The Census Bureau said that retail sales declined by 0.3 percent in March, declining for the second time in the past three months. As a result, retail spending decreased by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2016, down from $449.7 billion in December to $446.9 billion in March. This suggests that consumer spending will not be the boost to real GDP that we saw in the fourth quarter, and it is yet another sign that Americans might be holding back a little in their purchases in light of recent economic anxieties. Along those lines, the year-over-year growth rate for retail sales fell from 3.7 percent in February to 1.7 percent in March. Read More
The Census Bureau said that retail sales declined by 0.1 percent in February, but perhaps more importantly, it also reported that spending fell 0.4 percent in January. It was originally reported to be a gain of 0.2 percent. On the surface, this release indicates softer-than-desired spending so far in 2016. Yet, the year-over-year pace remains decent, up a modest 3.1 percent since February 2015.
To more fully understand these data, however, it is important to dig a little deeper. Much of the decline over the past two months has stemmed from reduced gasoline prices. Indeed, the average price of regular conventional gasoline, according to the Energy Information Administration, fell from $1.93 per gallon the last week of December to a seven-year low of $1.64 a gallon in mid-February. Along those lines, gasoline station sales – which are reported in nominal dollars – fell 3.3 percent and 4.4 percent in January and February, respectively. Excluding gasoline station sales, retail spending rose 0.2 percent in February, and on a year-over-year basis, that figure was 4.8 percent. That suggests a much healthier pace of consumer spending than the headline number might indicate. Read More
The NAM Manufacturing Outlook Index declined from 45.8 in September to 40.5 in the most recent survey, falling below the historical average for the second consecutive quarter. Nearly 60 percent of respondents were either somewhat or very positive about their own company’s outlook, a sharp decline from the 91.2 percent who said the same thing one year ago. Manufacturers continue to wrestle with global headwinds and lower commodity prices, which likely dampened enthusiasm in this report, especially regarding export expectations, with roughly 58 percent suggesting that their firms were negatively impacted by the global slowdown. Capital spending and hiring plans pulled back materially from the prior survey, which we also saw in the latest job openings numbers. On the positive side, manufacturing leaders anticipate 1.4 percent growth in sales and production over the next 12 months. While this pace remained well below the 4.5 percent pace observed in December 2014, it does suggest that activity remains positive, albeit less than desired.
The top business challenge was an unfavorable business climate, cited by 77.3 percent of manufacturing respondents. Indeed, manufacturers continue to be frustrated with the lack of comprehensive tax reform and with a perceived regulatory assault on their businesses. Rising health care and insurance costs were also a major concern, cited by 72.2 percent as a primary challenge. Manufacturers see health insurance costs increasing eight percent over the next 12 months. Small and medium-sized firms anticipate health insurance premiums to jump faster in the next year than large manufacturers do, with rates rising 8.6 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively.
Retail sales rose 0.1 percent in October, improving ever-so-slightly from being unchanged in both August and September. As such, this report continues to reflect anxieties among consumers, with some hesitance for them to open their pocketbooks on recent economic weaknesses. Indeed, retail spending has grown just 1.7 percent over the past 12 months, a modest but less-than-ideal pace. Read More
The Census Bureau said that retail sales rose 0.2 percent in August, slowing from the 0.7 percent growth rate seen in July. It was the fourth increase in the past six months (with the other two being unchanged), as consumer spending has rebounded somewhat from softness earlier in the year. The year-over-year pace has improved from a disappointing 1.3 percent pace in April to 2.2 percent in August; although, that was down from 2.6 percent in the prior report. Nonetheless, the public remains cautious in their willingness to open their pocketbooks. As an illustration of that point, retail sales growth was 4.9 percent year-over-year twelve months ago, or almost double the current pace. Read More
The Census Bureau said that retail sales increased 0.6 percent in July, bouncing back from being unchanged in June. The prior month’s softness had been unexpected, making the rebound in July more welcome. The year-over-year pace improved from a disappointing 1.3 percent pace in April to 2.4 percent in July. Needless to say, even that modest rate of consumer spending suggests that the public remains somewhat cautious in their willingness to open their pocketbooks. As an illustration of that point, retail sales growth was 4.7 percent year-over-year in November, or almost double the current pace. Read More
The Census Bureau said that retail sales fell by 0.3 percent in June, pulling back from the 1.0 percent gain seen in May. The decline was unexpected, with a consensus anticipation of a slight increase. It was the first decrease in retail spending since February, and it suggests that the public continues to remain somewhat cautious in their willingness to open their pocketbooks. The year-over-year pace was a disappointing 1.4 percent, down from 2.3 percent in May and well below the 4.7 percent rate observed in November. Read More
Here are the files for this week’s Monday Economic Report:
Manufacturers and other businesses came into this year with a lot of optimism, particularly given robust growth in the second half of last year. Instead, economic growth has been disappointing year-to-date. A number of significant headwinds have challenged the sector, including a stronger dollar, lower crude oil prices, the residual effects of the West Coast ports slowdown and cautiousness in consumer spending. Much of this can be seen in recent GDP and production figures, which have reflected recent declines in activity, particularly in the first quarter. Read More
The Census Bureau said that retail sales increased 1.2 percent in May, bouncing back from a softer April, where spending rose just 0.2 percent. On a year-over-year basis, consumers spent 2.7 percent more today than 12 months ago, a modest gain that represents a notable improvement from the 1.5 percent pace in the prior report. Still, these data continue to reflect the softer economic environment seen so far in 2015, with the year-over-year pace down from 4.7 percent in November.
With that said, these data have been skewed by changes in gasoline prices over the past year. Lower prices have resulted in a drop in sales, which are expressed in nominal terms, of 18.6 percent since May 2014. Retail spending excluding gasoline station sales was up 5.2 percent year-over-year in May, up from 4.3 percent in April. This suggests a stronger pace of overall consumer spending than the headline figure might indicate. Read More
Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:
One of the larger headlines of the past week was the renewed strength of the euro, which closed at $1.1449 on Friday. To put that exchange rate in perspective, the euro traded for $1.0582 on April 13, and Friday’s close was the highest level for the euro since February 2. To be fair, the U.S. dollar remains strong against the euro, up 17.8 percent since May 6, 2014. Yet, the recent weakness in the dollar (and strength in the euro) has been the result of weaker-than-expected economic data in the United States and better-than-anticipated numbers coming out of Europe. Many of the underlying long-term fundamentals in these two regions remain the same, but those manufacturers worried about the negative impact of a soaring dollar got some welcome relief last week in the recent easing of the greenback. Read More