Comerica Bank’s Arizona Index Continues to Improve in May

Comerica Bank’s Arizona Economic Activity Index advanced in May, increasing 3.1 percentage points to a level of 110.2. May’s index reading is 39 points, or 55 percent, above the index cyclical low of 71.2. The index averaged 97 points for all of 2013, 10 points above the average for full-year 2012. April’s index reading was unchanged at 107.1.

“Our Arizona Economic Activity Index increased in May, indicating ongoing gains to the Arizona economy. The Arizona Index has increased for seven consecutive months, driven by job creation and by recovering residential real estate markets. We expect to see an overall improving trend in the index through the remainder of this year, but the pace of improvement will likely slow from what we have seen through the first five months of 2014,” said Robert Dye, Chief Economist at Comerica Bank. “House prices in Phoenix are generally up about 8 percent over the previous 12 months, but recently the pace of appreciation appears to be cooling.”

AZ Index 0714

For a PDF version of the Arizona Economic Activity Index click here: ArizonaIndex_0714.

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Comerica Bank’s California Index Ticks Down in May

Comerica Bank’s California Economic Activity Index eased in May, declining 0.4 percentage points to a level of 112.9. May’s reading is 40 points, or 56 percent, above the index cyclical low of 72.6. The index averaged 106 points for all of 2013, five points above the average for all of 2012. April’s index reading was revised up to 113.3.

“Our California Economic Activity Index for May gave back just a little of the solid gain that we saw in April. State labor market conditions continue to improve. In May, California’s payroll employment total of 15,448,600 eclipsed the pre-recession high from August 2007. Also, residential real estate conditions are improving across the state,” said Robert Dye, Chief Economist at Comerica Bank. “However, we are seeing some softs spots in the data stream. Notably, state exports are subdued as are sales tax collections. Overall, we expect the California economy to continue to grow moderately through the second half of this year and into 2015.”

CA Index 0714

For a PDF version of the California Economic Activity Index click here: CaliforniaIndex_0714.

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Comerica Bank’s Texas Index Climbs Again in May

Comerica Bank’s Texas Economic Activity Index advanced 1.7 percentage points in May to a level of 110.8. May’s reading is 39 points, or 55 percent, above the index cyclical low of 71.7. The index averaged 105 points for all of 2013, three points above the average for full-year 2012. April’s index reading was revised slightly down to 109.1.

“Our Texas Index climbed again in May, driven by ongoing strong job creation, export growth and tax revenues. Energy prices remain supportive of elevated drilling activity. The drilling rig count for Texas remains high after climbing significantly this spring. The slight relaxation of the decades-old ban on crude oil exports to allow for condensate exports is a small positive for the state’s economy,” said Robert Dye, Chief Economist at Comerica Bank. “Demographic momentum is strong and will continue to fuel construction activity. We expect to see robust gains in the Texas economy through the second half of this year.”

TX Index 0714

For a PDF version of the Texas Economic Activity Index, click here: TexasIndex_0714.

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Comerica Bank’s Michigan Index Rebounds in May

Comerica Bank’s Michigan Economic Activity Index improved in May, increasing 4.3 percentage points to a level of 124.0. May’s reading is 52 points, or 72 percent, above the index cyclical low of 71.9. The index averaged 125 for all of 2013, 11 points above the index average for 2012. April’s index reading was revised slightly down to 119.7.

“Our Michigan Index ended a six-month slide by rebounding in May, as all seven components improved for the month. Fortunately, the state has shown gains in payroll employment in May and also in June. (June date does not figure into our May index). The previously weak employment trend has been a source for concern about the state economy. If the state can consistently add jobs through the second half of the year, that would be a reassuring signal,” said Robert Dye, Chief Economist at Comerica Bank. “In addition to employment, exports, sales tax, hotel occupancy, unemployment insurance claims, residential building permits and vehicle assemblies all showed signs of improvement in May.”

MI Index 0714

For a PDF version of the Michigan Economic Activity Index click here: Michigan0714.

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Comerica Economic Weekly

U.S. economic data was generally a little softer than expected this week. This is not surprising given the spate of stronger-than-expected data we have seen through early summer. Even though data was soft, it remains consistent with our view that the U.S. economy bounced back quickly from a dismal first quarter, and will maintain a moderate growth trajectory for the remainder of this year.

Retail sales for June increased by just 0.2 percent, even after a jump in unit auto sales to a 17.0 million unit rate for the month. In a data disconnect, the dollar value of retail auto sales fell by 0.3 percent in June. Building materials sales fell by 1.0 percent, consistent with softer housing starts. The commonality there might be the weather. June was very rainy in some areas. Other categories of retail sales were within normal ranges.

Housing starts fell by 9.3 percent in June to 893,000. Permits were down 4.2 percent to 963,000. However, builder confidence increased in July.

Industrial production also gained an uninspired 0.2 percent in June. Utility output declined for the fifth consecutive month, after seasonal adjustment. Manufacturing output was weaker than expected, up just 0.1 percent, weighed down by a decline in energy products.

The June producer price index for final demand increased by a stronger-than-expected 0.4 percent, due to higher energy prices. We may see some relief in energy prices in the July and August PPI data.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending June 12 fell by 3,000 to hit 302,000. This number is consistent with a falling unemployment rate.

Business inventories gained 0.5 percent in May, suggesting that the Q1 inventory drag is dissipating and adding support to our expectation of a Q2 GDP rebound. The first estimate of Q2 GDP will  be released July 30.

The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index gained 0.3 percent in June, also below consensus expectations. It was held down by building permits.

For a PDF version of the Comerica Economic Weekly, including forecast tables and the variables calendar, click here: CMAEconWeekly 07-18-14.

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Comerica Economic Weekly

This was a light week for U.S. data, dominated by the release of the minutes of the June 17/18 Federal Open Market Committee meeting. There are several important components of the minutes that shed some light on a still-murky Federal Reserve exit strategy.

In June, the FOMC discussed the role that the rate of interest on excess reserves (IOER) should play. Participants agreed that it should play a central role in policy normalization. It was generally agreed that the interest rate on overnight reverse repurchase agreements (ONRRP) would be set below the IOER rate, to provide a floor under money market interest rates. The appropriate spread between IOER and ONRPP was also discussed, with a consensus view of near or above 20 basis points.

Most participants thought that the fed funds rate should continue to play a role in the Federal Reserve’s operations and communication strategy. There may, however, be a change in the way that the fed funds rate is calculated, possibly affecting other interest rates linked to the fed funds rate. The FOMC is concerned that there will be consequences, potentially unintended, and by implication, unforeseen, in an expanded ONRRP facility.

The FOMC also discussed the appropriate time to change its current policy of rolling over maturing assets on its balance sheet. It appears likely that the program will continue after interest rate liftoff.

In its economic assessment, the minutes show that the FOMC is assuming a GDP bounce-back following the weak first quarter, implying that the weak first quarter did not significantly alter the trajectory of monetary policy. The committee also noted that tight credit supply was restricting housing markets. This suggests that the Federal Reserve is supportive of relaxing credit standards for residential mortgages.

It now appears likely that the FOMC will vote to eliminate its active asset purchase program at the end of this coming October. Also, the central tendency of the cluster diagram showing FOMC members’ assessment of the appropriate target rate for fed funds at the end of 2015 has shifted up slightly. This implies a slightly earlier start to interest rate lift-off. We have moved up our expectation for lift-off to 2015Q2.

For a PDF version of the Comerica Economic Weekly, including forecast tables and the variables calendar, click here: CMAEconWeekly 07-11-14.

 

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July 2014, Comerica U.S. Economic Update

The Story: A Mid-Cycle U.S. Economy in a Multi-Speed World

The endogenous growth story for the U.S. economy remains intact. There are two key channels of growth operating within the U.S. economy that have brought us through the recovery and into mid-cycle. One is the re-emergence of the household sector as a stabilizing force. Think of the household sector as a gyroscope that keeps the economy upright. With two-thirds of gross domestic product accounted for by consumer spending, the economic health of households is of paramount importance. Households are rapidly repairing their balance sheets. Rising home prices combined with still-low mortgage rates are allowing households to build equity in their homes at a strong rate. Homeowners’ equity is being augmented by strong job creation and by strong financial market performance. The second key channel for endogenous growth is the domestic energy sector and its impact on the manufacturing sector. Not only is the energy sector still generating strong job growth, it is fueling (literally) growth throughout the manufacturing sector by providing abundant energy at a low price.

Typically, in a mid-cycle economy, credit availability expands and risk appetite increases. We are seeing both now. Increasing credit availability and improving risk appetites will support business investment and bring the lagging edges of the economy into expansion mode. Ominously, we recall that credit expansion and risk appetite combined to fuel a strong expansion in the 2000s that ended in catastrophe. We do not anticipate a return to astronomical leverage ratios in systemically important financial institutions combined with the rapid  expansion of complex and toxic financial instruments worldwide.

To sustain the mid-cycle economy into 2015, we look for steady household spending, improved residential and business investment, the end of drag from tight controls on federal spending and improved demand globally for U.S. goods and services.

An important challenge to this sanguine outlook comes from outside the U.S. economy. Global growth remains unsteady. The multi-speed global economy is contributing to a de-coupling of central bank policy. Foreign exchange rates and sovereign bond spreads are vulnerable to the de-synchronization of asset purchases and interest rate policy among major central banks. We expect the Federal Reserve to keep tapering its asset purchase program in measured steps, meaning another $10 billion reduction in QE at the end of July. Even as the Fed loosens its grip on the long end of the yield curve, it will maintain the near-zero fed funds rates through the remainder of this year. We still expect interest rate lift-off to come by the third quarter of 2015.

For a PDF version of the complete Comerica U.S. Monthly with additional commentary, tables, and charts, click here: USEconomicUpdate0714.

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Comerica Economic Weekly

The data dump ahead of the Fourth of July weekend yielded some good results, sending equity markets off to the races. The quality of recent U.S. economic data reinforces two points of view. First, the Q1 GDP stumble was an aberration not indicative of the overall direction of the economy. Second, this is a mid-cycle economy well past the early stages of recovery.

Payroll job growth in June was robust at +288,000. The unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent. Average hourly earnings were up 2.0 percent over the previous 12 months, not inherently inflationary as long as productivity growth returns to a similar rate. We expect to see job growth ease next month, in part due to seasonal adjustment issues involving local government employment.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending June 28 ticked up by 2,000 to hit 315,000. The low 300,000s are consistent with ongoing improvement in labor market conditions. The high 200,000s are consistent with rapid improvement.

The U.S. international trade gap narrowed in May, to -$44.4 billion. It looks like trade will be a small drag on Q2 GDP. We will be completing our July U.S. Economic Update next week. Q2 real GDP growth looks set to be in the vicinity of +2.5 percent.

Auto sales were off to the races in June, up to a 17.0 million unit annual rate. Seventeen million is a mid-cycle number. We expect to see stronger months over the remainder of 2014 and through 2015, but we should also expect to see some weaker months too.

The ISM Manufacturing Index for June dipped inconsequentially to 55.3, still a solid reading showing that manufacturing conditions continue to improve. The ISM Non-manufacturing Index also dipped slightly in June, to a still-strong 56.0.

The next scheduled meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee is July 29/30. We expect to see another $10 billion tapering of the Fed’s active asset purchase program and no change to interest rate policy. The next big event for the Fed may be the release of a new set of “exit principles” promised sometime later this year.

For now, enjoy the barbeque and fireworks. Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

For a PDF version of the Comerica Economic Weekly, including forecast tables and the variables calendar, click here: CMAEconWeekly 07-03-14.

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June U.S. Employment, May International Trade

Robust Job Growth Signals Ongoing Expansion for U.S. Economy

  • The June Payroll Employment Survey showed a gain of 288,000 jobs. April and May were revised up.
  • The Unemployment Rate for June fell to 6.1 percent.
  • Average Hourly Earnings increased by 0.2 percent in June and are up 2.0 percent over the last year.
  • The U.S. International Trade Gap narrowed in May to -$44.4 billion.
  • Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance inched up by 2,000 for the week ending June 28, to 315,000.

For the fifth consecutive month, U.S. payroll employment has increased by more than 200,000 jobs. June payrolls increased by a robust 288,000 jobs. These are strong mid-cycle numbers, comparable to the height of the previous business cycle in 2005 and 2006. The June unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent. We are seeing a decline in the unemployment rate of about 0.1 percentage points every two months, which puts us on pace for a 5.8 percent unemployment rate at the end of this year. The average workweek for June was 34.5 hours, unchanged for the fourth consecutive month. Average hourly earnings were up 0.2 percent for the month and 2.0 percent over the previous 12 months. As long as productivity growth gets back on track, this is not inherently inflationary. However, we expect to see more pressure on wages as labor markets continue to tighten up through the remainder of this year and into next year.

Job gains were widespread across industries. Construction added 6,000 jobs in June. Manufacturing employment was up by 16,000 jobs, with gains concentrated in transportation equipment. Wholesale trade gained 15,100 jobs while retail was up a strong 40,200. Transportation and warehousing added 16,600 jobs in June. Information was up 9,000. Financial services gained 17,000 jobs. Business and professional services employment was up a solid 67,000 jobs in June. Education and healthcare added 38,000. Leisure and hospitality services added 39,000 jobs for the month. Government employment was up by 26,000 in June, somewhat stronger than recent average performance. It looks like the bad winter weather may have extended school years into June, temporarily boosting local government employment. If so, we should see a correction in the July data. Even if we net out 18,000 local government education jobs, the net gain of 270,000 jobs for June is a strong number. Fun fact: We have already added more payroll jobs in the current expansion than we did in the last one, from June 2003 through January 2008.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending June 28 ticked up by 2,000 to hit 315,000. Continuing claims for the week ending June 21 increased by 11,000 to hit 2,579,000. Claims numbers remain consistent with ongoing improvement to overall labor market conditions.

The U.S. international trade gap narrowed in May, to $44.4 billion. Exports increased by $2.0 billion for the month, while imports decreased by $0.7 billion. For April and May, the inflation-adjusted balance of trade for goods is below the first quarter average, implying a small drag from trade on Q2 GDP.

Market Reaction: U.S. equity markets opened with gains. The 10-Year T-bond yield is up to 2.66 percent. NYMEX crude is down to $103.82/barrel. Natural gas futures are down to $4.34/mmbtu.

Economic Alert 070314

For a PDF version of this Comerica Economic Alert click here: Employment 07-03-14.

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June ADP Employment and Auto Sales, May Factory Orders

Workers Get Jobs and Buy Cars, Equity Markets Rally, Happy Fourth!

  • June’s ADP Employment Report showed a robust increase of 281,000 private-sector jobs.
  • June Auto Sales revved up to a 17.0 million unit annual rate.
  • Factory Orders decreased by 0.5 percent in May, but remain consistent with a Q2 GDP rebound.

U.S. labor markets are improving quickly. Employed and more confident consumers are buying cars. Equity markets are showing their enthusiasm, adding to wealth and confidence. Tomorrow, we will get the official count of jobs added in June. Right now it looks like we are set to fire up the Fourth of July barbeques with a balmy economic tailwind, a welcomed change from a brutal winter. The ADP employment report for June reported a robust net increase of 281,000 private-sector jobs for the month, well beyond consensus expectations of about 205,000 jobs. Small businesses, less than 50 employees, added the bulk of the new positions, up 117,000 jobs. So from this very high-level view we can see no obvious drag from the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, nor from the threat, or actuality, of higher minimum wages. Based on today’s data, we will increase our expectations for tomorrow’s release of the official BLS payroll numbers, to a guess of about 235,000 jobs for June. We continue to expect the unemployment rate to decrease to 6.2 percent.

Auto sales also shifted up a gear in June, reaching a 17.0 million unit annual rate for the first time since July 2006. While there is certainly potential to see auto sales improve from here, we are getting into the range of the plateau in sales from the previous expansion. The drop in auto sales to a 9 million unit sales rate during the depths of the recession implies that there is still some upside potential for auto sales, especially as household income and household wealth continue to improve. On the other hand (you knew that was coming), the drop in auto sales through the last recession was no worse than the drop we saw through the back-to-back recessions of the early 1980s. The monthly light vehicle sales rate did hit some lofty peaks following that recession, reaching 21.2 million in September 1986. But total annual sales peaked at a more sedate 16.1 million in 1986.

New orders for manufactured products fell by 0.5 percent in May. This broke a three-month improving streak. Factory orders remain consistent with moderate business investment through Q2, supportive of a turnaround in real GDP growth from the dismal -2.9 percent in Q1. We will be cooking up our July U.S. economic outlook early next week. Right now, it looks like we will be close to 2.5 percent real GDP growth for the just completed second quarter.

Market Reaction: U.S. stock markets are up in early trading. The yield on 10-Year Treasury bonds is up to 2.61 percent. NYMEX crude oil is down to $105.17/barrel. Natural gas futures are down to $4.36.

Economic Alert 070214

For a PDF version of this Comerica Economic Alert click here: ADP 07-02-14.

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