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.