ECONOMIC MONTHLY SUMMARIES (31 OCT 2017)
Architecture Billings Index
(10-26-17) Firms in the South most likely to have already seen impacts from recent hurricanes Business conditions at architecture firms softened modestly in September, as AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score declined to 49.1. Billings have been growing at a strong pace in recent months, so it is too early to determine whether this is a new trend or just a modest course correction. In addition, per the results from this month’s special topical question to survey panelists regarding the impact of hurricanes on their business, while some firms have seen an impact on their projects it is generally too early to have seen much of an effect on billings. Inquiries into new projects and the value of new design contracts continued to increase, although slightly fewer firms reported an increase in September than in August. Backlogs at architecture firms also remained essentially unchanged from the second quarter to the third quarter, at 5.8 months, on average. Business conditions softened at architecture firms located in the West in September, although growth remained strong at firms located in the Northeast and South, and were flat at firms located in the Midwest. Billings also remained relatively strong at firms of all specializations this month, although the pace of growth slowed modestly at firms with residential and commercial/industrial specializations. The general economy showed more signs of the impact of the hurricanes in September, with nonfarm payroll employment posting its first monthly decline in seven years. However, the decline was generally modest (33,000 positions), and largely in industries that were directly impacted by shutdowns related to the storms (food service and drinking places). Architectural services employment figures are always released one month after national employment numbers, and were essentially flat from July to August, with a modest decline of 700 positions. In total, architectural services employment has still added more than 8,000 positions in the last 12 months. New residential construction also declined modestly in September, with housing starts declining by 4.7 percent from August and building permits for new privately-owned housing units falling by 4.5 percent. However, housing starts remain 6.1 percent higher than they were one year ago, a generally positive sign for future growth. Did the hurricanes impact business? This month’s special topical questions asked survey respondents about impacts they have seen so far from the recent hurricanes, as well as steps taken in recent years by their cities and communities to mitigate the impact of natural disasters or to improve local resiliency. Three quarters of responding architecture firms indicated that so far either they have not seen any impacts to their projects from the hurricanes (49 percent of respondents) or that they are not sure or it is too early to tell (26 percent of respondents). Slightly more than one in ten responding firms (12 percent) indicated that they have seen higher construction materials prices from companies impacted by the hurricane, 8 percent have seen higher energy prices due to refineries affected by the hurricanes, 7 percent have seen labor shortages due to increased demand from areas affected by the hurricanes, and 6 percent have seen construction material shortages due to increased demand from areas affected by the hurricanes. Just 5 percent of firms nationally reported that they have projects that have been delayed or cancelled due to the hurricanes, although this rises to 12 percent of firms located in the South. Of firms aware of steps taken by their local city/community to mitigate the impact of natural disasters or to improve the resiliency of their local area, 47 percent indicate that their city/community has taken such steps. This share is highest for firms located in the South (56 percent), followed by those located in the West (48 percent) and Northeast (46 percent). Just 35 percent of firms in the Midwest indicate that their cities/communities have taken such steps.
Conference Board – Consumer Confidence Index
(09-26-17) The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which had improved marginally in August, declined slightly in September. The Index now stands at 119.8 (1985=100), down from 120.4 in August. The Present Situation Index decreased from 148.4 to 146.1, while the Expectations Index rose marginally from 101.7 last month to 102.2. The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was September 18. “Consumer confidence decreased slightly in September after a marginal improvement in August,” said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Confidence in Texas and Florida, however, decreased considerably, as these two states were the most severely impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Despite the slight downtick in confidence, consumers’ assessment of current conditions remains quite favorable and their expectations for the short-term suggest the economy will continue expanding at its current pace.” Consumers’ assessment of current conditions moderated in September. Those saying business conditions are “good” decreased slightly from 34.5 percent to 33.9 percent, while those saying business conditions are “bad” increased from 13.2 percent to 13.8 percent. Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was also somewhat less upbeat. Those stating jobs are “plentiful” declined from 34.4 percent to 32.6 percent, however, those claiming jobs are “hard to get” decreased marginally from 18.4 percent to 18.1 percent. Consumers’ optimism about the short-term outlook was somewhat better in September. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months rose slightly from 19.8 percent to 20.2 percent, but those expecting business conditions to worsen increased from 8.0 percent to 9.9 percent. Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was more favorable than in August. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased from 16.8 percent to 19.5 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs rose marginally from 13.2 percent to 13.5 percent. Regarding their short-term income prospects, the percentage of consumers expecting an improvement increased moderately from 19.9 percent to 20.5 percent, while the proportion expecting a decline was virtually unchanged at 8.3 percent.
Conference Board – Leading Economic Index
(09-21-17) The Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI)for the U.S. increased 0.4 percent in August to 128.8 (2010 = 100), following a 0.3 percent increase in July, and a 0.6 percent increase in June. “The August gain is consistent with continuing growth in the U.S. economy for the second half of the year, which may even see a moderate pick up,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research at The Conference Board. “While the economic impact of recent hurricanes is not fully reflected in the leading indicators yet, the underlying trends suggest that the current solid pace of growth should continue in the near term.” The Conference Board Coincident Economic Index (CEI) for the U.S. was unchanged in August, remaining at 115.8 (2010 = 100), following a 0.3 percent increase in July, and a 0.1 percent increase in June. The Conference Board Lagging Economic Index (LAG) for the U.S. increased 0.3 percent in August to 125.2 (2010 = 100), following a 0.2 percent increase in July and a 0.2 percent increase in June.
Durable Goods – Shipments and New Orders
(09-27-17) The U.S. Census Bureau announces the August advance report on manufacturers’ shipments, inventories and orders:New Orders: New orders for manufactured durable goods in August increased $3.9 billion or 1.7 percent to $232.8 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up two of the last three months, followed a 6.8 percent July decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.2 percent. Excluding defense, new orders increased 2.2 percent. Transportation equipment, also up two of the last three months, led the increase, $3.6 billion or 4.9 percent to $77.4 billion. Shipments: Shipments of manufactured durable goods in August, up three of the last four months, increased $0.7 billion or 0.3 percent to $237.2 billion. This followed a 0.1 percent July increase. Machinery, up nine of the last ten months, led the increase, $0.3 billion or 1.1 percent to $31.4 billion. Unfilled Orders: Unfilled orders for manufactured durable goods in August, up two of the last three months, increased $0.1 billion or virtually unchanged to $1,132.3 billion. This followed a 0.3 percent July decrease. Fabricated metal products, up seven of the last eight months, drove the increase, $0.5 billion or 0.6 percent to $79.3 billion. Inventories: Inventories of manufactured durable goods in August, up thirteen of the last fourteen months, increased $1.4 billion or 0.3 percent to $400.5 billion. This followed a 0.4 percent July increase. Machinery, up nine of the last ten months, led the increase, $0.6 billion or 0.8 percent to $69.0 billion. Capital Goods: Nondefense new orders for capital goods in August increased $3.2 billion or 4.7 percent to $71.0 billion. Shipments decreased $1.1 billion or 1.5 percent to $71.6 billion. Unfilled orders decreased $0.6 billion or 0.1 percent to $704.0 billion. Inventories increased $0.7 billion or 0.4 percent to $178.3 billion. Defense new orders for capital goods in August decreased $1.1 billion or 9.4 percent to $10.7 billion. Shipments: increased $0.1 billion or 0.8 percent to $10.4 billion. Unfilled orders increased $0.3 billion or 0.2 percent to $142.6 billion. Inventories increased $0.3 billion or 1.1 percent to $23.5 billion. Revised July Data: Revised seasonally adjusted July figures for all manufacturing industries were: new orders, $465.9 billion (revised from $466.4 billion); shipments, $473.5 billion (revised from $474.3 billion); unfilled orders, $1,132.3 billion (revised from $1,131.9 billion) and total inventories, $652.0 billion (revised from $651.6 billion).
Gross Domestic Product – 2nd quarter (Second Estimate)
(09-28-17) Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the second quarter of 2017 (table 1), according to the “third” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 1.2 percent. The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the “second” estimate issued last month. In the second estimate, the increase in real GDP was 3.0 percent. With this third estimate for the second quarter, private inventory investment increased more than previously estimated, but the general picture of economic growth remains the same.
National Association of Home Builders – New Home Sales
(09-26-17) Sales of newly built, single-family homes in August fell 3.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 units from an upwardly revised July reading, according to newly released data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau. This was the lowest sales reading since December 2016. However, year-to-date, new home sales are 7.5 percent above their level over the same period last year. “This month’s report is another reminder that builders need to manage rising supply-side costs to meet consumer demand for affordably priced homes,” said Granger MacDonald, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder and developer from Kerrville, Texas. “The year-to-date growth shows that new home sales are continuing to make consistent, long-term gains,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “However, we may see more volatility in the next few months as communities affected by the recent hurricanes experience construction delays and other economic disruptions.” The inventory of new homes for sale was 284,000 in August, which is a 6.1-month supply at the current sales pace. Regionally, new home sales remained unchanged in the Midwest. Sales fell 2.6 percent in the Northeast, 2.7 percent in the West and 4.7 percent in the South.
NAHB Builder Confidence
(09-18-17) Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes fell three points to a level of 64 in September from a downwardly revised August reading of 67 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). “The recent hurricanes have intensified our members’ concerns about the availability of labor and the cost of building materials,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald, a home builder and developer from Kerrville, Texas. “Once the rebuilding process is underway, I expect builder confidence will return to the high levels we saw this spring.” “Despite this month’s drop, builder confidence is still on very firm ground,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “With ongoing job creation, economic growth and rising consumer confidence, we should see the housing market continue to recover at a gradual, steady pace throughout the rest of the year.” Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 30 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor. All three HMI components posted losses in September but remain at healthy levels. The component gauging current sales conditions fell four points to 70 and the index charting sales expectations in the next six months dropped four points to 74. Meanwhile, the component measuring buyer traffic slipped a single point to 47. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the West increased three points to 77 and the Northeast rose one point to 49. The South dropped a single point to 66 and the Midwest fell three points to 63.
Housing Starts and Permitting
(10–18-17) Building Permits: Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,215,000. This is 4.5 percent (±1.6 percent) below the revised August rate of 1,272,000 and is 4.3 percent (±1.7 percent) below the September 2016 rate of 1,270,000. Single-family authorizations in September were at a rate of 819,000; this is 2.4 percent (±1.7 percent) above the revised August figure of 800,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 360,000 in September. Housing Starts: Privately-owned housing starts in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,127,000. This is 4.7 percent (±8.1 percent)* below the revised August estimate of 1,183,000, but is 6.1 percent (±8.8 percent)* above the September 2016 rate of 1,062,000. Single-family housing starts in September were at a rate of 829,000; this is 4.6 percent (±8.5 percent)* below the revised August figure of 869,000. The September rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 286,000. Housing Completions: Privately-owned housing completions in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,109,000. This is 1.1 percent (±12.4 percent)* above the revised August estimate of 1,097,000 and is 10.3 percent (±11.9 percent)* above the September 2016 rate of 1,005,000. Single-family housing completions in September were at a rate of 781,000; this is 4.6 percent (±11.4 percent)* above the revised August rate of 747,000. The September rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 322,000.
Steel Service Centers – Shipments and Inventory
(10-16-17) September shipments were flat on a year-over-year basis except for a small increase in U.S. aluminum shipments. U.S. steel inventories increased on a year-over-year basis for the first time since August of 2015. U.S. Service Center Activity: U.S. service center steel shipments in September 2017 were essentially unchanged from September 2016. Steel product inventories increased 2.4% from September a year ago. U.S. service center shipments of aluminum products in September increased by 3.5% from the same month in 2016. Inventories of aluminum products increased 2.3% from September a year ago. Canadian Service Center Activity: Canadian service center shipments of steel products in September 2017 decreased by 3.8% from September 2016. Steel product inventories increased 4.2% from September a year ago and decreased 1.7% from last month. Canadian service center aluminum shipments in September decreased 5.5% from the same month in 2016. Inventories of aluminum products increased 0.6% from September a year ago.
The Employment Situation
(10-06-17) The unemployment rate declined to 4.2 percent in September, and total nonfarm payroll employment changed little (-33,000), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. A sharp employment decline in food services and drinking places and below-trend growth in some other industries likely reflected the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Household Survey Data: The unemployment rate decreased by 0.2 percentage point to 4.2 percent in September, and the number of unemployed persons declined by 331,000 to 6.8 million. Both measures were down over the year. mong the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.9 percent) and Blacks (7.0 percent) declined in September. The jobless rates for adult women (3.9 percent), teenagers (12.9 percent), Whites (3.7 percent), Asians (3.7 percent), and Hispanics (5.1 percent) showed little change. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged in September at 1.7 million and accounted for 25.5 percent of the unemployed. The employment-population ratio increased by 0.3 percentage point to 60.4 percent in September and has increased by 0.6 percentage point over the past 12 months. The labor force participation rate, at 63.1 percent, changed little over the month and has shown little movement over the year. The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed at 5.1 million in September. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time jobs. In September, 1.6 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, down by 275,000 from a year earlier. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. Among the marginally attached, there were 421,000 discouraged workers in September, down by 132,000 from a year earlier. Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.1 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in September had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.
Retail Sales – Advanced Estimates
(10-13-17) Advance Estimates of U.S. Retail and Food Services Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for September 2017, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $483.9 billion, an increase of 1.6 percent (±0.5 percent) from the previous month, and 4.4 percent (±0.7 percent) above September 2016. Total sales for the July 2017 through September 2017 period were up 3.9 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The July 2017 to August 2017 percent change was revised from down 0.2 percent (±0.5 percent)* to down 0.1 percent (±0.1 percent)*. Retail trade sales were up 1.7 percent (±0.5 percent) from August 2017, and up 4.7 percent (±0.7 percent) from last year. Gasoline Stations were up 11.4 percent (±1.4 percent) from September 2016, while Building Materials and Garden Equipment and Supplies Dealers were up 10.7 percent (±2.1 percent) from last year.