California’s Aging Business Cycle and Trumponomics

The story for the California economy, now in its seventh year of economic expansion since the Great Recession, has remained relatively consistent over the past few years. The state is showing signs that it is maturing later into the economic cycle as employment growth moderates. The cost of doing business and living in California remains high as strong job growth, and even stronger income growth, drove up home prices and rents. States like Texas and Florida will likely continue to benefit from their relatively higher affordability, drawing in workers and businesses from the two coasts. Maintaining strong employment growth also becomes a challenge as labor markets tighten and the California unemployment rate drops, now at a current cycle low of 4.9 percent in March 2017. The state unemployment rate is expected to dip even further, down to 4.6 percent by year end.

The near term risk to the California economic outlook appears to be a political one. The California economy is on course to collide with the Trump administration’s agenda over the next few years. A change on H1B visas, NAFTA and immigration enforcement would have a material impact on California’s high-tech, logistics and agricultural industries. California total nominal trade (exports + imports) with Canada and Mexico equaled $115.6 billion in 2016, according to the Census Bureau. The Pew Research Center estimated the total number of unauthorized immigrants living in California at 2.35 million, or roughly 6 percent of the population, in 2014. This fuels a lot of demand for California goods and services, supporting state economic growth.

For a PDF version of the complete California Economic Outlook, click here:  CA_Outlook_0517.

 

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Michigan to Benefit from Automaker Investment

Michigan economy is at a crossroads. The economic recovery fueled by the rebounding auto sector has been a tremendous positive for the state, but that is largely played out. We expect auto sales in 2017 to step down from the record 17.6 million units of 2016, to about 17.2 million units in 2017. Manufacturing job growth in Michigan eased to barely positive as of this March. Looking ahead, we expect manufacturing industries to gradually shed jobs in the state as auto production eases and new technology drives productivity growth. Recently, Ford has announced that they will cut about 10,000 jobs worldwide, as they face pressure to bolster profitability. To date, manufacturing has been supportive of solid overall job growth in the state. This March, Michigan had 1.9 percent more payroll jobs than it did in March 2016, while the U.S. gained 1.5 percent. Despite stronger than average job growth, the state’s unemployment rate increased from a low of 4.8 percent in June 2016, to 5.1 percent this March, as the U.S. unemployment rate declined. Even with the rebound in the auto industry, net-migration to Michigan has remained negative since the late 1990s, meaning that more people leave the state every year than move to it. This data may be substantially revised with the 2020 census, but recent estimates show that Michigan lost a net of about 15,000 people in 2015 to other states and countries. Persistent negative net-migration has brought population growth down to a barely positive 0.1 percent estimated for 2017. Declining auto sales and weak population growth will pull job creation in the state back below the U.S. average.

For a PDF version of the complete Michigan Economic Outlook, click here:  MI_Outlook_0517.

 

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More Evidence of a Turn in the Texas Economy

For the first time since the first quarter of 2015, Texas put together back-to-back quarters of positive state-level real GDP growth in the second half of 2016. We expect the string of real gains to state gross domestic product to continue through 2017 and 2018. Two factors are at work stabilizing the Texas economy. First is the momentum generated by the state in recent years that is non-energy-related. Strong in-migration leading to significant population growth and the expansion of non-energy employment and infrastructure has been a life preserver for the state. Second, oil prices have stabilized while oil producers have become much more efficient in their operations. This supportive combination of factors will allow for consistent moderate growth for the state economy even as the support from massive projects on the downstream side of the energy sector in the Houston area eases as they are completed this year and next. Oil prices have been soft this year with stubbornly high U.S. inventories. However, recently, prices have firmed, with WTI approaching $50 per barrel as OPEC ministers discuss the possible limited extension of OPEC production cuts. Meanwhile, the Texas drilling rig count continues to climb, reaching 451 active rigs by the middle of May. Employment in the state’s resources and mining sector has done a similar U-turn, following the rig count upward, adding 13,000 jobs over the six months ending in March 2017. The state’s unemployment rate has edged up from a low of 4.4 percent in July 2015, to 5.0 percent as of this March. We look for the unemployment rate to turn the corner this year and gradually decline through 2018.

For a PDF version of the complete Texas Economic Outlook, click here:  TX_Outlook_0517.

 

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April Housing Starts, Industrial Production, May Empire State and NAHB

Builder Confidence High but Construction Eased in April, Industrial Production Up

  • Housing Starts decreased in April by 2.6 percent to a 1,172,000 unit annual rate.
  • Permits for new residential construction decreased by 2.5 percent to a 1,229,000 unit pace in April.
  • Industrial Production increased by 1.0 percent in April, with stronger manufacturing output.

Residential construction data was weaker than expected in April as total housing starts dipped by 2.6 percent to a 1,172,000 unit annual rate. Single-family starts were little changed for the month, easing slightly to an 835,000 unit rate. Multifamily starts (5+ units) dropped by 9.6 percent to a 328,000 unit rate. Multifamily construction has clearly lost momentum after the strong expansion of multifamily units in recent years satisfied much of the pent up demand for apartments, resulting in slower absorption and softer pricing. The demand for single-family housing remains strong as millennials grow more confident and expand their families. Inventories of both new and existing single-family homes for sale remain very tight in most markets, giving builders ample incentive to increase single-family construction. The National Association of Homebuilders’ Builder Confidence Survey for May showed increasing builder confidence, with expectations of future sales conditions very high. Total permits for residential construction dipped by 2.5 percent in April. Permits for single-family houses fell by 4.5 percent, down to a 789,000 unit rate. Permits for new multifamily units (5+) gained 1.5 percent, to a 403,000 unit annual rate, still in the range where they have been for the last 2 years.

Industrial production increased in April by 1.0 percent, looking strong in most industry groups and market groups. The exception to that statement is, appropriately, construction, where output eased by 0.1 percent for the month. Manufacturing output increased by 1.0 percent in April as vehicle assemblies increased to an 11.9 million vehicle rate. That is the strongest assemblies rate so far this year. Output in mining industries increased by 1.2 percent in April, consistent with ongoing gains in the drilling rig count. Utilities output increased by 0.7 percent. We should be getting past the weather-related swings in utility output from this winter. One sour note for manufacturing came from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Their Empire State manufacturing index dropped into negative territory in May, indicating a slight deterioration of regional manufacturing conditions, for the first time since last October.

Market Reaction: Stock indexes were mixed at the open. The yield on 10-Year Treasury bonds is down to 2.33 percent. NYMEX crude oil is up to $49.03/barrel. Natural gas futures are down to $3.34/mmbtu.

For a PDF version of this Comerica Economic Alert click here:  Housing_Starts_051617.

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Comerica Economic Weekly

U.S. economic data this week showed stronger-than-expected inflation in April, ongoing positive labor market indicators, and positive news about U.S. consumers. Overall, the data were consistent with our expectation for improved GDP growth in Q2, after a weak Q1.

Upstream inflation was warmer than expected in April as the Producer Price Index for final demand registered a 0.5 percent month-to-month gain. Much of the increase in headline PPI came from final demand services which climbed by 0.4 percent in April. The energy price index also increased, rising by 0.8 percent in April, after falling by 2.9 percent in March. Over the 12 months ending in April, the Producer Price Index for final demand is up by 2.5 percent. Core PPI (final demand less food, energy and trade) was up 2.1 percent over the previous year.

The Import Price Index also increased by 0.5 percent in April. Higher imported fuel prices helped to drive the headline index higher. The dollar has been easing slightly relative to our trading partners’ currencies this year, supporting import prices.

Downstream inflation was about as expected as the Consumer Price Index registered a 0.2 percent increase for April. Gains in energy prices were offset by lower prices for new and used vehicles, apparel and medical care commodities. Over the previous 12 months, headline CPI was up by 2.2 percent while core CPI (less food and energy) was up by 1.9 percent.

Oil prices firmed this week after the EIA said that U.S. inventories of crude oil dropped more than expected.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance dipped by 2,000 for the week ending May 6, to hit 236,000. Continuing claims were extremely low for the week ending April 29, falling by 61,000, to reach 1,918,000.

The Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey for March showed that the job opening rate (per existing employee) ticked back up to 3.8 percent. It has been in a range close to 3.8 percent since mid-2015, indicating good potential for ongoing hiring. The hiring rate remained elevated at 3.6 percent. The quits rate also stayed elevated at 2.1 percent, which is a positive economic metric indicating worker confidence in the job market.

Business inventories for March increased by 0.2 percent nominally. This feeds into the Q1 GDP calculation so it is not a first tier forward-looking indicator. However, it does show ongoing improvement in the inventory/sales ratio, compared with year-ago values. This is consistent with improving overall economic conditions.

Retail sales for April increased by 0.4 percent nominally. If we apply the 0.2 percent increase in the CPI for the month, that approximates a 0.2 percent increase in real consumer spending on durable and nondurable goods. Unit auto sales increased in April to a 16.9 million unit rate. This brought retail sales of autos and parts up by 0.8 percent. So despite the weak year-over-over comparisons showing a 3.0 percent drop in unit auto sales for April, the monthly numbers were positive, and supportive of Q2 GDP growth. Other components of retail sales were mixed. Furniture, food and clothing sales eased for the month. Building materials, drugstore, and sporting goods sales were up. Retail sales excluding autos increased by 0.4 percent in April.

The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index increased to 97.7 in early May. The index has eased slightly from its post-election surge, but it remains well elevated compared to its pre-election level. Despite the stronger PPI and import price numbers for April, consumer expectations about inflation were little changed.

According to the fed funds futures market, expectations that the next increase in the fed funds rate range would happen on June 14 eased a little, back to 74 percent. Charles Evans, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said today that there is downside risk to the expectation of two more rate hikes this year. Evans is known as a more dovish member of the FOMC. We expect to see more discussion from the Fed over the summer about its intentions for balance sheet reduction. We look for that process to begin either late this year or early next year.

For a PDF version of the Comerica Economic Weekly, including forecast tables and the variables calendar, click here:  Comerica_Economic_Weekly_ 05122017.

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April PPI, Import Prices, May UI Claims

Wholesale Inflation Warmer Than Expected in April

  • The Producer Price Index for Final Demand increased by 0.5 percent in April.
  • The Import Price Index also increased by 0.5 percent in April.
  • Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance eased by 2,000 for the week ending May 6, to hit 236,000.

Upstream inflation was a little warmer than expected in April as the Producer Price Index for final demand registered a 0.5 percent month-to-month gain. Much of the increase in the headline series came from final demand services which climbed by 0.4 percent in April. The services index was boosted by increases in the prices for brokerage, dealing, investment advice and related services. The price index for final demand goods gained 0.5 percent in April, pushed by cigarette prices and fruit and vegetable prices. The energy price index also increased, rising by 0.8 percent in April, after falling by 2.9 percent in March. Declines in jet fuel prices were countered by increasing gasoline prices. Over the 12 months ending in April, the Producer Price Index for final demand is up by 2.5 percent. Core PPI (final demand less food, energy and trade) was up 2.1 percent over the previous year.

Reported separately, the Import Price Index also increased by 0.5 percent in April. Higher imported fuel prices helped to drive the headline index higher. The dollar has been tending to ease relative to our trading partners’ currencies this year, supporting import prices.

Crude oil futures are climbing today on speculation that reduced OPEC oil production this spring has helped to put a dent in U.S. crude oil stocks. The Energy Information Agency reported that U.S. crude oil inventories dropped by 5.2 million barrels for the week ending May 5, much more than expected.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance dipped by 2,000 for the week ending May 6, to hit 236,000. Continuing claims were extremely low for the week ending April 29, falling by 61,000, to reach 1,918,000.

Firm prices and tight labor market conditions will keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise the fed funds rate range by 25 basis points on June 14, to 1.00-to-1.25 percent. According to the fed funds futures market, the odds of a June 14 rate hike are up to 83 percent.

Market Reaction: U.S. equity markets opened with losses. The yield on 10-Year Treasury bonds is down to 2.40 percent. NYMEX crude oil is up to $48.04/barrel. Natural gas futures are up to $3.36/mmbtu.

For a PDF version of this Comerica Economic Alert click here:  PPI _05112017.

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Labor Market Dynamics, Inflation and the Fed

The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen faster than we expected. In April it dipped to 4.4 percent, pulled down by strong job growth, especially through February and March, as measured by the household survey of employment. The other input to the unemployment rate calculation is the civilian labor force. It barely increased in April, gaining only 12,000 workers, which also pulled down the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate could easily tick back up in May or June if we get a surge of labor force growth and/or job growth suddenly eases.

Looking past normal monthly fluctuations in the unemployment rate, we agree with the mainstream of macroeconomic thought that assumes the unemployment rate may go a little lower, but is getting close to bottoming out in this cycle. Typically, as the unemployment rate drops, new labor becomes more difficult to find and companies increasingly bid against each other to attract new workers. Wages begin to accelerate. Strong wage acceleration is thought to contribute to undesirable inflation, and so the Federal Reserve pre-emptively raises interest rates, adding some friction to the economy to keep it from running too strong and fueling hyperinflation.

Labor force growth itself is cyclical. During periods of strong economic growth, people who may not otherwise be employed are pulled into the labor market, either attracted by high wages or pulled in with lower barriers to entry, including lower hiring standards. It is normal to see the labor force growing faster than the rate of growth for the working age population when the economy is strong. Likewise, it is normal to see the labor force growing more slowly than the working age population, or even going negative, when the economy is weak. In recessions, inefficient companies go out of business and low productivity labor is laid off.

What we see now is that labor force growth in the first quarter of 2017 was only 0.7 percent over the previous four quarters, fairly close to the growth rate of working age population. This suggest that this economy is not yet pulling large numbers of nonworking adults, who are capable of working, into the labor force. This begs an interesting set of questions. Is there a pool of nonworking adults who are going to step in and fill the demand for new labor as the economy grows through 2017 and beyond? This would tend to keep the unemployment rate higher and allow the economy to grow with less friction in the form of higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve. We expect to see more evidence of the absorption of new workers into the labor force later this year and in 2018.

Conversely, we can also ask, is the unemployment rate going to continue to fall, making it difficult and expensive for companies to find new labor? If the unemployment rate continues to fall perhaps it could approach its post-World War II low of 2.5 percent from May 1953. The more recent low, and better comparison, is 3.8 percent from April 2000. The unemployment rate from the previous cycle bottomed out at 4.4 percent in the spring of 2007.

It looks like we will see a stronger inflationary push from wages in the near term. The Fed will use that as an opportunity to normalize monetary policy by increasing interest rates and draining liquidity with balance sheet reduction. We look for the Fed to increase the fed funds range rate by 25 basis points, to 1.00-to-1.25 percent, on June 14.

For a PDF version of the complete Comerica U.S. Monthly with additional commentary, tables, and charts, click here: US_Economic_Outlook_0517.

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Comerica Economic Weekly

It was a busy week for U.S. economic developments, which ended on a good note with the April jobs report.

April payroll employment growth bounced back after a weak March, showing a net gain of 211,000 jobs for the month. The U.S. unemployment rate ticked down from 4.5 percent in March, to a tight 4.4 percent in April, the lowest it has been since May 2007. Average hourly earnings increased by 0.3 percent and are up 2.5 percent over the previous 12 months. The average workweek increased by 0.1 hours to 34.4.

Other labor metrics were also good. Initial claims for unemployment insurance dropped by 19,000 for the week ending April 29. Continuing claims for the week ending April 22 fell by 23,000, to hit a very low 1,964,000.

Nonfarm business productivity decreased at a 0.6 percent annual rate in Q1, consistent with weak real GDP growth of just 0.7 percent. Stronger Q2 GDP growth will pull productivity growth back to positive.

Real disposable personal income increased by 0.5 percent in March with the help of declining energy prices. The personal consumption expenditure price index fell by 0.2 percent in March as gasoline prices declined. Real consumer spending increased by a solid 0.3 percent for the month, even as nominal spending was unchanged.

Vehicles sale for April increased to a 16.9 million unit rate. Much ink was spilled in the financial press discussing weak April auto sales, but 16.9 million is not a bad number. Still, there is concern that tightening subprime auto loan availability may weigh on sales this summer.

The ISM Manufacturing Index dipped from a strong 57.2 reading in March, to a still-positive 54.8 in April. Nine out of the 10 sub-indexes remain in expansion territory, including new orders, production and employment. Sixteen out of 18 industries reported growth. Anecdotal comments were positive. So even though auto production looks like it may have peaked for this cycle, other manufacturing industries are still feeling a tailwind from improving U.S. and global conditions.

The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index increased to 57.5 in April, indicating improving conditions in the nation’s large service sector. All 10 sub-indexes were positive. Almost all industries reported growth. Anecdotal comments were generally positive, but there was some awareness of risks and uncertainty.

The U.S. international trade gap narrowed slightly in March to -$43.7 billion. This means that trade will likely not result in a negative revision to Q1 GDP when the second estimate comes out three weeks from today.

Total construction spending eased by 0.2 percent in March. Private residential construction spending increased by 1.2 percent, driven by multifamily projects. Private nonresidential construction spending dipped by 1.3 percent as both office and commercial projects eased. Total public construction declined by 0.9 percent.

The Federal Open Market Committee met over Tuesday and Wednesday. Their monetary policy announcement was about as expected, containing no interest rate hike. The fed said that weak Q1 GDP growth was likely transitory. This kept financial market expectations focused on a June 14 fed funds rate hike. The policy announcement contained no new information about the fed’s plans for balance sheet reduction.

The final round of the French election will be on Sunday. Polling shows that former economy minister Emmanuel Macron has a significant lead over EU separatist Marine Le Pen. Puerto Rico is seeking bankruptcy-like protection casting doubt on $120 billion worth of obligations.

For a PDF version of the Comerica Economic Weekly, including forecast tables and the variables calendar, click here: Comerica_Economic_Weekly_ 05052017.

 

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April U.S. Employment

April Payrolls Gain 211,000 after a Soft March Report, Unemployment Rate Drops to 4.4%

  • Payroll Employment increased by 211,000 jobs in April. March payroll gains were revised down to 79K.
  • The Unemployment Rate for April fell to 4.4 percent.
  • Average Hourly Earnings increased by 0.3 percent for the month, the average workweek also increased.

As expected, the April payroll job count bounced back, showing a net gain of 211,000 jobs for the month, following on the heels of a weak March payroll report. In fact, the initial low estimate for March payroll gains of 98,000 net new jobs was revised down to show just 79,000 new jobs for the month. The U.S. unemployment rate ticked down from 4.5 percent in March, to a tight 4.4 percent in April, the lowest it has been since May 2007. Average hourly earnings increased by 0.3 percent and are up 2.5 percent over the previous 12 months. The average workweek increased by 0.1 hour to 34.4. So we have more people working longer hours for more pay, a positive for consumer spending, housing and related metrics.

Today’s jobs report vindicates the Fed’s policy announcement from Wednesday where they said that slow growth in the first quarter was likely to be transitory. Moreover, rising wages and tighter labor markets will get the Fed’s attention when the Federal Open Market Committee next meets over June 13/14. We expect to see a 25-basis point increase in the fed funds rate range announced at the conclusion of the next FOMC meeting over June 13/14. The fed funds futures market shows an implied probability of 78.5 percent for a June 14 rate hike.

Today’s jobs report shows strong gains in the service sector. Mining and logging industries increased their payrolls by 10,000 in April, most coming in support activities. Construction added only 5,000 net new jobs, symptomatic of tight labor conditions in that sector. Manufacturing employment increased by 6,000 jobs in April, supported by gains in nondurable manufacturing industries. Wholesale trade added 8,200 jobs. Retail trade employment increased by a tepid 6,300 jobs. Retail trade appears to be at an inflection point where many brick-and-mortar retailers are rapidly losing market share to internet-based operations. Utilities employment increased by 700 jobs in April. Information services lost 7,000. Financial services employment increased by a strong 19,000 jobs. Business and professional services employment increased by a solid 39,000 jobs. Education and healthcare gained 41,000 jobs. Leisure and hospitality was up a strong 55,000 net new jobs in April. Government employment, which has been held down by the federal government hiring freeze, bounced back in in April, gaining 17,000 net new jobs. The hiring freeze was lifted on April 12.

Market Reaction: U.S. equity markets opened with gains. The 10-Year T-bond yield is up to 2.36 percent. NYMEX crude oil is up to $45.85/barrel. Natural gas futures are up to $3.24/mmbtu.

For a PDF version of this Comerica Economic Alert click here: Employment_05052017.

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April ISM MF Index, March Personal Income, Construction Spending

Indicators Support Stronger Outlook for Q2 GDP, Fed on Hold

  • The ISM Manufacturing Index decreased to a still-positive 54.8 in April.
  • U.S. Real Disposable Personal Income increased by 0.5 percent in March.
  • The Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index fell by 0.2 percent in March.
  • After inflation, Real Consumer Spending increased by 0.3 percent in March.
  • Construction Spending eased by 0.2 percent in March.
  • No Fed rate hike this week.

Real GDP increased at a meager 0.7 percent annualized rate in the first quarter. Today’s economic indicators are consistent with our expectations for strong growth in the current second quarter. Back-of-the-envelope calculations get us up to about 3.0 percent or better real GDP growth rate for the second quarter. This Friday we will begin our May U.S. Economic Update and take an in-depth look at GDP for Q2 and beyond. We expect to publish our May U.S. update early next week.

The ISM Manufacturing Index dipped from a strong 57.2 reading in March, to a still-positive 54.8 in April. Nine out of the 10 sub-indexes remain in expansion territory, including new orders, production and employment. Sixteen out of 18 industries reported growth. Only the apparel industry reported contraction in April. Anecdotal comments were positive. So even though auto manufacturing looks like it may have peaked for this cycle, in term of unit production, other manufacturing industries are still feeling a tailwind from improving U.S. and global conditions.

Weak consumer spending was the major reason that Q1 GDP growth was tepid. In the March income and spending data we see reasons to expect stronger consumer spending in Q2. Furthermore, we expect that the Q1 dip in auto sales will not be repeated in Q2 and that the weather-related drag on consumer spending in Q1 will abate. Real disposable personal income increased by 0.5 percent in March with the help of declining energy prices. The personal consumption expenditure price index fell by 0.2 percent in March as gasoline prices declined. Real consumer spending increased by a solid 0.3 percent for the month, even as nominal spending was unchanged. We are also looking for a rebound in payroll job growth in April to support consumer spending and overall Q2 GDP growth. The employment report will be released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this Friday morning. We will have complete coverage.

Total construction spending eased by 0.2 percent in March. Private residential construction spending increased by 1.2 percent, driven by multifamily projects. Private nonresidential construction spending dipped by 1.3 percent as both office and commercial projects eased. Total public construction declined by 0.9 percent. Over the year ending in March, total public construction spending is down 6.5 percent. Here is where a new infrastructure program from the Trump Administration could result in a major turnaround.

The Federal Open Market Committee is meeting over this Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the economy and monetary policy. We expect to see no changes to interest policy when the FOMC issues its policy announcement Wednesday afternoon. There might be some mention of the plans for balance sheet roll in the policy announcement, but plans have likely not yet been finalized and the policy statement is usually too brief to contain a detailed description of a complicated process. Instead the minutes of the May 2/3 FOMC meeting may yield more information about balance sheet reduction when they are made public on May 24. We expect the next fed funds rate range hike to come on June 14. The fed funds futures market shows a cumulative implied probability of about 66 percent for a rate hike on June 14.

Market Reaction: U.S. equity markets opened with gains. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond is up to 2.31 percent. NYMEX crude is down to $48.68/barrel. Natural gas futures are down to $3.25/mmbtu.

For a PDF version of this Comerica Economic Alert click here:  Personal_Income_05012017.

 

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