CHAIN STORE SALES SURGE
Better employment growth seems to rapidly translate into increased consumption if weekly chain store sales are a reasonable proxy. Weekly sales began to really accelerate at the end of May. The 4-wk moving average troughed at +1.3% in mid-April and has risen steadily since to reach +3.6% in the past 2 weeks. Given that brick & mortar chain stores are losing share to online retailers, we can assume that total retail sales were pretty strong in June with rising momentum at the end of the month continuing into July.
The Optimism Index can’t seem to muster a run longer than 3 months. After a promising first half run, the Index fell 1.6 points to 95.0, ending another false start for the Index’s “road to recovery”. The Index did manage to stay above 95, which seemed to be a ceiling on the Index since the recovery started. The good news is that the job components improved again, reaching levels seen only in strong private sector economic times. The bad news is that capital outlays and planned spending
faded along with expectations for improving business conditions.
Seasonally adjusted, 12 percent of the owners (up 1 point) reported adding an average of 3.3 workers per firm over the past few months. Offsetting that, 13 percent reduced employment (up 1 point) an average of 3.1 workers, producing the seasonally adjusted net gain of 0.05 workers per firm overall. The rather substantial dent in first quarter growth did not have much of an impact on Main Street employment.
Fifty-three percent of the owners hired or tried to hire in the last three months and 43 percent reported few or no qualified applicants for open positions. Twenty-six
percent of all owners reported job openings they could not easily fill in the current period (up 2 points), suggesting more downward pressure on the unemployment rate. Fourteen percent reported using temporary workers, unchanged for several months.
Seasonally adjusted, the net percent of owners raising selling prices was a net 14 percent, up 2 points from May and 15 percentage points from December. Twenty-two percent plan on raising average prices in the next few months (unchanged). Only 3 percent plan reductions (up 1 point), far fewer than actually reported reductions in past prices. Seasonally adjusted, a net 21 percent plan price hikes (unchanged and the fourth highest level since 2008). If successful, the economy will see a bit more “inflation” as the price indices seem to be suggesting.
Earnings trends deteriorated 1 point to a net negative 18 percent (net percent reporting quarter to quarter earnings trending higher or lower), still one of the best readings since 2007. Rising labor costs are keeping pressure on earnings, but there appears to be an improvement in profit trends in place, even if not historically strong. This is one of the best readings since mid-2007 with the exception of a few months in early 2012 when the economy posted decent growth rates for several quarters.
A seasonally adjusted net 21 percent reporting higher worker compensation, up 1 point and among the best readings since 2008. A net seasonally adjusted 13 percent plan to raise compensation in the coming months (down 2 points), still one of the strongest reading since 2008.
Prices rise on rising demand…or reduced supply:
Case in point:
Help Wanted: Trucking Jobs Go Unfilled The latest jobs report shows a slowly healing labor market but doesn’t fully capture the mismatch between many jobs and job-seekers. The problem is acute in long-distance trucking, where the driver shortage is getting worse just as business is heating up.
(…) Businesses with openings across the pay and education spectrum are struggling to hire house cleaners, registered nurses, engineers, software developers and other workers. Employers say suitable candidates aren’t raising their hands and individuals who do apply lack the right skills and experience.
Such a mismatch reflects “the fundamental transformation in the job market” during the recession and the lackluster recovery, said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at Economic Outlook Group LLC. The downturn prodded some laid-off workers to train for new careers, Mr. Baumohl said, while sending others into the off-the-books economy and marooning those with obsolete skills in long-term unemployment. (…)
The problem is acute in the trucking industry, where the worker shortage reflects not only a skills gap but also economic shifts such as the energy boom and changing demographics.
Operators across the country are short 30,000 long-distance drivers, the American Trucking Associations estimates. The group projects the shortage could top 200,000 in the next decade. Average annual pay for long-distance drivers was $49,540 in 2013, according to ATA estimates. Hiring and wages in truck transportation have inched up this year, according to the Labor Department. (…)
Indeed, the improving economy has been a mixed blessing by increasing demand from companies with goods to move but also spurring drivers to jump to jobs in construction or the energy business that pay more and don’t require travel.
Trucking firms, while accustomed to high driver turnover, say hiring is tougher than ever. “It’s probably the most difficult recruiting environment…I’ve seen in my 26 years in the business,” said Scott McLaughlin, president of Stagecoach Cartage & Distribution LP, a family-owned firm in El Paso, Texas.
About 100 of Stagecoach’s 250 employees are long-distance drivers—and retaining them is as hard as recruiting. “Every driver I’ve got could leave here today and have any number of jobs,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Demographics have also stepped up the pressure. Retirements are draining the pool of long-haul drivers, whose average age is about 50, with no younger cohorts to replace them. (…)
Exit interviews with drivers at Tennant Truck Lines reveal the pull of home outweighs earnings for many. Drivers “want to be home and sleep in their bed every night,” Mr. Tennant said. More stringent regulations about drivers’ schedules have prompted some to exit the long-distance life and dissuaded others from entering, several carriers said.
To keep drivers from being poached, operators are fattening health benefits, investing in new trucks and offering more flexible schedules that minimize time away from home. Some companies are asking lawmakers in Washington to revisit federal requirements that interstate commercial drivers be at least 21 years old. (…)
Case in point:
Freight Index Points to Strong Demand, Prices
The freight logistics sector continued to strengthen in June, with both shipment volumes and expenditures rising once again. Both indexes have increased every month since January. Although some measures of the overall economy indicate weakness, the freight sector has gained momentum throughout 2014.
June shipment volumes increased 2.4 percent to the highest level since November 2007, just before the recession. Volumes were 6.0 percent higher than a year ago and are up 15.8 percent since the beginning of 2014. Despite record levels of new equipment orders, a lack of drivers is restricting growth in truck capacity. In
tonnage terms, truck volume has been rising consistently in 2014 (according to the American Trucking Association). Railroad carload and intermodal traffic have posted solid gains..
The freight expenditures index rose 4.2 percent in June to 2.76, a record high. June 2014 freight spending was 12.1 percent higher than a year ago and is up 15.6 percent since the beginning of 2014. When you look at the truckload sector, the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index also shows that rates have been higher in each month of this year than last year. Rail rates have been on the rise since the beginning of the year, also pushing up transportation costs. The combination of tight capacity and higher shipment volumes will push expenditures up faster in the remainder of 2014. (Cass)
Incidentally, ISI’s Trucking Survey (highest correlation with Real GDP at 88%) improved last week strengthening from 63.1 to 63.7, the highest survey reading since December 2005.
The CLIs for the United States and Canada continue to indicate stable growth momentum. This is also the case for the United Kingdom, where the growth momentum is stabilising at above-trend rates. The CLI for Japan points to an interruption in the growth momentum although this probably reflects one-off factors.
In the Euro Area as a whole and in Italy, the CLIs continue to indicate a positive change in momentum. In France,theCLI points to stable growth momentum. In Germany, the CLI suggests that growth is losing some of its momentum, but from a high level.
Concerning the major emerging economies, the CLIs point to growth below trend in Brazil and to growth around trend in China andRussia. The CLI indicates a positive turning point in India, suggesting a return to faster growth.
CHINA: Early Signals of Economic Stabilization Observed in June
The Industrial Sales vs. Expectations Index rebound was primarily driven by improving sales conditions in the steel industry, real estate industry, and certain areas of the export sector. Feedback from real estate developers this month reveals a hint of optimism as sales started to recover in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. However, the recent improvement in sales was mainly driven by a large volume of new homes for sale coming on the market along with deeper price discounts, whereas sales in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities remained weak. Looking at credit conditions, our commercial bank survey indicates that credit demand increased in June after several months of sluggish demand for financing. There are still respondents from some industries who give us negative feedback. Cement and construction machinery sales remain weak. Consumption is also sluggish except for home appliance stores. (CEBM Research)
Bankers warn over US business loans rise Lenders say funds are financing acquisitions and investor payouts
(…) Much of the corporate lending is going to fund payouts to shareholders, finance acquisitions and fuel the domestic energy boom, bankers say, rather than to support companies’ organic growth.
“Loan growth doesn’t seem to be driven by the underpinning of an economic recovery in terms of new warehouses and [capital expenditure],” said one senior corporate banking executive at a large US bank. “You don’t see the foundation, the real strong demand.”
Commercial and industrial (C & I) lending, which runs the gamut of loans to sectors from energy to healthcare and excludes consumer or real estate loans, rose to a record $1.7tn in May from a post-crisis trough of $1.2tn nearly four years ago, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.
For the top 25 US commercial banks by assets, C & I lending grew by 10.5 per cent in the quarter to June 25 from the previous quarter, according to annualised weekly data from the Federal Reserve. (…)
A second corporate banking executive at a large regional lender said: “The larger part of the usage in the market right now are loan refinancings where companies are paying dividends back out.” He added: “They’re requesting increased loans or usage under a lien in order to pay a dividend or equity holders of a company. Traditionally banks have been very cautious of that.” (…)
Samsung Warns of Profit Drop Samsung Electronics said its operating profit fell for a third consecutive quarter, due partly to weaker-than-expected demand in key markets.
The world’s largest smartphone maker by shipments said Tuesday that its second-quarter operating profit likely fell by 22.3%-26.5% from a year earlier, to between 7.0 trillion won ($6.9 billion) and 7.4 trillion won. A year earlier, Samsung reported an operating profit of 9.53 trillion won for the quarter.
In a first for the company, Samsung included a one-page explanation for the poor numbers, citing weaker-than-expected demand for its products in China and Europe, and South Korea’s strengthening currency. Smartphone adoption is slowing in advanced markets, while the rise of low-cost producers threatens Samsung’s competitiveness in emerging markets. (…)
The disappointing results follow a 3.3% decline in operating profit in the first quarter compared with a year ago, and mark its first decline by a double-digit percentage since the third quarter of 2011. The company estimated its sales fell 7.8% to 11.2% from a year ago to a range of 51 trillion won to 53 trillion won. (…)