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.