Total retail sales and spending at restaurants rose 0.1% (5.7% y/y) in February following a 0.6% increase in January, which was revised up from 0.4%. The February result was in line with the 0.1% increase expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey.
Sales at motor vehicles & parts dealers decreased again in February, by 0.2% (5.6% y/y), following January’s 1.3% decline. (…) Excluding autos, retail sales rose 0.2% (5.7% y/y) after January’s 1.2% gain (…). Retail sales excluding both auto dealers & gas stations were up 0.2% (4.2% y/y) in February following a 1.0% January rise. (Chart from CalculatedRisk)
U.S. INFLATION ACCELERATES
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (2.5% annualized rate) in February. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index also rose 0.2% (2.2% annualized rate) during the month. (…) Over the last 12 months, the median CPI rose 2.5%, the trimmed-mean CPI rose 2.2%, the CPI rose 2.7%, and the CPI less food and energy rose 2.2%.
- Last 4 months annualized: +2.7% for all core measures.
- Last 3 months annualized: +2.8% for all core measures.
- Last 2 months annualized: +3.0% for all core measures.
Not a good trend. Let’s see what’s in the pipeline (PPI table from Haver Analytics with my highlights)
- Final demand core PPI: +3.2% a.r. last 3 months, +4.3% last 2 months.
- Core goods, supposedly still deflating: +3.2% a.r. last 3 months, +3.0% last 2 months.
- Intermediate Processed Goods: +7.9% a.r. last 3 months, +9.3% last 2 months.
No good trends there either…Can we rely on deflating import prices?
Nonpetroleum import prices improved 0.3% (0.8% y/y), the largest increase since July. Industrial supplies & materials prices excluding petroleum jumped 1.4% (7.0% y/y), strong for the fourth straight month. Foods, feeds & beverage prices rebounded 1.0% last month (4.4% y/y), following declines in three of the prior four months. Nonauto consumer goods prices improved 0.7%, but the y/y decline accelerated to -0.7%. Motor vehicle & parts prices remained unchanged both m/m and y/y, after declines in the prior two months. Capital goods prices also were steady (-1.0% y/y) after declining from 2013 through 2016.
Nonpetroleum import prices declined -2.8% in 2015 and –1.8% in 2016. They are up at a 2.4% annualized rate in the first 2 months of January and are +0.8% YoY in February in spite of the strong USD (+5.5% since mid-August and +4.1% YoY).
Fed Signals It Is Entering New Phase The Federal Reserve said it would raise short-term interest rates and remained on track to keep lifting them this year, signaling the central bank is moving into a new policy phase as the economy strengthens.
(…) Officials said they would raise their benchmark federal-funds rate by a quarter percentage point to a range between 0.75% and 1%, and penciled in two more increases this year.
“The simple message is the economy’s doing well,” said Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen in a news conference following the Fed’s two-day policy meeting. “We have confidence in the robustness of the economy and its resilience to shocks.”
Ms. Yellen was careful to note that the Fed hadn’t significantly changed its forecasts for economic growth, unemployment or inflation, but it expected continued improvement.
Another reason for the decision: the Fed, in its policy statement released after the meeting, said inflation in recent quarters was “moving close” to its 2% target after undershooting that level for years.
The bank also said the target remains a “symmetric” goal, meaning that, though the Fed doesn’t want inflation to run above or below that mark, it expects it will happen at times. “It’s a reminder [that] 2% is not a ceiling on inflation. It’s a target,” Ms. Yellen said.
Officials’ median expectation for the fed-funds rate showed few changes from projections released in December. In addition to three quarter-point increases this year, including the one announced Wednesday, the forecasts implied three more moves next year. (…)
On Wednesday, Ms. Yellen played down the idea that the Fed might be on a collision course with the new administration. “We would certainly welcome stronger economic growth in the context of price stability,” she said. (…)
(…) The latest evidence came Wednesday when the government reported that sales at the nation’s retailers—a key measure of consumer spending—rose just 0.1% in February from a month earlier. Americans cut spending on clothing, sporting goods, electronics and restaurant outings, leading to the smallest gain in retail sales since last summer.
Earlier reports showed a surging trade deficit in January and a recent drop in home sales, as measured by contract signings. Taken together, the economy appears to be stumbling once again in the first months of the year, despite unusually warm weather that might otherwise boost spending and the absence of major crises overseas, as happened in the past.
Forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers on Wednesday downgraded its projection of economic growth in the current quarter to an annual rate of 1.3%, from 1.4%. Barclays projected 1.4% growth, compared with 1.6% earlier. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDPNow model lowered its estimate to 0.9% from 1.2%. Growth has averaged about 2% in the current expansion. Economic output expanded at a 1.9% rate in the fourth quarter and 3.5% rate in the third. (…)
HARD DATA WATCH
Beyond all the positive surveys, we are all searching for hard data to better gauge the U.S. economy amid the “Trump hopes”.
- Hotel lodging demand has been slowing since mid-October. Based on data from Smith Travel Research, analysts estimate that RevPar (revenues per available room) was in the 0-2% range in February, following +1.0% in January and +3.2% in Q4’16. (Chart from Raymond James Associates)
Fewer Americans are traveling within the U.S. and, despite evidence of a “Trump slump” keeping foreigners from visiting the U.S., the origins of the domestic dip are more complex.
Spending on travel and tourism in the U.S. fell 3.3% on the year to $1.7 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2016, after rising 3.7% in the previous quarter, according to the “Travel and Tourism Satellite Accounts” of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a government data agency. The biggest component of the downturn was air travel, which fell 15% after increasing 2% in the previous quarter. Money spent by tourists on accommodation dropped around 6% after increasing more than 8% in the third quarter.
The fall in domestic tourism figures are likely due to prices more than politics, said Christopher Elliott, consumer advocate and author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” Tourism prices increased 9.1% in the fourth quarter of 2016 from just 0.1% in the third quarter, the latest data found. That also appeared to have an impact on jobs: Employment growth in the travel and tourism industries slowed in the fourth quarter, increasing 0.7% after increasing 1.6% in the previous quarter. (…)
Europeans are already avoiding the U.S., according to travel search site liligo.com. Searches for U.S. destinations in the 20 days after Trump’s original immigration ban was announced fell, including a 17% decline in searches from Italy, 14% from Germany and 12% from France. (…)
European Parliament votes to end visa-free travel for Americans The passing of the non-binding resolution comes after the US failed to agree visa-free travel for citizens of five EU countries
- But here’s a really hard data:
- Below is a “heat map” of the latest “soft” and “hard” economic data. (The Daily Shot)
Source: Goldman Sachs, @joshdigga
Peter Navarro, who as head of the White House National Trade Council will play a leading role in the effort to re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, said in an interview the U.S. wants Mexico and Canada to unite in a regional manufacturing “powerhouse” that will keep out parts from other countries.
The Trump administration is re-examining a critical component of the free trade pact: the rules of origin, which dictate what percentage of a product must be manufactured in North America, Navarro said.
“We have a tremendous opportunity, with Mexico in particular, to use higher rules of origin to develop a mutually beneficial regional powerhouse where workers and manufacturers on both sides of the border will benefit enormously,” said Navarro, 67. “It’s just as much in their interests as it is in our interests to increase the rules of origin.”
For example, under the current agreement, 62.5 percent of the total value of cars sold in North America must originate in the U.S., Canada or Mexico to avoid import tariffs. The U.S. wants to raise that threshold, making it harder for parts from other countries to enter the supply chain. (…)
Trump Budget Seeks Big Cuts to Arts, EPA, Foreign Aid President Donald Trump will call for sharp cuts to spending on foreign aid assistance, the arts, environment and public broadcasting to pay for a bigger military and stronger defense along the border in a fiscal 2018 budget blueprint. 203
- Trump Seeks Billions for Border Wall
- Budget Would Cut EPA Funding By 31%
- State Dept., USAID Face 30% Budget Cut
- Funding for NIH Would Be Cut 18%
Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Blocked by Hawaii Judge A federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide temporary restraining order that bars implementation of Trump’s revised order on immigration and refugees, a significant legal blow to the president.
(…) The unprecedented, nearly simultaneous rate increase following the Fed’s decision betrays Beijing’s sense of urgency to prevent capital outflows from accelerating. It also shows Beijing’s desire to keep risks in its financial system from generating crises in a weak economy, analysts say. (…)
Minutes before domestic financial markets opened, the People’s Bank of China announced that it has raised the interest rates it charges commercial banks in the money market on the seven-day, 14-day and 28-day loans each by 0.1 percentage point. These rates are also known as reverse repurchase agreements, or repos.
As a result, the central bank pushed the benchmark seven-day repo rate to 2.45% from 2.35%. That followed an identical move on Feb. 3, after the PBOC had kept the borrowing cost unchanged since October 2015.
Separately, the PBOC also raised the interest rate by 0.1 percentage point on a form of special loans to 22 financial institutions known as a medium-term lending facility, for the second time since Jan. 24. (…)
Corporations have spent hundreds of billions annually in recent years buying back their own stock. But what if, after netting out all the supply and demand flows in the equities market, the corporations are the only ones on balance buying their stock?
That’s the conclusion, at least for 2016, of Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research. “The bottom line is that the current bull market has been driven largely by corporations buying back their shares,” he wrote on Tuesday. (…)
Those trends have helped fuel what’s been called a “de-equitized” stock market, in which there is simply less publicly traded stock available. (…)
And on the demand side:
To the extent that there’s money flowing into the equities market that isn’t corporate or institutional, it’s just money flowing out of other funds, and into ETFs. (…)