August New and Existing Home Sales

New Home Sales Jump in August, Existing Sales Cooler

  • New Home Sales for August jumped by 18.0 percent, to an annual rate of 504,000.
  • Existing Homes Sales dipped by 1.8 percent in August, to hit an annual rate of 5.05 million units.

The previously moribund new single-family home market had a breakout month in August, when sales jumped by 18.0 percent to reach a 504,000 unit annual sales rate. August sales were the best since May 2008. New home sales had been range bound for about two years, averaging a 427,000 unit pace from November 2012 to July 2014. One data point does not make a trend, so we will be watching new home sales closely this fall to see if the breakout has legs. If it does, that would be very good news for builders. Home construction data has also been range-bound for much of the last two years. New home sales have faced numerous headwinds despite ongoing demographic momentum. Underwriting standards are high, as are down payments. The wealth destruction endured by many baby boomers has also been a drag on the housing markets. Underwater homes in many regions remain an impediment to sales of existing homes and purchases of new homes. Also, affordability has declined from peak levels seen in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Still, the U.S. generated about 1.4 million new households in 2013, and they need to live somewhere. Most of the new households are going into the multifamily market, but eventually a good portion of the young urbanites are going to move into the single-family home market, boosting sales of existing and new single-family homes. The months’ supply of new single-family homes dipped to a relatively tight 4.8 months’ worth in August; this will motivate builders.

Sales of existing homes dipped by 1.8 percent in August, to a 5.05 million unit annual rate. The August dip was the first downturn in existing home sales since the market rebounded last April. The months’ supply of existing homes on the market now stands at 5.5 months’ worth. Sales of existing homes accelerated through 2012 and most of 2013 and then hit a wall in November 2013, dipping significantly as institutional buyers left the market. We expect the 2014 rebound in existing home sales to continue after the August dip, supported by ongoing job growth and improving consumer confidence.

Market Reaction: U.S. equity markets are up. The 10-Year Treasury bond yield is up to 2.55 percent. NYMEX crude oil is down to $91.41/barrel. Natural gas futures are up to $3.88/mmbtu.

Economic Alert 092414

For a PDF version of this Comerica Economic Alert click here: New Home Sales 09-24-14.

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Comerica Bank’s California Index Eased in July

Comerica Bank’s California Economic Activity Index dipped in July, falling 2.3 percentage points to a level of 111.0. July’s reading is 39 points, or 53 percent, above the index cyclical low of 72.5. The index averaged 106 points for all of 2013, five points above the average for all of 2012. June’s index reading was unchanged at 113.3.

“Our California Economic Activity Index eased in July, reflecting weaker state export data, a falling drilling rig count and weaker residential building permits following a surge in permits in April. However, payroll employment in California for both July and August increased and that is a very positive sign. The state continues to add jobs at an above average pace,” said Robert Dye, Chief Economist at Comerica Bank. “Overall, the California economy is showing signs of ongoing growth, with normal month-to-month fluctuations. I expect our index to continue its upward trend this fall.”

CA Index 0914

For a PDF version of the California Economic Activity Index click here: CaliforniaIndex_0914.

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Comerica Bank’s Texas Index Eased in July

Comerica Bank’s Texas Economic Activity Index took a breather in July, declining 0.7 percentage points to a level of 111.2. July’s reading is 39 points, or 55 percent, above the index cyclical low of 71.8. The index averaged 105 points for all of 2013, three points above the average for full-year 2012. June’s index reading was unchanged at 111.9.

“Our Texas Index eased in July reflecting cooler residential building permits after a surge last April. This pattern in residential building permits, and the associated drag on the headline index, is not unique to Texas. We see it in other states as well. Most other components of our Texas Index are showing gains consistent with an improving overall state economy,” said Robert Dye, Chief Economist at Comerica Bank. “Payroll employment growth in Texas, through the first eight months of the year, has averaged about 37,000 jobs per month, enough to show a 3.5 percent year-over-year gain, well ahead of the U.S. average of 1.8 percent. We expect to see ongoing gains in our Texas Index this fall.”

TX Index 0914

For a PDF version of the Texas Economic Activity Index, click here: TexasIndex_0914.

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Comerica Bank’s Michigan Index Climbed Again in July

Comerica Bank’s Michigan Economic Activity Index grew in July, jumping 6.2 percentage points to a level of 133.7. July’s reading is 62 points, or 87 percent, above the index cyclical low of 71.6. The index averaged 125 points for all of 2013, 11 points above the index average for 2012. June’s index reading was revised slightly down to 127.5.

“Our Michigan Index is up for the third consecutive month, reversing a six-month slide that started in November of last year. However, payroll employment dipped in August, after increasing for May, June and July. These countervailing signals suggest that the Michigan economy is still expanding, but at a slower rate than we see in many other states. Payroll employment for Michigan was up 0.7 percent this August, compared to a year earlier, well below the U.S. average employment growth rate of 1.8 percent,” said Robert Dye, Chief Economist at Comerica Bank. “U.S. auto sales hit a very strong 17.5 million unit rate in August. Vigorous auto sales are driving production increases that will support many other businesses in the state.”

MI Index 0914

For a PDF version of the Michigan Economic Activity Index click here: Michigan_0914.

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Comerica Economic Weekly

U.S. economic data released in early September remains consistent with ongoing moderate economic expansion. The miss in August payroll employment last week, coming in at +142,000 jobs, was countered today by better than expected retail sales.

Today’s retail sales report for August beat expectations, increasing by 0.6 percent, fueled by strong auto sales. Previously reported, unit auto sales hit a robust 17.5 million unit annual rate for August. In the retail sales report, sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers were up by 1.5 percent for the month, and 8.9 percent from a year earlier. Total retail sales excluding automobiles gained 0.3 percent, paced by gains at building materials and suppliers (up 1.4 percent). Also, July retail sales were revised up, and now show a 0.3 percent gain from June. The initial estimate of July retail sales was unchanged from June.

The better-than-expected August retail sales, in combination with the July upward revision, are important because they set the stage for better-than-expected Q3 consumer expenditures. Consumer spending is roughly two-thirds of GDP, so stronger consumer spending numbers equals stronger GDP. The August retail sales numbers also run counter to the weaker-than-expected employment data, supporting our view that the August jobs data was not indicative of an enduring downshift in employment. One final note on Q3 consumer spending…the bulk of consumer spending is on services. Consumer spending on services can vary with deviations from normal temperatures. The first half of the summer was cooler than expected. The second half of the summer was warmer than expected, particularly in the densely populated East Coast corridor. Residential electricity sales, driven by a high air conditioning load, may boost Q3 consumer expenditures.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance increased by 11,000 for the week ending September 6, to hit a level of 315,000. Even though we have seen a small uptick in the claims numbers through the end of August into early September, any number near 300,000, which this is, is a good number.

There has been some recent speculation in the financial press that the FOMC will soon make revisions to key language in their policy announcements. In Wednesday’s announcement we may see signs of a further pivot, and possibly a modification to the key phrase “for a considerable time” as forward guidance evolves.

For a PDF version of the Comerica Economic Weekly, including forecast tables and the variables calendar, click here: CMAEconWeekly 09-12-14.

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September 2014, Comerica U.S. Economic Update

The Miss, the Pivot, the De-Synchronization, the Drag and the End of Slack

U.S. payroll employment increased by only 142,000 in August, missing the consensus expectation of about 215,000. The weaker-than-expected jobs report breaks the chain of six consecutive +200K months. Two factors reduce the sting, (1) it was a strike-impacted month, and (2) it may eventually get revised up. The unemployment rate, which ticked up to 6.2 percent in July, resumed its downward track in August, ticking back down to 6.1 percent. Other economic data for the U.S. has been good. Auto sales hit a robust 17.5 million unit pace in August. Both the ISM Manufacturing Index and the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index were well in the black in August. Initial claims for unemployment insurance have settled down to about 300,000 a week, a solid number. The take-away from the August jobs report is that one soft month does not establish a new trend, especially when other data is stronger.

Improving economic conditions in the U.S. will keep the Federal Reserve on track to pivot monetary policy toward tightening next year. We expect the Federal Reserve to announce the end of new asset purchases at their October 28/29 meeting. We look for interest rate lift-off in June 2015. Europe is a different story. Europe appears to be mired in an enduring slump that may eventually be called a triple-dip recession for some countries. European Central Bank monetary policy is easing further to combat weak growth and very low inflation, reminiscent of Japan’s lost decades.The ECB announced two new asset purchase programs and a further drop in ultra-low (and negative) interest rates. Meanwhile, the Bank of England has signaled that it will begin to tighten policy by raising interest rates in early 2015.

The de-synchronization of central bank policy has implications for financial markets, and for real economies. Piled on top of de-synchronization is the impact of geo-political events. Hopefully, the Ukraine/Russia situation is stabilizing. However, the Middle East is destabilizing. A Scottish vote for independence, in a peaceful way, may potentially destabilize the U.K. economy. De-synchronization is already having an impact on foreign exchange rates, driving up the value of the dollar relative to the euro. It may also induce more volatility in sovereign bond spreads. Foreign exchange rates and the cost of funding then impacts foreign trade and business investment.

Although U.S. metrics are generally improving, there are two important and divergent sub-stories. First, the loss of wealth, particularly among the baby boom generation, is an enduring drag on housing markets and consumer spending. Second story…labor markets are tightening up quickly. It is easy to forecast very tight unemployment rates two to three years out, marking the end of the slack economy.

For a PDF version of the complete Comerica U.S. Monthly with additional commentary, tables, and charts, click here: USEconomicUpdate0914.

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Comerica Economic Weekly

Most U.S. economic data for the week was favorable, with one notable exception. In what looks like an aberration, U.S. payroll employment increased by only 142,000 in August, well below the consensus expectation of about 215,000. The weak report breaks the chain of six consecutive +200K months. The headline jobs number was dragged down by a strike at a grocery store chain, resulting in a loss of 17,000 jobs for the month. The August unemployment rate ticked down to 6.1 percent.

Other U.S. economic data have been consistent with ongoing moderate-to-strong job gains and a moderate GDP expansion. The marquee number of the week was auto sales, hitting a 17.5 million unit sales rate for August. Pent-up demand for automobiles is being spent out, so we could continue to see very strong sales numbers for several months.

The ISM Manufacturing Index for August increased to a strong 59.0, indicating improving manufacturing conditions across a broad range of industries. The employment sub-index was also strong at 58.1, out of sync with the August jobs data which showed no change in manufacturing employment for the month.

The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index for August was also very favorable, climbing to 59.6, the best reading since August 2005. The employment sub-index for the ISM Non-MF report increased to a strong 57.1.

The U.S. international trade gap narrowed slightly in July to -$40.5 billion. For the first month of the third quarter, the real trade balance of goods is well below the second quarter average, implying that trade may be a solid contributor to Q3 real GDP growth.

We continue to expect the Federal Reserve to announce the end of their active asset purchase program at the end-of-October meeting. We continue to expect interest rate liftoff in June 2015.

The European Central Bank doubled down on monetary stimulus this week, announcing two new asset purchase programs and a further drop in interest rates.

For a PDF version of the Comerica Economic Weekly, including forecast tables and the variables calendar, click here: CMAEconWeekly 09-05-14.

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August U.S. Employment

Job Gains Disappoint At +142K, U. Rate Ticks Down to 6.1%

  • The August Payroll Employment Survey showed a weaker-than-expected gain of 142,000 jobs.
  • The Unemployment Rate for August dipped slightly to 6.1 percent.
  • Average Hourly Earnings increased by 0.2 percent in August and are up 2.1 percent over the last year.

In what looks like an aberration, U.S. payroll employment increased by only 142,000 in August, well below the consensus expectation of about 215,000. Total revisions for June and July were -28,000 jobs. Today’s weak report breaks the chain of six consecutive +200K months. The weak headline jobs number was dragged down by a strike at a New England grocery store chain, resulting in a loss of 17,000 jobs for the month. Also, the weak official count of net new jobs was out of line with the ADP Employment Report, which showed that 204,000 private sector jobs were added for the month. Throw in about 11K government jobs on top of the ADP private sector gain and you total up to the 215,000 expectation. Seasonal adjustment factors can also do odd things to employment numbers this time of year. Lately, there has been a tendency for the August jobs numbers to be revised up. Other U.S. economic data have been consistent with ongoing moderate-to-strong job gains. The August unemployment rate was little changed, ticking down to 6.1 percent. The average workweek was 34.5 hours for the sixth consecutive month. Average hourly earnings increased by 0.2 percent and were up 2.1 percent over the previous year. I expect to see more wage pressure in the coming months as regional and occupational unemployment rates tighten up. The take-away from today’s jobs report is that one soft month does not establish a new trend, especially when other data is stronger. We continue to expect the Federal Reserve to announce the end of new asset purchases at their October 28/29 meeting. We look for interest rate lift-off in June 2015.

Construction employment increased by 20,000 jobs in August. Manufacturing added zero jobs. This is out of line with the August ISM Manufacturing Index which shows a strong employment sub-index for August at 58.1. Wholesale trade employment was up 6,500. Retail trade employment fell by 8,400 jobs, impacted by the above mentioned strike. Transportation and warehousing was little changed, up 1,200 jobs for the month. Employment at utilities was up by 1,600 jobs. Financial services gained 7,000 jobs in August supported by gains at insurers. Professional and business services employment increased by 47,000 jobs. Education and healthcare added 37,000 jobs. Employment in leisure and hospitality industries increased by 15,000. The government sector added 8,000 jobs in August.

Market Reaction: U.S. equity markets opened with losses. The 10-Year T-bond yield is down to 2.43 percent. NYMEX crude is down to $94.19/barrel. Natural gas futures are down to $3.82/mmbtu.

Economic Alert 090514

For a PDF version of this Comerica Economic Alert click here: Employment 09-05-14.

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August ADP Employment, Auto Sales, ISM Non-MF, UI Claims, July Trade, ECB

Late Summer U.S. Data Sizzles, Draghi Doubles Down

  • The August ADP Employment Report showed an increase of 204,000 private-sector jobs.
  • Auto Sales for August geared up to a 17.5 million unit annual rate.
  • The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index increased to 59.6 in August, indicating improving conditions.
  • Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance for the week ending August 30 gained 4,000 to hit 302,000.
  • The U.S. International Trade Gap narrowed to -$40.5 billion in July, supportive of Q3 GDP.
  • European Central Bank President Mario Draghi announced further monetary stimulus for the Eurozone.

Job creation remained solid through August, according to the ADP Employment Report. 204,000 private-sector jobs were added for the month. This would be consistent with a gain of about 215,000 in the official nonfarm payroll report for August, likely extending the streak of +200K job creation to seven consecutive months. The official BLS payroll employment numbers for August will be released tomorrow morning. We expect to see a decrease in the U.S. unemployment rate to 6.1 percent for August. Initial claims for unemployment insurance ticked up inconsequentially, by 4,000, to hit 302,000 for the week ending August 30. This is still a very good number, in line with our expectation of ongoing tightening in the U.S. labor market. Continuing claims fell by 64,000 for the week ending August 23, to hit a low 2,464,000. All those new paychecks are helping to push auto sales into very strong territory. The light-vehicle sales rate hit 17.5 million units in August, boosted by a sizeable increase in light truck sales. Strong light truck sales are, in turn, an indicator of improving overall economic conditions and for construction in particular. Sales rates of +17 million units are consistent with previous cyclical peaks. Pent-up demand from the Great Recession may support stronger than usual sales for a time, but it is reasonable to assume that we are approaching the cyclical peak for unit auto sales.

The U.S. international trade gap narrowed slightly in July to -$40.5 billion. Exports increased by $1.8 billion for the month. Imports increased by $1.6 billion. Petroleum exports were up by $1.1 billion in July. Falling prices will likely keep the nominal value of petroleum exports in check over the next couple of months. However, volumes are increasing as U.S. refineries look for new markets for that processed shale oil. Total imports in July were boosted by a $1.4 billion increase in auto imports as foreign automakers increase their inventories here in anticipation of ongoing string sales. For the first month of the third quarter, the real trade balance of goods is well below the second quarter average, implying that trade may be a solid contributor to Q3 real GDP growth. Third quarter GDP growth also got a shot in the arm from the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index for August which increased by more than expected, to 59.6. This is the highest reading since August 2005.

The sizzle on this side of the Atlantic is countered by a slump on the other side. European economic data continues to disappoint. Eurozone GDP was essentially unchanged in Q2 and inflation continues to trend lower than desirable. The European Central Bank today announced a 10-basis-point cut on short-term interest rates as well as the start of a new program of asset purchases. In October, the ECB will start purchasing asset-backed securities and euro-denominated covered bonds. Details of the new programs will be released in early October. The euro slid further against the dollar after today’s announcement by the ECB, now down to $1.30.

Market Reaction:U.S. stock markets open strong, supported by today’s domestic data. The 10-Year T-bond rate is up to 2.45 percent. NYMEX crude oil is down to $94.78/barrel. Natural gas futures are down to $3.88.

For a PDF version of this Comerica Economic Alert click here: ADP 09-04-14.

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Comerica Bank’s Florida Index Climbs in June

Comerica Bank’s Florida Economic Activity Index improved in June, increasing 3.0 percentage points to a level of 119.3. June’s index reading is 39 points, or 48 percent, above the index cyclical low of 80.4. The index averaged 114 in 2013, nine points above the average for all of 2012. May’s index reading was revised slightly up to 116.3.

“Our Florida Economic Activity Index increased again in June, indicating improving economic momentum for the Sunshine State. House prices are still firming, but the rate of increase appears to be slowing, as it is in much of the rest of the U.S. Fortunately, job growth for the state is above the national average, as it usually is during times of national economic expansion,” said Robert Dye, Chief Economist at Comerica Bank. “Consistent job growth will support ongoing improvement to both residential and commercial real estate markets.”

FL Index 0814

For a PDF version of the Florida Economic Activity Index click here: FloridaIndex_0814.

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