Dallas Fed: Manufacturing Activity Strengthened in September

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The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank reported that manufacturing activity strengthened once again. The composite index of general business activity rose from 17.0 in August to 21.3 in September, its fastest pace since February. Overall, the data reflect continued progress in the Texas economy, buoyed by a recovery in the energy sector most importantly. One year ago, the headline index was -2.1, and year-to-date through the first three quarters of 2017, it has averaged 18.6, illustrating significant improvements over the past 12 months. In September, the underlying data were mixed but still encouraging overall. This included new orders (up from 14.3 to 18.6), production (down from 20.3 to 19.5), shipments (up from 18.1 to 27.4), employment (up from 9.9 to 16.3), hours worked (up from 14.5 to 18.4) and capital expenditures (down from 14.5 to 13.6). Nearly 54 percent of respondents said that new orders had increased for the month, with the measure for hours worked at its highest point since November.

Moving forward, manufacturing leaders remained very positive about the next six months, with the forward-looking measure increasing from 29.2 to 34.5. More than 55 percent of those completing the survey felt that production would rise in the coming months, and 45.4 percent and 34.6 percent anticipate more hiring and capital spending, respectively. At the same time, pricing pressures for raw materials (up from 26.0 to 35.9) were also anticipated to accelerate somewhat.

Housing Starts Declined in August but Single-Family and Permits Remained Encouraging

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The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that new housing starts declined 0.8 percent in August. New residential construction edged down from 1,190,000 units at the annual rate in July to 1,180,000 in August. It is possible that there were some negative impacts from Hurricane Harvey in these data, much as seen in the home builder confidence numbers released yesterday. Outside of weather effects, housing starts have been softer than desired year-to-date, drifting lower since peaking at 1,288,000 units in February. With that said, starts have risen 1.4 percent over the past 12 months, up 1.4 percent since August 2016. Read More

Retail Sales Were Soft in August, up Modestly Over the Past Year

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Retail spending was down 0.2 percent in August, according to the Census Bureau, and it is likely that Hurricane Harvey might have negatively impacted those figures. Weather aside, retail sales have continued to increase modestly overall, helping to provide a boost to the U.S. economy. Along those lines, Americans had been more willing to open their pocketbooks more this year than last, especially than in the beginning months of 2016. Over the past 12 months, spending has risen by 3.2 percent. Still, there has been a bit more caution on the part of the American consumer in the past few months than we might have expected. The year-over-year rate has drifted lower since peaking at 5.6 percent in January, for instance. Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales increased 3.6 percent year-over-year in August, up from 2.4 percent in June but down from 5.4 percent in January. Read More

New York Fed: Manufacturing Activity Growth Remained Strong in September

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The Empire State Manufacturing Survey continued to reflect strong growth in the sector in September. The composite index of general business conditions remained highly elevated despite easing from 25.2 in August, its highest level in nearly three years, to 24.4 in September. Encouragingly, there were faster paces of expansions in September for new orders (up from 20.6 to 24.9), shipments (up from 12.4 to 16.2) and employment (up from 6.2 to 10.6). The shift for new orders stemmed mostly from a decline in the percentage of respondents saying that their sales had declined relative to the month before, down from 21.5 percent in August to 13.7 percent in September. In this release, 38.7 percent said that new orders had risen for the month, down from 42.0 percent. Beyond those measures, the average workweek (down from 10.9 to 5.7) increased at a softer rate in September, but pricing pressures (up from 31.0 to 35.8) accelerated.

Meanwhile, manufacturers in the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s district remained upbeat about the next six months despite most of the forward-looking gauge pulling back a little in this report. The expectations composite index decreased from 45.2 to 39.3 but continued to suggest strong growth for the months ahead. More than 55 percent of those completing the survey predict better new orders over the next six months, with 26.0 percent and 32.5 percent anticipating increased hiring and capital spending, respectively. Technology spending (up from 9.3 to 17.1) also picked up.

Manufacturing Production Disappointed in August

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The Federal Reserve said that manufacturing production fell 0.3 percent in August, pulling back from being flat in July and declining for the first time since May. We have seen a lot of volatility in the output data for the manufacturing sector since the spring—essentially seesawing from month to month since March. This has meant that production has grown been less than we would have desired or expected, especially given the more-robust outlook seen in other data sources. In the August data, though, the main culprit was Hurricane Harvey, which the Federal Reserve estimates reduced production by 0.75 percent in August.

Yet, even with that weakness, the longer-term trend for output among manufacturers has been encouraging. Over the course of the past 12 months, manufacturing production has risen 1.5 percent. It was the tenth consecutive positive year-over-year reading for manufacturing output and definite progress from decline of 0.6 percent year-over-year seen in August 2016. Similarly, manufacturing capacity utilization decreased from 75.6 percent in July to 75.3 percent in August. Utilization rates have trended lower since peaking at 75.9 percent in April, but capacity continues to exceed the 74.7 percent rate seen at this time last year.

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Consumer Prices Picked Up at Fastest Monthly Rate Since January, Remain Modest Overall

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that consumer prices rose by 0.4 percent in August, the fastest monthly rate since January. The uptick stemmed largely from higher energy costs, which increased by 2.8 percent in August, ending three months of declines, with gasoline prices up 6.3 percent. (It is important to note that this run-up in energy prices pre-dates Hurricanes Harvey or Irma and their effects on the market.) At the same time, food prices edged up 0.1 percent, mostly from food purchased away from home. Since August 2016, food and energy costs have increased 1.1 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.

Overall, the consumer price index (CPI) increased 1.9 percent year-over-year in August, up from 1.7 percent in July. Pricing pressures had accelerated over much of the past year, increasing from 1.1 percent year-over-year in August 2016 to 2.8 percent year-over-year in February. However, inflation has cooled since then, even with the more-recent increases in energy costs noted above. Read More