Tag: Monday Economic Report

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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Monday Economic Report – June 9, 2014

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

The latest NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers—being released today—found that roughly 86 percent of manufacturers were either somewhat or very positive about their own company’s outlook, essentially unchanged from three months ago. Yet, the underlying data show higher levels of anticipated activity across the board over the next 12 months. For instance, sales are expected to grow 4.1 percent on average over the next year, up from an average of 3.6 percent in the last survey and the fastest pace in two years. Capital spending and hiring plans were also anticipated to increase, with almost half of respondents planning to add workers in the coming months.

Nonetheless, the survey also found that manufacturers remain frustrated with the slower-than-expected pace of economic growth this year and with the political process. The top challenges continue to be health care costs, the tax and regulatory environment and the skills gap. Along those lines, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book reported that manufacturing activity expanded across the country in its analysis, with rebounds noted in many of its districts. In addition, several businesses are having difficulty finding skilled workers, a challenge that has concerned manufacturers for some time. For instance, a recent study from Accenture and the Manufacturing Institute found that more than 75 percent of manufacturers have a moderate to severe shortage of skilled resources.

Several data releases last week support the view that the economy is rebounding. For instance, the number of nonfarm payroll workers rose by 217,000 in May, with an average of 231,000 over the past four months. This helped push nonfarm payrolls over its pre-recessionary levels for the first time—a feat that took roughly five years. The news for manufacturers was more mixed. While manufacturing has averaged just shy of 12,000 additional workers per month since August, the pace has slowed this year, and May’s 10,000-worker gain stemmed mainly from durable goods firms. We would like to see broader-based job increases in the sector moving forward, with monthly hiring growth between 15,000 and 20,000 on average.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) has risen each month since January, up from 54.9 in April to 55.5 in May. The data were mostly positive, with higher levels for both new orders (up from 55.1 to 56.9) and production (up from 55.7 to 61.0). The output index exceeded 60—signifying strong monthly gains—for the first time since December. At the same time, new factory orders increased for the third straight month, up 0.7 percent in April and building on healthy figures for both February and March. This release was another sign of recovery in manufacturing sales after weather-related softness in December and January. Yet, the underlying data also indicated some weaknesses beyond defense capital goods spending. Excluding defense, new durable goods orders would have shrank by 0.1 percent for the month. As such, there is room for improvement even with the recent rebound in activity.

While total construction spending increased for the third straight month, manufacturing construction declined 1.1 percent in April, and it has been down slightly since December. Still, the longer-term trend remains more encouraging, up 7.3 percent year-over-year. On the trade front, manufactured goods exports have seen marginal gains so far in the early months of 2014 relative to 2013, but we have seen increased exports in each of the top-five export markets so far this year. Still, export growth has been disappointing of late, and due to a significant increase in goods imports in April, the trade deficit rose to its highest level in 12 months. One positive continues to be energy, with the petroleum trade deficit narrowing on increased exports and fewer imports.

This week, we will get new data releases for consumer confidence, job openings, producer prices, retail trade and small business sentiment. In particular, we will see if Americans are becoming more confident and if the rebound will translate into increased purchasing. The expectation is that May retail sales will bounce back from slower April numbers. Regarding inflation, producer prices in April were higher mainly due to increased costs for food—namely, meat, eggs and dairy products. Energy costs were also up a bit. Analysts will be looking to see if core inflation creeps ever closer to the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent goal, which is anticipated.

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

nam industry week - jun2014

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Monday Economic Report – June 2, 2014

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

The U.S. economy contracted for the first time in three years in the first quarter of 2014. Real GDP fell 1.0 percent in the quarter, a fairly substantial revision from the earlier estimate of a gain of 0.1 percent. Much of the storyline behind these figures was the same, with consumer spending on services being the only real bright spot. Purchases of durable and nondurable goods were positive, but weather-related challenges dampened both. Weaknesses in business spending for equipment and structures, residential housing investments and reduced goods exports were all major drags on growth.

The bulk of the downward revision stemmed from lower inventory replenishment. Ironically, that could lead to more inventory spending in the second quarter with stocks running lower. In addition, other figures also point to a rebound in activity during the spring months, with my forecast for second-quarter real GDP at 3.8 percent. Still, U.S. and global growth have started off 2014 much slower than anticipated, particularly when averaging together the first and second quarters. For the year, we now expect growth of 2.3 percent, which would indicate a slight downgrade from the more optimistic outlook predicted coming out of the strong momentum during the second half of last year.

The spring rebound in the manufacturing sector can be seen in other data released last week as well, albeit with some mixed news overall. For instance, new durable goods orders rose 0.8 percent in April, building on strong growth in February and March. Nonetheless, excluding transportation, new durable goods orders were up less robustly, suggesting some broader weaknesses beyond the headline monthly figure. Moreover, new durable goods shipments declined 0.2 percent in April, even as the longer-term trend remains positive.

At the same time, regional Federal Reserve Bank surveys show a similar recovery for manufacturers, but also some easing in the latest data. Manufacturing activity in the Dallas Federal Reserve district has now expanded for 12 straight months, but the pace of growth for new orders, production, capacity and employment eased in May. The Richmond Federal Reserve’s report also observed a deceleration in sales growth; however, it also noted a pickup in shipments and hiring. Perceptions about the current business outlook were unchanged, even as conditions had improved from winter weather earlier in the year. Looking ahead six months, respondents in both Dallas and Richmond remain mostly upbeat, even if this enthusiasm was a bit weaker in May.

The two surveys also indicated a rise in pricing pressure expectations, consistent with other reports showing some higher raw material costs. Indeed, prices for personal consumption expenditures have risen 1.6 percent year-over-year, up from 0.9 percent in February and 1.1 percent in March. April’s increase stemmed largely from higher energy prices, with food costs also up modestly (but at a slower pace than the month before).

Speaking of consumer spending, Americans decreased their purchases by 0.1 percent in April following two months of healthy increases. Year-to-date, personal spending has grown 1.6 percent, with purchases up 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. Meanwhile, the two consumer confidence measures—one from the Conference Board and the other from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters—moved in opposite directions in May, even as they continue to reflect rising sentiment over the past few months, particularly since the government shutdown.

This week, the focus will be on jobs and trade. We will get new employment numbers for May on Friday, which we hope will build on April’s strong figures. Manufacturers have averaged just more than 13,000 workers per month since August, and the expectation is for job growth in the sector around 10,000 or so in May. The consensus forecast is for 215,000 additional nonfarm payroll workers for the month, suggesting decent hiring. On the international front, we will learn if manufactured goods exports can improve from the rather disappointing rates so far in 2014, up just 1.1 percent in the first quarter of this year relative to the same three months in 2013. Other highlights include new data on construction, factory orders, productivity and Purchasing Managers’ Index figures from the Institute for Supply Management.

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

percent change in real GDP - jun2014

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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. 

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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. 

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