Tag: Monday Economic Report

Monday Economic Report – September 2, 2014

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

Manufacturers continue to report improved activity in August. Last week, the Dallas, Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks all noted expanding levels of new orders and production for the month, mirroring releases from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks in the prior weeks. These surveys reflect rebounds from earlier in the year, and perhaps more importantly, they suggest a mostly upbeat assessment in demand, output, hiring and capital spending over the next six months. At the same time, the Dallas and Kansas City studies showed some easing in growth rates in August, with the latter indicating that hiring had turned negative for the month. Exports also contracted in the Kansas City district, showing persistent international sales weaknesses in that region. The data illustrate that, even where we have seen progress, there are often some nagging challenges beneath the surface.

This same observation could be made about much of the other data released last week, too. For instance, new durable goods orders soared in July, up a whopping 22.6 percent. This represented an all-time high for the data series, but it was also largely the result of a jump in nondefense aircraft sales. Commercial airplane orders are choppy, with sales usually announced in batches. New durable goods orders have improved from earlier in the year. Outside of transportation, the manufacturing sector was weak in July. New durable goods orders excluding transportation fell 0.8 percent for the month. This suggests that the broader market for manufacturers was soft in July despite the sky-high headline figure.

Along those lines, the Conference Board reported that consumer confidence rose to its highest point since October 2007. This increase stemmed from improvements in views about the current economic environment. Yet, the Conference Board’s figures also suggested some lingering worries about employment and income growth. The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters’ report on consumer sentiment seems to focus even more on these anxieties. Even with a marginal increase in the August confidence measure, the University of Michigan data have not changed much this year, and respondents have had a diminished view of future growth over the past few months, not unlike what was seen in the Conference Board data. Geopolitical worries might be playing into these doubts. Either way, the confidence reports mirror other indicators, which show that consumers are cautious right now. Personal spending in July declined for the first time since January, consistent with other data showing flat retail sales.

Despite some softness in July, personal spending has increased at an annualized 4.1 percent over the past six months. Indeed, consumer and business spending were strengths during the second quarter, according to the latest revision of real GDP growth. The U.S. economy grew 4.2 percent at the annual rate during the second quarter, slightly better than the 4.0 percent original estimate and reflecting a rebound from the 2.1 percent decline in the first quarter. The biggest disappointment in the second quarter continued to be international trade figures, with net exports serving as a drag on growth. Moving forward, I estimate real GDP growth of roughly 3.0 percent during the second half of 2014. A number of risks abound, and business leaders and consumers remain tentative. If the first half of this year has taught us anything, it is an optimistic recovery can still be a fragile one.

This week, we will get additional insights regarding the health of the manufacturing sector. This morning, the Institute for Supply Management will release its August Purchasing Managers’ Index data for the sector. The ISM report found strong gains in demand, output and employment in July, and the August survey is expected to show another pickup in activity. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will publish new jobs numbers on Friday. Manufacturers have added 15,000 workers on average each month since August 2013, with a 22,000 average from May to July of this year. Look for continued hiring growth for the sector in the August numbers that are at least consistent with the average of the past year. Other highlights this week include the latest data on construction spending, factory orders, international trade and productivity.

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

personal spending - sept2014

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Monday Economic Report – August 18, 2014

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

While geopolitical events continue to provide significant downside risks to the economy, recent data suggest that manufacturers in the United States are faring better this summer. Manufacturing production increased 1.0 percent in July, helping to lift the year-over-year pace of manufacturing output to 4.9 percent, its fastest annual pace since June 2012. Last month’s gain stemmed largely from increased motor vehicle production, with all but three of the major manufacturing sectors notching higher output levels for the month. At the same time, the utilization rate for manufacturers increased to 77.8 percent, nearly reaching pre-recessionary capacity levels.

Similarly, the Empire State Manufacturing Survey reflected strong growth in August, albeit less so than the robust levels observed in July. More importantly, respondents to the New York Fed’s survey were significantly more upbeat, with roughly 60 percent anticipating higher sales and output over the next six months. This study also reported that approximately 30 percent of manufacturers in its district planned to hire more workers and invest in additional capital expenditures in the coming months. This is welcome news, and it was largely consistent with the recent pickup in the labor market. Manufacturing job openings increased in June to their highest level in two years, with net hiring also accelerating. Of course, we already knew that to some extent. The most recent employment data found that manufacturers hired an additional 22,000 workers on average from May to July.

Meanwhile, the European economy has shown signs of backtracking, with real GDP in the Eurozone remaining unchanged in the second quarter. Germany’s economy contracted by 0.2 percent, helping to push the continent’s growth figure lower, but Italy (also down 0.2 percent) and France (flat for the second straight quarter) were also weak. In addition, industrial production has decreased in three of the past four months, with output unchanged year-over-year. We will get our first look at August purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data this week. The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI report in July provided mixed news, with activity expanding for 13 straight months but growth continuing to ease over the course of this year. The latest data suggest that Europe’s economic challenges are still not behind them.

To some extent, that is true in the United States as well. We have seen improvements in a number of economic indicators, and yet, there are also persistent worries about future growth. Some of this could stem from global anxieties, but it could also be a function of disappointment with the lack of growth in the first half of the year. Preliminary consumer sentiment data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters appears to pick up on this nuance, with Americans less confident once again in their forward-looking expectations. Indeed, retail sales data also reflect cautiousness on the part of the consumer, with spending unchanged in June.

This week, we will get additional insights about the health of the manufacturing sector worldwide. In addition to new PMI data for Europe, Markit will also release flash reports for China, Japan and the United States. While China’s economy had begun to stabilize in July, last week we learned that Japan’s real GDP contracted by 1.7 percent in the second quarter, or 6.8 percent year-over-year. Closer to home, the Federal Reserve will release the minutes of its July 29–30 Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Analysts will be looking for clues about when the Fed plans to start normalizing short-term rates. The Fed received good news last week with an easing in producer prices in July from recent highs, and this should help to alleviate some of the immediate pressure from inflation hawks, at least for now. Other highlights this week include the latest data on consumer prices, housing starts and permits, leading indicators and Philadelphia Fed manufacturing sentiment.

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

manufacturing production - aug2014

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Monday Economic Report – August 11, 2014

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

In a light week for economic indicator releases, geopolitical events dominated the headlines and moved equity markets. With U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, battles between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and mounting tensions with Russia, financial markets have a lot to absorb, with uncertainty sending stock values lower. Even with a triple-digit gain on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 3.5 percent since hitting an all-time high of 17,138.20 on July 16. From an economic perspective, geopolitical challenges could put downward pressure on forecasts for the second half of 2014 depending on how they evolve in the coming days and months. Absent these global anxieties, manufacturers have tended to be mostly upbeat about the next six months, and several recent data points have suggested rebounding demand and output as we began the third quarter.

New factory orders have risen in four of the past five months, increasing 1.1 percent in June and 4.6 percent since January. With that said, year-over-year growth has been less robust, up just 1.5 percent. This shows the extent to which winter weather weakened sales earlier this year. Still, June’s new factory orders figure of $503.2 billion reached an all-time high, which was encouraging. This data is largely consistent with positive news of late on real GDP, manufacturing sentiment surveys, and hiring. Indeed, manufacturing labor productivity increased by a relatively healthy 3.6 percent in the second quarter, lifted by robust gains in output. Unit labor costs declined 1.3 percent, with durable goods industries accounting for much of that decrease. Productivity gains since 2009 have helped to keep the sector more competitive globally, particularly for durable goods firms.

In June, the U.S. trade deficit fell to its smallest level since January, as goods imports declined at a faster pace than goods exports increased. Nonetheless, we continue to see relatively slow growth for U.S.-manufactured goods exports, which have increased 1.7 percent year-to-date. Ideally, we will see improvements moving into the second half of the year, as the current pace represents a deceleration from last year’s 2.6 percent rate of growth. Of course, challenges abound on this front, with news of weak growth in Europe, flat export sales growth to our largest trading partner Canada, and decelerating growth rates in China.

This week, we will get new industrial production figures for July. We anticipate manufacturing output growing for the sixth straight month, modestly extending upon the 3.1 percent growth observed since January. The New York Federal Reserve Bank’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey is also expected to show continued expansion for the sector in its district. Other highlights this week include the latest data on consumer sentiment, job openings, producer prices, retail sales, and small business optimism.

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

labor productivity - aug2014

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Monday Economic Report – August 4, 2014

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

The U.S. economy has rebounded after a slow start to the year, with a number of data sources last week showing manufacturing activity growing strongly of late. First, real GDP increased by a healthy 4.0 percent in the second quarter, more than offsetting the 2.1 percent drop in output during the first quarter. Consumer and business spending spurred the higher figure. Inventory investments alone contributed one-third of the growth in real GDP for the quarter, with higher investment levels for housing, nonresidential structures, equipment and intellectual property. In addition, goods spending increased at its fastest pace since the fourth quarter of 2010. Net exports, however, continued to be a weakness, with growth in goods imports outstripping increases in goods exports. Moreover, one cannot help but be frustrated with weak economic growth so far this year, even if the outlook has improved. Real GDP rose by a frustratingly slow 0.9 percent in the first half of 2014. Fortunately, manufacturers are cautiously upbeat about future growth.

The Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) increased from 55.3 in June to 57.1 in July. More importantly, the production index has measured 60 or more for each of the past three months, indicating strong output growth. Demand and hiring were also up sharply, but export sales growth eased, and raw material costs remained elevated. Similarly, the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank’s survey also noted accelerating manufacturing activity, with overall activity up for the 14th consecutive month. The underlying data in that report were mostly higher across-the-board, and at least 45 percent of respondents expect sales, production and shipments to increase over the coming months, with just single-digit percentages anticipating declines. These findings mirror those of other recent regional surveys.

Meanwhile, the latest jobs report was mostly positive, with manufacturers adding 28,000 workers on net in July. More than half of that stemmed from the automotive sector, signifying that, if anything, employment growth could be more broad-based within the sector, extending in particular to the nondurable goods sector more. Yet, manufacturing employment has picked up, averaging 22,000 over the past three months and nearly 15,000 per month since August. Moreover, we continue to hear about skills shortages in many locations, which could create wage pressures moving forward. In fact, during the second quarter, manufacturing wages and salaries increased at their fastest pace in more than a decade, driving up overall employment costs. Nonetheless, total compensation for manufacturers has risen by 2.1 percent year-over-year, suggesting that wage pressures remain in check for the most part—at least for now.

Along those lines, personal income and spending both increased by 0.4 percent in June. Since January, when winter weather dampened purchases, personal spending has risen 2.2 percent, with year-over-year growth of 4.0 percent. This suggests that Americans continue to spend at a decent pace, even if their purchase decisions remain selective and cautious. Furthermore, there were two consumer confidence surveys released last week, with each moving in opposite directions. The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters found that sentiment edged lower in July, with little change in confidence since December and persistent anxieties about the future direction of the economy. In contrast, the Conference Board observed that sentiment was at its highest point since the beginning of the recession (December 2007), led by an improved perception about the labor market. However, rising confidence did not necessarily translate into increased buying intentions.

For its part, the Federal Reserve Board noted recent improvements in the economy, but it also believes there continues to be “significant underutilization of labor resources.” The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted to continue tapering its long-term and mortgage-backed security purchases, down from $35 billion to $25 billion per month. These purchases are expected to end by October. While the FOMC will keep short-term rates near zero for now, these rates are predicted to begin rising sometime early in 2015. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve will continue to monitor incoming economic data, including inflationary pressures. Recent data have shown prices accelerating, but at least for now, they appear to be under control. For instance, core inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, has increased 1.6 percent over the past 12 months, according to personal consumption expenditure deflator data released last week.

There are just a handful of data releases this week. Highlights include the latest data on exports, factory orders and productivity.

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

real GDP forecast - aug2014

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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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Monday Economic Report – July 21, 2014

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

With more and more data starting to trickle in for June, we are seeing some definite trends taking shape. One positive is that the manufacturing sector continues to expand, suggesting that the rebound from winter-related softness earlier in the year has mostly continued. Manufacturers also tend to be mostly upbeat about the second half of this year—a sign of optimism that is encouraging. Yet, there were also indicators suggesting that the pace of activity slowed somewhat in June, most notably in the industrial production, housing starts and retail sales numbers that were released last week.

Indeed, manufacturing output in June increased at its slowest rate since January, with relatively mixed news overall. Nondurable goods production edged higher, up 0.1 percent, but output from nondurable goods manufacturers declined by 0.3 percent. Monthly declines in production in such sectors as apparel, machinery and motor vehicles nearly offset output gains for aircraft, furniture, metals and plastics, and rubber products. Longer-term trends remain reassuring, even if they still leave room for improvement. Over the past 12 months, manufacturing production has increased 3.5 percent, a decent figure overall and progress from the much slower pace of just 1.5 percent in January. Durable goods output has risen by a healthy 5.5 percent year-over-year, whereas nondurable goods activity was a less robust 1.5 percent in the past year.

Housing starts in June were also weaker than expected, down from an annualized 985,000 in May to 893,000 in June. Starts were lower for both single-family and multifamily units. There have been suggestions that rain might have attributed to the weaker construction activity, with storms preventing some units from breaking ground. Yet, single-family starts have struggled for some time, down 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. On the positive side, single-family housing permits rose for the second straight month, up from 615,000 to 631,000 at the annual rate for the month. This could suggest stronger growth in the housing market in the coming months for single-family homes. Along those lines, homebuilder confidence increased to its highest point since January, with better expectations for sales over the next six months.

Meanwhile, surveys out last week reported multiyear highs in the pace of manufacturing activity. New orders and shipments were up sharply in surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks. Hiring also picked up in both regions, and raw material costs remained elevated relative to prior months. More importantly, manufacturers in each survey said they were optimistic that sales, output, employment and capital spending would increase over the next six months. In fact, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve report found that 56.1 percent of its respondents anticipated higher new orders, with 60.4 percent predicting increased shipment levels. In addition, the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) reported that the business outlook rose for the sixth consecutive quarter on accelerated sales domestically and abroad. Shipments and capital spending were also anticipated to grow strongly moving forward.

On the consumer front, Americans continue to be cautious in their purchase decisions. Retail spending increased 0.2 percent in June. This was the slowest pace since January, and it was below expectations. Reduced auto sales contributed to this lower figure. Despite the slower activity levels in June, the year-over-year pace continues to grow at decent levels, up 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. Preliminary consumer confidence data also indicate some nagging anxieties in the economy, according to the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters. The Consumer Sentiment Index unexpectedly decreased from 82.5 in June to 81.3 in July, and consumer attitudes have not changed much since December. Much of July’s decrease stemmed from weaker expectations about the future economy. However, higher gasoline prices might have also been a factor. Indeed, the producer price index increased in June largely on higher energy costs.

This week, we will get additional insights on the health of manufacturing worldwide. Markit will release preliminary purchasing managers’ index reports for China, Japan, the Eurozone and the United States for July. We will be looking for continued progress in Asia and the United States and we hope a reversing of the easing in activity in Europe. The Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks will also report on their latest manufacturing surveys. Beyond these releases, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will publish real GDP data by industry for the first quarter; given the 2.9 percent drop in real GDP during the first quarter, we would anticipate minimal contributions to growth from the manufacturing sector. Other highlights include the latest data on consumer prices, durable goods orders and existing and new home sales.

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

manufacturing production growth - jul2014

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Monday Economic Report – July 14, 2014

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

Just a few data releases came out last week, so our view of the economy changed little from the previous week. Manufacturers continue to wrap their heads around the fact that growth in the early months of 2014 has been more disappointing than originally anticipated, but at the same time, they are cautiously upbeat about the second half of the year. The sharp 2.9 percent drop in real GDP in the first quarter clearly altered perceptions about the economy, with business leaders struggling to try to figure out how that impacts their prospects for the rest of this year. For instance, was the drop in activity mostly due to severe weather, or were there larger doubts about the economy at play?

For their part, business economists have lowered their projections for real GDP growth in 2014, from 2.5 percent in June (before the GDP revision) to 1.6 percent. At the same time, real GDP is expected to bounce back in the second quarter, with a median growth estimate of 3.0 percent, according to the National Association for Business Economics (NABE). (My own projection would be somewhat higher than that, perhaps around 3.5 percent.) Moreover, almost 60 percent of economists surveyed felt that the odds of a recession in 2014 or 2015 were less than 10 percent. In addition, more than half of the NABE respondents felt that the Federal Reserve would start raising short-term interest rates in the first six months of 2015.

Along those lines, the minutes from the June 17–18 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting suggest that the Federal Reserve Board continues to also see improvements in the U.S. economy in the months ahead, even as sufficient “slack” remains in the labor market. While the Federal Reserve projects real GDP growth of 3.0 to 3.2 percent in 2015, it also intends to maintain its highly accommodative stance to monetary policy for the foreseeable future.

The FOMC reported plans to end its purchases of long-term and mortgage-backed securities in October, which mainly confirmed existing conventional wisdom, and it devoted a lot of discussion at its meeting to its exit strategy. The timing of the Federal Reserve’s move toward “normalization” in its policies has already become a focus of debate, with the guessing game now being when the increase in federal funds rate will begin. With pricing pressures accelerating of late, some will suggest that the Federal Reserve should move faster in its efforts to raise short-term rates, especially if core inflation starts to consistently exceed the stated FOMC goal of 2 percent on an annual basis.

Meanwhile, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) reported that small business confidence declined somewhat in June on a slightly weakened outlook. The underlying data paint a mixed picture of encouraging news and persistent challenges, with continuing doubts about momentum in the economy and frustration with the political climate. Nonetheless, the small business labor market appears to be improving, both in terms of current job openings and those intended for the next three months. Similarly, the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data show the fastest pace of manufacturing job postings in six months, with an increase in net hiring in May. While hiring has picked up from softness earlier in the year, it continues to remain lower than what was observed in the second half of last year.

This week we will get a better sense of whether the recent pickup in manufacturing activity can be sustained as we move into the summer months. Industrial production is expected to reflect a modest gain in June, with expansion also predicted in surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks. With that said, the pace of sales and output growth is anticipated to ease slightly. Other highlights include the latest data on consumer sentiment, housing starts and permits, producer prices, retail sales and state employment.

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 – 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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