourth consecutive month and purchases continue to reflect a rebound from winter-related softness, May’s increase of 0.3 percent was about half of what was predicted. In fact, excluding motor vehicles and gasoline station sales, spending was flat for the month. Nonetheless, one could also paint a more positive picture, with retail sales up 2.2 percent since November and 4.3 percent year-over-year. So perhaps May’s figures were just a pause in an otherwise decent upward trajectory for consumer spending. Small business owners were more upbeat about sales expectations in the latest National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey. The NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index reached its highest level in May since September 2007, or before the recession began.

Along those lines, the number of nonfarm job postings reached a pre-recessionary high in April. For manufacturers, job openings have increased in the past two months but remain below their recent peak in November. April’s increases in the manufacturing sector were primarily from durable goods firms. Net hiring (or hires minus separations) was also up for the month in manufacturing; however, it also suggests weaker employment growth in early 2014 versus the more robust hiring activity in the second half of 2013. This leaves room for improvement for the coming months.

This week, we will get several economic indicators on manufacturing and housing activity. For example, this morning, the Federal Reserve is expected to show a rebound in industrial production for May after the decline in April, and we will be looking for similar signs in surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks. Tomorrow, we will get new data on housing starts and permits, with the consensus being around 1.04 million annualized units in May, down slightly from 1.07 million in April. On the monetary policy front, we have seen increased pricing pressures of late, even as core inflation for producers declined in May. Yet, the Federal Reserve is not expected to alter its course this week when the Federal Open Market Committee meets. Other highlights this week include new information on consumer prices, leading indicators and state employment.

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

manufacturing job openings - jun2014

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Business Economists Anticipate 2.5 Percent Growth in Real GDP in 2014

Economists with the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) expect the economy to pick up in the second half of this year. Yet, overall estimates for growth for 2014 as a whole have fallen over the course of the past few months, with activity starting off somewhat disappointing in the first quarter. Economists now estimate real GDP growth of 2.5 percent for this year, down from 2.7 percent in the March survey and 2.8 percent in the December survey. This implies growth exceeding 3 percent in each of the remaining three quarters this year. In addition, survey respondents anticipate 3.1 percent growth in 2015.

Looking at the manufacturing sector, business economists expect industrial production to accelerate this year, with current estimates of 3.7 percent for 2014. That would be an improvement from the 3.2 percent growth rate forecasted three months ago. These results are consistent with the mostly upbeat data seen in the latest NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers, which predicted 4.0 percent growth in manufacturing output through the end of this year and sales rising at their fastest pace in two years.

In terms of auto production, light vehicle sales should rise from an average of 15.5 million annualized units in 2013 to 16.1 million and 16.5 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Meanwhile, housing starts are anticipated to grow rapidly, particularly next year, up from an expected 1.03 million in 2014 to 1.30 million in 2015. Capital spending should improve, as well, with relatively healthy gains for fixed investments in nonresidential structures, equipment and software, and intellectual property products.

Labor market growth has picked up since the last survey, not unlike the data seen in the most recent jobs report. Those taking the survey predict that nonfarm payrolls will average 209,000 per month in 2014, up from 188,000 each month in the last survey. With that said, business economists still predict a slow decline in the unemployment rate, averaging 6.2 percent this year.

A number of special questions focused on the Federal Reserve Board and monetary policy. Over ninety percent felt that the Fed would end its asset purchase program by year’s end, with the vast majority feeling that it would end in the fourth quarter. Similarly, 86 percent felt that short-term rates would rise in 2015, with over half anticipating the federal funds rate to increase in the second half of next year. In terms of global worries, the majority of respondents feel that the Russia/Ukraine crisis will hurt growth in Europe (84 percent) and that China will face a debt crisis in the next few years (51 percent). At the same time, nearly half suggest that deflationary concerns will hinder the economic recovery in Europe.

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 – May 27, 2014

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

The Federal Reserve made little news at its April 29–30 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, mostly mirroring the observations and policy actions taken at its March meeting. Yet, the latest minutes do give us a glimpse of how the Federal Reserve sees the economy as well as its thinking about future policy actions. For instance, participants spent much time discussing “monetary policy normalization,” or the exit strategy from recent stimulative actions. With quantitative easing winding down by the fall and with short-term interest rates expected to rise sometime in 2015, the Federal Reserve has begun to contemplate “the combination of policy tools that might be used to accomplish those objectives.” Moreover, it stressed the need to communicate its plans effectively to the markets and the public well before taking any actions. In essence, including a discussion of normalization in the minutes was a first step in such communications.

Regarding economic trends, the Federal Reserve noted recent improvements in activity since winter storms wreaked havoc earlier in the year. It observed that “business contacts in many parts of the country were generally optimistic about economic prospects,” and there were signs of increased capital spending and hiring as well as stronger demand for loans. Indeed, the manufacturing surveys released last week tend to echo these sentiments. For instance, the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose from 55.4 in April to 56.2 in May. The increase stemmed largely from higher production growth, with the output index up from 58.2 to 59.6, the fastest pace since February 2011. Likewise, the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank reported that manufacturing new orders and production have been much stronger since March, leading to a renewed desire to add more workers.

However, not all of the news out last week was positive. The Chicago Federal Reserve Bank’s National Activity Index (NAI) found that the U.S. economy grew below its historical average in April. The reduction in manufacturing production was a large factor in the NAI’s decrease for the month. Weaker industrial production numbers were also a drag on the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) in April. Despite this, the long-term trend for both of these measures is a relatively optimistic one. For instance, the overall headline figure for the LEI expanded in each of the past three months, with 2.9 percent growth in the past six months. This should bode well for future activity.

Housing was a positive contributor in April in each of the above reports; however, the residential market remains a challenge. Improvements in housing starts and permits boosted sentiment, and there were increases in both existing and new home sales in April. Still, the housing market remains weaker today than it was several months ago. Existing home sales, for example, have dropped 13.6 percent since peaking in November, and new single-family sales have declined 3.9 percent since January. Even with these challenges, we remain cautiously optimistic about the housing market for the coming months, but will watch it closely in light of higher mortgage rates on the horizon.

On the international front, the HSBC Flash China Manufacturing PMI has shown contracting activity levels for five straight months, with economic growth decelerating of late. The good news, however, was that there were signs of this beginning to stabilize in the May data, with new orders, exports and production shifting to slight gains for the month. The overall PMI figure remains just shy of being neutral, and even though downside risks to growth remain, perhaps we will begin to see some expansion again in the June data. Likewise, Japan’s economy appears to be stabilizing after the imposition of higher taxes in April, but manufacturing activity has now contracted for two straight months. Meanwhile, manufacturers in Europe continue to reflect improvements in demand and output relative to this time last year, but the Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI declined from 53.4 in March to 52.5 in April, reflecting some easing in the most recent data.

This week, much of the focus will be on revisions to real GDP growth for the first quarter. The original estimate was for just 0.1 percent growth, with weather and weaker activity bringing the economy to a crawl. Forecasts for this revision reflect newer data produced since then and hinge on whether activity rebounded enough in March to warrant an increase. Other highlights include the latest data on consumer confidence, durable goods orders, personal income and spending and manufacturing surveys from the Dallas and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks.

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

new and existing home sales - may2014

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Monday Economic Report – May 19, 2014

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

There are numerous signs that global economic growth is lower than expected in 2014, with some disappointing data coming in last week. For instance, industrial production numbers were weaker in a number of countries, including slower industrial growth in China in April relative to just a few months ago and falling output in March in the Eurozone. Europe also learned that real GDP rose at the very slow pace of 0.2 percent in the first quarter, prompting new worries about sluggish income and labor market growth on the continent. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Federal Reserve reported that manufacturing production fell 0.4 percent in April. This followed relatively strong rebounds in February and March from winter-related softness in December and January. Still, output continues to reflect modest gains year-over-year, particularly for durable goods.

Despite April’s decline in industrial production, other data suggest that manufacturing activity in the United States appears to be recovering from earlier weaknesses. Manufacturing surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks both show relatively strong expansions in their regions, even as the Philly Fed report eased a bit in May from April. New orders, shipments and employment reflected continuing expansion from the previous survey. More importantly, manufacturers in each district remained mostly upbeat about the next six months, with more than half of the respondents in both surveys anticipating new orders to increase moving forward. For their part, small business owners were also more optimistic, with the National Federation of Independent Business’s (NFIB) key index rising to its highest level since October 2007.

At first glance, the housing data released last week were also quite positive. Housing starts exceeded 1 million again for the first time this year, up from an annualized 947,000 units in March to 1,072,000 in April. New residential permitting was also higher. Yet, the bulk of April’s increases in both measures were primarily due to the more volatile multifamily housing segment. Single-family starts and permits were only marginally higher, but remain below the recent peaks last November. As such, there is perhaps more softness in the market than the headline figure indicated. (We will get existing and new home sales figures this week.) Indeed, homebuilder confidence fell to its lowest point in 12 months, with consumer anxieties cited as a concern. On the positive side, builders were somewhat more hopeful about future activity.

Consumer data were mixed. Retail sales increased 0.1 percent in April, extending the strong gains from February and March. Auto sales comprised much of April’s gains, with retail spending outside of motor vehicles unchanged from March. As such, consumers appeared to be somewhat cautious in April. This showed up in the latest consumer confidence data as well. The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters reported that consumer sentiment edged slightly lower in May in its preliminary data, with Americans more concerned about current economic conditions. In terms of prices, consumer inflation has started to pick up slightly, led by higher food costs, but core pricing pressures remain below 2 percent at the annual rate, at least for now. A similar pattern was observed for producer prices.

This week, we will get more news on the health of the manufacturing sector worldwide, with flash Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data from Markit for the United States, Europe, China and Japan. The Kansas City Federal Reserve will also release its latest sentiment survey. Finally, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes from its April 29–30 meeting will be released, providing some insights about current Federal Reserve debates. However, that meeting hardly produced any surprises, with the FOMC continuing to taper its asset purchases and the Federal Reserve’s forward guidance still pointing to short-term rate increases sometime next year.

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

yoy industrial production growth - may2014

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Producer Prices Move Higher, Particularly for Food, But Core Inflation Remains In-Check for Now

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that producer prices for final demand goods and services increased 0.6 percent in April, building on the 0.5 percent gain of March. April’s increase was the fastest pace of monthly input price growth since February 2013. The bulk of the jump in producer prices over the past two months has stemmed from higher food costs, which rose 1.1 percent  and 2.7 percent, respectively, in March and April. The largest increases were in meat and dairy prices. Indeed, the cost of final demand food goods have increased a whopping 5.1 percent year-to-date.

Meanwhile, energy costs edged slightly higher in April, up 0.1 percent, following a 1.2 percent decline in March. Over the course of the first four months of 2014, final demand energy costs have fallen by a very modest 0.2 percent, with year-over-year growth of 3.8 percent. For the most part, energy costs have mostly stayed in-check so far this year overall.

Excluding energy and food, core producer prices for final demand goods rose 0.3 percent.  Some notable price increases in April included costs for light motor trucks and textile machinery and equipment. In contrast, there were decreases in the costs for floor coverings, oil field and gas field machinery, silverware and hollowware, tires, among others.

The bottom line is that core inflation remains relatively minimal despite increased producer prices in March and April, particularly for food items. On a year-over-year basis, core producer prices for final demand goods (which exclude energy and foods items) was 1.5 percent in April, up from 1.2 percent in March. Core input prices have remained below the Federal Reserve’s threshold of 2 percent for 23 straight months. This allows the Federal Open Market Committee to continue its accommodative measures to stimulate the economy.

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

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Monday Economic Report – May 12, 2014

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

In her testimony before the Joint Economic Committee last Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen discussed progress to date in the economy since the recession and touched on some of the weaknesses during the first quarter of this year. Specifically, she said the following:

Although real GDP growth is currently estimated to have paused in the first quarter of this year, I see that pause as mostly reflecting transitory factors, including the effects of the unusually cold and snowy winter weather. With the harsh winter behind us, many recent indicators suggest that a rebound in spending and production is already under way, putting the overall economy on track for solid growth in the current quarter. One cautionary note, though, is that readings on housing activity—a sector that has been recovering since 2011—have remained disappointing so far this year and will bear watching.

The Federal Reserve expects real GDP to grow 2.8 percent to 3.0 percent this year, and for that to happen, it would suggest a relatively strong rebound in activity in the coming months. This is particularly true given the stagnant growth in the first quarter. Nonetheless, the Federal Open Market Committee continues to worry about sufficient “slack” in the labor market, even with recent progress. Weak manufacturing job openings figures tend to support this view. Yellen testified that “a high degree of monetary accommodation remains warranted.” The Federal Reserve is expected to maintain historically low short-term interest rates for the foreseeable future, with rates starting to rise sometime in 2015. Regarding its asset purchasing program, it is anticipated to wind down by this autumn.

Consumers, meanwhile, remain hesitant to take on too much credit card debt, a deleveraging trend that we have seen throughout the economic recovery. While consumer credit outstanding rose 6.7 percent in March, the bulk of that increase stemmed from gains in nonrevolving loans. Nonrevolving credit, which includes auto and student loans, has increased 7.8 percent over the past 12 months. Yet, revolving credit, which includes credit cards and other credit lines, was up just 0.85 percent year-over-year. However, consumers are continuing to increase their spending, but they might be dipping into savings more to make these purchases, with the savings rate down to 3.8 percent in March. This was off from an average of 5.3 percent and 4.5 percent in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

On the trade front, manufactured goods exports have risen at a very slow 1.1 percent pace in the first quarter relative to the same time frame in 2013. This continues the deceleration in the growth rate for manufactured goods exports that we have seen over the past two years, with 2014 year-to-date growth down from last year’s 2.4 percent pace. On the positive side, exports of U.S.-manufactured goods to many of our largest trading partners rose in the first quarter of 2014. However, exports to our largest trading partner (Canada) remain soft, down 0.4 percent in the first three months of this year versus last year. We remain hopeful that exports will improve in the coming months. For more on international trends, see the latest Global Manufacturing Economic Update, which was released on Friday.

There will be a lot of new data out this week to digest. Several indicators will show the health of the manufacturing sector in the United States, including April readings on industrial production and new May surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks. They are expected to show modest pickups in demand and output, building on recent rebounds. The other key figure to watch—particularly with the attention given to it in Yellen’s testimony and in the media—will be housing starts. Consensus estimates for new residential construction reflect some easing from March’s 946,000 unit annualized pace, probably down to around 910,000 to 920,000. Other highlights this week include new data on consumer confidence, consumer and producer prices, retail sales, small business sentiment and state employment.

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

top export markets growth YTD - may2014

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Monday Report – May 5, 2014

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

With the U.S. economy growing just 0.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014, analysts need to ask themselves whether this was just an aberration—a function largely of winter-related slowness—or a sign of larger weaknesses. The preliminary real GDP data showed drags from business investment, net exports and the government. Consumer spending on services was the biggest positive, and durable and nondurable goods purchases were up marginally for the quarter. My view is that real GDP probably will be revised higher in future updates, particularly with other data showing rebounding activity in March.

Fortunately, other recent economic reports show the economy recovering from difficulties earlier in the year. Consumer spending picked up strongly in March, with pent-up demand for durable goods, such as automobiles, pushing up overall purchases. Along those lines, manufacturing construction spending and new factory orders were also higher in March, with the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank’s monthly survey mirroring other regional reports showing an increase in respondents’ outlook.

Nationally, manufacturing confidence appears to be rising, with the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rising from 53.7 in March to 54.9 in April, its highest point so far in 2014. Still, activity remains below the torrid pace at the end of last year. The ISM’s PMI values averaged 56.3 in the second half of 2013, with new orders and output averaging 61.8 and 62.6, respectively. As such, there is still room for improvement. One of the brighter spots in the ISM release was the increased pace of hiring, with the employment index jumping from 51.1 to 54.7. This suggested that more manufacturers were adding workers, which was progress from the slower rate the month before.

In fact, the sector has hired more than 13,000 additional employees on average each month since August, when manufacturing demand and output began gaining momentum last year. Since the end of 2009, manufacturers have created 623,000 new jobs, with 12.1 million workers total in April. In the larger economy, nonfarm payrolls increased by 288,000 for the month—well above the consensus estimate of around 220,000—and the unemployment rate fell sharply from 6.7 percent in March to 6.3 percent in April. Despite this progress, the unemployment rate’s decline was largely due to a significant drop in the labor force size. The participation rate returned to where it was in December, matching its lowest point since February 1978.

From its perspective, the Federal Reserve felt that the economy was getting better; yet, it continues to worry about elevated unemployment rates, reduced business investment and fiscal restraints. For that reason, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) reported that it would keep its highly accommodative stance for the foreseeable future, with short-term rates effectively zero until likely sometime in 2015. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve continued to taper its long-term and mortgage-backed securities purchases from $55 billion per month to $45 billion, as expected. On the positive side, inflationary pressures remain minimal, with the personal consumption expenditure deflator up just 1.1 percent year-over-year and below the FOMC’s stated target of 2 percent.

This week, the highlight will come tomorrow with the release of new international trade numbers. In the first two months of 2014, manufactured goods exports were below their pace of 2013. It will be important to see if the picture improves in the March data. Beyond trade, other highlights to watch include the latest reports on consumer credit, job openings, productivity and wholesale trade.

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

monthly employment changes - may2014

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No Surprises in the FOMC Statement

The Federal Reserve said that it would keep its “highly accommodative stance” according to its latest monetary policy statement, which mostly adhered to expectations. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) continued to taper its long-term and mortgage-backed securities purchases from $55 billion per month to $45 billion, as anticipated. The winding down of the Fed’s quantitative easing measures have mostly been on auto-pilot since tapering began in December.

At the same time, the FOMC statement’s forward guidance continued to be more qualitative than quantitative, something that started at its March meeting. As such, the Fed no longer refers to an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent as a threshold for its short-term interest rate policy. The Fed will continue to pursue stimulative measures in the economy – with short-term rates near zero – until it sees sufficient economic progress. Such goals are consistent with the Fed’s “objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation.” The statement says that it will keep rates low “for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends,” particularly if long-term inflation stays below its two percent goal.

Regarding economic growth, the Fed notes recent progress from the winter-related slowdowns earlier in the year. While the FOMC participants see some improvement in the labor market, the unemployment rate “remains elevated” and a major concern. Reduced business investment and fiscal restraint were also challenges. On the positive side, pricing pressures remain minimal.

None of the FOMC participants dissented this time around. In March, 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. This was only the second time – the other time was in January – since June 2011 that there were no dissents in the FOMC statement.

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

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