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Economic Watch: Growth Continues, Sluggish in Some Areas

November 16, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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While the amount of U.S. industrial production was unchanged in October after falling 0.2% in September, manufacturing managed to squeeze out a gain, as optimism in the housing market continued amid signs of slower than usual growth.

Manufacturing increased 0.2% from the month before, according to a Federal Reserve report released Wednesday, the same increase as September’s gain. The amount of manufacturing output is down just 0.2% over the past year.

In October, mining posted a gain of 2.1% for its largest increase since March 2014, but the measure for utilities dropped 2.6% as warmer-than-normal temperatures reduced the demand for heating.

This overall measure of output from the nation’s factories, mines and utilities fell short of a consensus estimate of Wall Street analysts who predicted a 0.2% gain for October. The Fed revised down September’s performance for a 0.2% drop, but August was revised upward for a 0.5% improvement.

At 104.3% of its 2012 average, total industrial production in October was 0.9% lower than its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector edged down 0.1 percentage point in October to 75.3%, a rate that is 4.7 percentage points below its 1972–2015 average.

In the wake of this report, The Wall Street Journal said industrial production appears to have stabilized in recent months following two years of pressure from a strong dollar, which dampened demand for U.S. exports, and low oil prices that squeezed the domestic energy industry.

Also, a report issued earlier this month showed the nation’s manufacturing sector continues improving. The Institute for Supply Management’s October Purchasing Managers’ Index increased 0.4 of a percentage point from September. It registered 51.9% for a second straight monthly increase. 

Homebuilders Remain Confident

A separate report about the U.S. housing market, also released Wednesday, indicated builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes held steady in November.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index registered 63, matching Wall Street expectations, and is down only slightly from around a 10-year high of 65 hit in September. A reading over 50 indicates more builders believe conditions are good rather than bad.

“Ongoing job creation, rising incomes and attractive mortgage rates are supporting demand in the single-family housing sector. This will help keep housing on a steady, upward glide path in the months ahead,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz.

This follows earlier reports that showed new home construction and the number of permits issued increased in September. Figures for October are due out later this week.

Overall Wholesale Prices Down But Goods Increase

Lastly of note, a measure of prices at the wholesale level shows they were unchanged in October, as the increased costs of goods was offset by lower service prices.

The Labor Department report on the Producer Price Index for last month follows one for September that showed a 0.3% increase from the month before. This latest performance was lower than a consensus estimate from analysts who forecasted a 0.3% rise in the PPI.

The measure increased 0.8% in October compared to the same time a year earlier, the largest 12-month rise since advancing 0.9% in December 2014.

Producer prices for goods increased 0.4% in October compared to September, the second straight monthly gain. According to MarketWatch, higher costs of natural gas and gasoline were offset by declines in prices of food as well as services such as financial advice and hospital outpatient care. Prices for services fell 0.3% in October from the month before.

The weaker-than-expected inflation report offers a healthy dose of current economic reality, said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Stifel Fixed Income.  

“Despite expectations of ‘Trumponomics’ becoming re-flationary in the future, the current reality of sluggish growth and lackluster prices hasn’t changed,” she said. “The Fed could easily jump on the market’s bandwagon of better times ahead. After all they have been toting that line for years, but we know what happens when the Fed adjusts policy based on anticipation of further improvement. Just look back to the December 2015 [interest rate] liftoff which was made against the backdrop of a moderate economy in hopes of improvement throughout 2016, which has thus far failed to materialize.”

Piegza said while some people are optimistic “that Trump policy will usher in pro-growth policies” including a rollback of taxes and regulations, “these policies will be slow to be enacted and the results of which will be slower still.”

Earlier the Fed indicated it wanted to see inflation around a 2% annual pace, however, the Open Market Committee has since moderated its stance on this issue as a pre-condition for increasing interest rates. Regardless, MarketWatch said the October report shows inflationary pressures are building, which is fueling belief that a small hike in interest rates will be announced by the Fed next month.

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