Fleet Management

Economic Watch: Unemployment Lowest in a Decade, Factory Orders Move Higher

May 05, 2017

By Evan Lockridge

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Unemployment in the U.S. has fallen again, hitting its lowest level in a decade but minus any contribution from trucking in April, according to a new report released Friday. Meanwhile, a separate report shows some improvements in the nation’s struggling manufacturing sector.

Employers added 211,000 non-farm jobs last month, better than expectations of 190,000 job additions and well above the downwardly revised 79,000 jobs added last month while the February jobs gain was increased to 232,000 from 219,000.

This pushed the nation’s unemployment rate down 0.1 of a percentage point to 4.4%, its lowest reading since May 2007.

Despite the overall performance, for-hire trucking employment was nearly unchanged, shedding just 100 jobs during April while the wider transportation and warehousing sector added 3,500 jobs. This was mainly due to increased manpower for support activities related to transportation as well as gains in the couriers and messengers as well as the warehousing and storage categories.

The report also showed average wages in April climbed 0.3% from the month before to $26.19 per hour while hourly pay increased 2.5% from the same time a year ago. But that was hardly better than the 12-month increase of 2.4% in the consumer price index, the nation’s widest measure of inflation.

The rise in April payroll employment provides some evidence that the weakness in March was an anomaly and that business confidence remains robust to take on more workers, according to Paul Ferley, assistant chief economist at RBC Economics Research.

“The wage increase did moderate slightly in April but is still indicative of real wage gains,” he said. “This continued support to household incomes should contribute to second quarter consumer spending growth, and overall second quarter gross domestic product growth, rebounding to an above-average rate after a disappointing first quarter increase.”

Also, the report is quite likely to push the Federal Reserve to drive interest rates higher after it meets in June. In a statement following its meeting just a few days earlier, the Federal Open Market Committee characterized “the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory” and would likely view today’s employment report as offering support to this claim.

RBC is forecasting the Fed will push interest rates higher by a total of .5% before the end of the year, most likely spread out over two hikes of .25% each.

“However, this is contingent upon the upcoming expenditure data confirming a rebound in growth. Our forecast assumes that annualized GDP growth picks up to 2.9% from the 0.7% rise recorded in first quarter with above-average growth being maintained through the end of next year,” Ferley said.

The government numbers come on the heels of a report from payroll processor ADP that showed 177,000 non-farm private sector jobs were added in the U.S. during April, the weakest showing since October 2016 when just 62,000 jobs were added.

The March total of jobs added was revised down from 263,000 to 255,000.

Most of the April increase came from the service sector with goods producing sector jobs increasing by just 12,000, though 11,000 of them were in manufacturing.

“Job growth slowed in April due to a pullback in construction and retail jobs. The softness in construction is continued payback from outsized growth during the mild winter,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. “Brick-and-mortar retailers cut jobs in response to withering competition from online merchants.”

New Factor Orders Rise includes Jump for Core Capital Goods  

This follows a Commerce Department report from Thursday showing U.S. factory orders increased in March while shipments declined but orders for core capital goods were revised higher.

New orders for manufactured goods increased 0.2% from February, the eighth increase in the past nine months and following an upwardly revised 1.2% February gain. The performance was less than Wall Street expectations, but 5.2% higher than compared to March 2016.

Shipments fell 0.1% in March from the month before, the first decline following seven consecutive monthly increases.

The same report also showed orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, an indicator of business confidence and spending plans, increased 0.5% instead of the 0.2% gain reported in a preliminary report a couple of weeks earlier. Also, shipments of these goods increased an upwardly revised 0.5% rather than the earlier reported 0.4% rise.

With the small gain in overall new factory orders, Wells Fargo Securities said this shows the factory sector, which has struggled to recover from a downturn in 2016 and the year before, has lost momentum. However, it pointed out the figures on core capital goods was positive.

“Today’s revision puts the March increase for both orders and shipments of core capital goods at 0.5%,” said Tim Quinlan, senior economist at Wells Fargo. “The firming here corroborates the fairly solid pace of business fixed investment spending reported in first quarter GDP while alleviating some of the concerns about a loss of momentum for cap-ex heading into the second quarter.”

He pointed out that gauging momentum in the business sector has been a particularly vexing task so far in 2017 with the divergence between hard and soft data.

“Even within some of the soft data, like business surveys, there has been a divergence. Take this week, for example, with the ISM manufacturing survey for May falling to a six-month low then two days later the non- manufacturing ISM for the same month came in at its second-highest level since 2015,” Quinlan said. “The dichotomy, in our view, stems from evolving expectations among business leaders about the ever-changing outlook for fiscal policy and regulation.”

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