U.S. economic activity is expected to remain mixed in 2020, with moderate strength in consumer spending and general softness in business fixed investment and manufacturing.
Nonfarm payrolls rose more than expected in the initial estimate for November (+266,000), with upward revisions to the gains for September and October (a net 41,000 higher). In contrast, the ADP estimate of private-sector payrolls rose more modestly (+67,000). What to believe?
There are two broad approaches to forecasting current quarter GDP. Some economists will estimate a number and stick with it. Most will adjust their forecasts as new data arrive. This may seem fickle to the casual observer. Estimates will change week to week and even day to day...
Consumer attitude measures are divided by political affiliations. That’s nothing new. Sentiment readings have long depended partly on which party occupies the White House. Republicans currently rate economic conditions better, just as Democrats did during the Obama years (Independents fall somewhere in the middle).
Shifting trade policy perceptions remained the dominant factor for the stock market.
Theoretically, there is no single variable more important to the economy than productivity, or output per worker. Productivity growth is how we get improved living standards over time. Faster productivity helps to offset the impact of wage growth, supporting gains in corporate profits.
Once again, the economic data reports were dominated by shifting trade policy perceptions, but this time things were flipped. It was the Chinese indicating a possible rollback of tariffs on both sides, sending the stock market higher. However, that was refuted by the White House the next day.
Nonfarm payrolls rose more than expected last month, despite being held back by the strike at General Motors (which subtracted 42,000) and the exit of 20,000 temporary workers for the 2020 census. There is some uncertainty in these data.
The month ended positively for the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, NASDAQ and the Russell 2000 Index.
It was a thin week for economic data. Both new and existing home sales were reported lower in September, although the trends are generally higher. Durable goods orders fell 1.1% in September, reflecting the strike at GM and ongoing problems at Boeing. Ex-transportation, orders slipped 0.3%, with mixed results across industries.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.
As we saw in the Summary of Economic Projections released in September, the Fed’s economic outlook is similar to most outside economists. The baseline scenario is for moderate growth in 2020, with growth in real GDP near 2%, and inflation moving gradually toward the Fed’s 2% goal.
The Treasury Department is expected to report that the federal budget deficit for FY19 (which ended in September) fell short of $1 trillion. That’s a lot of money, especially with an economy running full tilt. However, the government currently doesn’t have any problem borrowing.
Chief Economist Scott Brown discusses current economic conditions.
The ISM Manufacturing Index fell further into contraction in September, while the Non-Manufacturing Index slowed (consistent with a continued expansion in the overall economy, but at a slower pace). The Employment Report was a mixed bag. Nonfarm payrolls rose by 136,000 in the initial estimate for September, with a net upward revision of +45,000 to July and August.
Currently, a simple yield curve model puts the odds of entering a recession within the next 12 months at about 40%.
Though many market-influencing variables remain in play, the S&P 500 neared all-time high levels in September.
The economic data reports were mixed and had a limited impact on the financial markets. Investors were generally optimistic about potential progress in trade talks and mostly ignored the turmoil in Washington.
As expected, the Fed lowered short-term interest rates and officials remained divided about what to do next. The policy meeting came in a week that saw elevated funding pressures in money markets, which drove the effective federal funds rate above the top of the target range.
The Federal Open Market Committee will meet this week to set monetary policy. It’s widely expected that the FOMC will lower the federal funds target range by another 25 basis points, although that’s not a done deal.
Nonfarm payrolls rose by 130,000 in the initial estimate for August, less than expected and despite a 25,000 boost from census hiring. For production workers, average hourly earnings advanced by 0.5% (+3.5% y/y). Monthly wage and payroll figures can be choppy, but the underlying trend in job growth is lower.
The ISM surveys for August were mixed and the employment report disappointed, but investors were encouraged by prospects for U.S./China trade talks, which are set to resume at a high level in early October.
Recent economic data reports have continued to paint a mixed picture of the U.S. economy, with strength in consumer spending and a mild recession in manufacturing. On top of this, investors remain concerned about several issues, including global growth, geopolitical uncertainties, trade policy, and an inverted yield curve.
The minutes of the July 30-31 Federal Open Market Committee (when the Fed lowered short-term interest rates by 25 basis points) showed that officials were split. “A couple” preferred a 50 basis point cut, while “several” favored no change.
In his speech at the Kansas City Fed’s annual monetary policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Fed Chair Powell discussed the challenge of keeping the U.S. economy “in a favorable space” in the face of significant risks.
The spread between the 10-year Treasury note yield and the 2-year yield briefly dipped below 0. An inverted yield curve signals a strong likelihood of entering a recession within the next 12 months, but the odds of a recession had already been rising as the yield curve has flattened.
A 2-year/10-year Treasury inversion has left markets shaken – but don't let short-term volatility get the better of your long-term financial focus.
On August 5, China allowed its currency, the yuan, to depreciate against the U.S. dollar. It wasn’t a particularly large move, a little more than 1.5%, but it breached 7 yuan per $ -- a level seen as “psychologically important.”
Readers should be aware that tariffs are a misguided way to deal with bilateral trade deficits and misbehavior on the part of certain trading partners. Tariffs are a tax on U.S. consumers and businesses. Tariffs raise costs, invite retaliation, disrupt supply chains, and dampen business fixed investment.
Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP growth rose at a 2.1% annual rate in the advance estimate for 2Q19, a bit better than the median forecast (+1.8%), but growth was concentrated in just two components, consumer spending and government. Everything else was down.
Retail sales results for June were stronger than expected, consistent with a pickup in consumer spending growth in 2Q19 (although that follows a weak 1Q19). Industrial production was flat, but manufacturing output picked up a bit in June (still in an overall downtrend in 2019).
We often talk about how difficult predicting can be, even for the financial industry experts. Today’s markets have many influencing variables from the traditional economic releases and transforming population dynamics to the more recent global influences. Perhaps one of the greatest modern day market influences are the world’s central banks.
Nonfarm payrolls rose more than expected in the initial estimate for June. The news sent equity futures lower, bond yields higher, and reduced the odds of more aggressive Fed policy action later this month.
All right, one more time. Tariffs raise costs for U.S. consumers and business, disrupt supply chains, invite retaliation, and undermine business fixed investment.
Senior Fed officials were divided on whether it will be appropriate to lower short-term interest rates by the end of the year, although even those expecting no change felt that the case for easier policy had strengthened.
While the federal funds futures market is pricing in some chance (about 24%) of a rate cut this week, the Federal Open Market Committee is widely expected to leave rates steady.
The May job market report disappointed, but it was hardly a disaster. Nonfarm payrolls were reported to have risen by 75,000 in the initial estimate, following a 224,000 gain in April.
After my father, a Pearl Harbor survivor, died in 2011, we found a shoebox. It contained items that belonged to my Uncle Bill (my mother’s brother), who had also served in WWII. There was Bill’s birth certificate and baptism record, an address book, and some pages that looked like they were torn out of a diary.
The partial government shutdown, poor weather, and the late Easter appeared to dampen the underlying pace of growth in the first quarter. However, April data on retail sales, industrial production, and durable goods orders suggest the softness will be longer lasting.
Tariffs have had a negative impact on the U.S. economy, but a relatively limited one to date. Pain is obviously felt more in some areas than others, but the cumulative impact is growing and a continued escalation in trade tensions would further dampen growth.
The April Employment Report was not as strong as it seems, but still consistent with moderate growth in the overall economy, tighter job market conditions, and moderate wage growth. Wage growth is likely being offset by faster productivity growth (although results will vary by firm and industry), restraining inflation pressures from the labor market.
The advance GDP report was a mixed bag. The headline figure was stronger than expected, but boosted by faster inventory growth and a narrower trade deficit, both of which are likely to reverse in the second quarter. Consumer spending and business fixed investment slowed, while residential fixed investment fell for the fifth consecutive quarter.
The advance estimate of 1Q19 GDP growth will arrive on Friday (April 26). There’s always a lot of uncertainty in the advance figure (we’re missing a number of components) and that is especially so this time.
Tax receipts were up 0.7% in the first six months of FY19. Individual tax receipts were down 1.7%. Corporate tax revenues fell 13.5%. Payrolls taxes rose 4.7%.
Nonfarm payrolls rose a bit more than expected in the initial estimate for March. While the monthly data are subject to statistical noise and seasonal adjustment difficulties, the underlying trend in job growth is likely moderating. That shouldn’t be a surprise.
As anticipated, the estimate of fourth quarter GDP growth was revised lower (to 2.2%, vs. +2.6% in the “initial” estimate). All major components grew a bit less than in the previous estimate. Recent figures have generally been consistent with a lackluster pace of growth in 1Q19.
As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee left short-term interest rates unchanged and provided some details on the unwinding of the balance sheet. The revised dot plot showed that a majority of senior Fed officials expect no change in rates in 2019 (but a majority also anticipate one or more hikes in 2020).
Nonfarm payrolls rose by a disappointing 20,000 in the initial estimate for February, following a strong 311,000 gain in January. However, it appears that mild weather helped to boost the January figure and depressed the February data.
Economic data releases that were delayed due to the partial government shutdown, including fourth quarter Gross Domestic Product, have been rolling in.