Calculated Risk is a well known financial blog maintained by Bill McBride since January of 2005. While its coverage of individual stocks is limited, the financial blog is widely followed for its economic commentary. Traders often use the stories to formulate opinions about macroeconomic events—such as housing data or employment statistics—and how they will affect major indices.
Participants discussed the potential policy implications of continued low inflation readings. Many participants viewed the recent dip in PCE inflation as likely to be transitory, and participants generally anticipated that a patient approach to policy adjustments was likely to be consistent with sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective. Several participants also judged that patience in adjusting policy was consistent with the Committee's balanced approach to achieving its objectives in current circumstances in which resource utilization appeared to be high while inflation continued to run below the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective. However, a few participants noted that if the economy evolved as they expected, the Committee would likely need to firm the stance of monetary policy to sustain the economic expansion and keep inflation at levels consistent with the Committee's objective, or that the Committee would need to be attentive to the possibility that inflation pressures could build quickly in an environment of tight resource utilization. In contrast, a few other participants observed that subdued inflation coupled with real wage gains roughly in line with productivity growth might indicate that resource utilization was not as high as the recent low readings of the unemployment rate by themselves would suggest. Several participants commented that if inflation did not show signs of moving up over coming quarters, there was a risk that inflation expectations could become anchored at levels below those consistent with the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective—a development that could make it more difficult to achieve the 2 percent inflation objective on a sustainable basis over the longer run. Participants emphasized that their monetary policy decisions would continue to depend on their assessments of the economic outlook and risks to the outlook, as informed by a wide range of data.
In their consideration of the economic outlook, members noted that financial conditions had improved since the turn of the year, and many uncertainties affecting the U.S. and global economic outlooks had receded, though some risks remained. Despite solid economic growth and a strong labor market, inflation pressures remained muted. Members continued to view sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective as the most likely outcomes for the U.S. economy. In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures, members concurred that the Committee could be patient as it determined what future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate may be appropriate to support those outcomes.
After assessing current conditions and the outlook for economic activity, the labor market, and inflation, members decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 percent. Members agreed that in determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee would assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to the Committee's maximum-employment and symmetric 2 percent inflation objectives. They reiterated that this assessment would take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. More generally, members noted that decisions regarding near-term adjustments of the stance of monetary policy would appropriately remain dependent on the evolution of the outlook as informed by incoming data.
Members observed that a patient approach to determining future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate would likely remain appropriate for some time, especially in an environment of moderate economic growth and muted inflation pressures, even if global economic and financial conditions continued to improve. emphasis added
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for April 2019. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 46 states and decreased in four, for a three-month diffusion index of 84. In the past month, the indexes increased in 44 states, decreased in four states, and remained stable in two, for a one-month diffusion index of 80. emphasis added
Note: These are coincident indexes constructed from state employment data. An explanation from the Philly Fed:
The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing by production workers, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP.
Click on map for larger image.
Here is a map of the three month change in the Philly Fed state coincident indicators. This map was all red during the worst of the recession, and all or mostly green during most of the recent expansion.
The map is mostly green on a three month basis, but there are some red states.
Source: Philly Fed.
Note: For complaints about red / green issues, please contact the Philly Fed.
And here is a graph is of the number of states with one month increasing activity according to the Philly Fed. This graph includes states with minor increases (the Philly Fed lists as unchanged). In April, 44 states had increasing activity (including minor increases).
Following a sizable decrease in demand for design services in March, the April Architecture Billings Index (ABI) climbed back into positive territory according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA).
AIA’s ABI score for April showed a small increase in design services at 50.5 in April, which is up from 47.8 in March. Any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings. Additionally, business conditions remained strong at firms located in the South. Despite this and the positive overall billings score, most regional and sector indictors continue to display decreasing demand for design services.
“In contrast to 2018, conditions throughout the construction sector recently have become more unsettled,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “Though we may not be at a critical inflection point, the next several months of billing data will be indicative of the health of the industry going into 2020.” ... • Regional averages: South (51.6); Midwest (49.3); West (49.0); Northeast (45.1)
• Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (53.2); institutional (49.2); multi-family residential (47.4); commercial/industrial (46.6) emphasis added
Click on graph for larger image.
This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 50.5 in April, up from 47.8 in March. Anything above 50 indicates expansion in demand for architects' services.
Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.
According to the AIA, there is an "approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending" on non-residential construction. This index has been positive for 11 of the previous 12 months, suggesting a further increase in CRE investment in 2019.
Mortgage applications increased 2.4 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 17, 2019.
... The Refinance Index increased 8 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent compared with the previous week and was 7 percent higher than the same week one year ago. ... “Mortgage rates fell for the fourth straight week, with the 30-year fixed rate mortgage hitting its lowest level since January 2018, leading to a rebound in refinances. The refinance index increased 8 percent to its highest level in over a month, and once again there was an increase in average refinance loan sizes, as borrowers with larger balances responded accordingly to lower rates,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase activity declined again, but remained around 7 percent higher than a year ago. We’re keeping a close eye on whether there may be some adverse effects of the ongoing global trade disputes on overall demand. Some potential homebuyers may be delaying their home search until there’s more certainty.” ... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 4.33 percent from 4.40 percent, with points increasing to 0.43 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. emphasis added
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The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.
Once mortgage rates fell more than 50 bps from the highs of last year, a number of recent buyers were able to refinance. But it would take another significant decrease in rates to see a further increase in refinance activity.
The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 7% year-over-year.
The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), rose 0.4 percent in May on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis, the third monthly gain after several weak months. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the barometer is up 0.5 percent (3MMA). ... "Year-earlier comparisons have turned positive in recent months, and while trade tensions, slowing economic growth overseas, and soft economic reports in the U.S. have created uncertainty that has weighed on business investment, the CAB signals gains in U.S. commercial and industrial activity through mid-2019, albeit at a moderate pace,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC. “There is some possibility of improving activity in the closing months of the year.” ... Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index. emphasis added
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This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer compared to Industrial Production. It does appear that CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue).
The year-over-year increase in the CAB suggests that the YoY increase in industrial production will probably slow further.
1) The key for housing - and the overall economy - is new home sales, single family housing starts and overall residential investment.
Overall, this is still a somewhat reasonable level for existing home sales. No worries.
2) Inventory is still low, and was only up 1.7% year-over-year (YoY) in April. This was the ninth consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in inventory, although the YoY increase was smaller in April than in the six previous months.
Click on graph for larger image.
3) Year-to-date sales are down about 4.9% compared to the same period in 2018. On an annual basis, that would put sales around 5.1 million in 2019. Sales slumped at the end of 2018 and in January 2019 due to higher mortgage rates, the stock market selloff, and fears of an economic slowdown (unfounded).
The comparisons will be easier towards the end of the year.
The second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).
Sales NSA in April (455,000, red column) were below sales in April 2018 (460,000, NSA), but sales were higher than in April 2017..
Existing-home sales saw a minor decline in April, continuing March’s drop in sales, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Two of the four major U.S. regions saw a slight dip in sales, while the West saw growth and the Midwest essentially bore no changes last month.
Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 0.4% from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million in April. Total sales are down 4.4% from a year ago (5.43 million in April 2018). ... Total housing inventory at the end of April increased to 1.83 million, up from 1.67 million existing homes available for sale in March and a 1.7% increase from 1.80 million a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.2-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 3.8 months in March and up from 4.0 months in April 2018. emphasis added
Click on graph for larger image.
This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993.
Sales in April (5.19 million SAAR) were down 0.4% from last month, and were 4.4% below the April 2018 sales rate.
The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes.
According to the NAR, inventory increased to 1.83 million in April from 1.67 million in March. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer.
The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory.
Inventory was up 1.7% year-over-year in April compared to April 2018.
Months of supply was at 4.2 months in April.
This was below the consensus forecast. For existing home sales, a key number is inventory - and inventory is still low. I'll have more later …
Much of the credit for the recent drop in rates goes to the well-publicized trade tensions between the US and China. As the cycle of inflammatory headlines dies down, so too does the motivation for interest rates to remain as low as they have been. Granted, this is far from the only source of inspiration for interest rate movement, but it has probably been the biggest motivation over the past 2 weeks. [30YR FIXED - 4.0% - 4.125%] emphasis added
Tuesday: • At 10:00 AM ET, Existing Home Sales for April from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The consensus is for 5.36 million SAAR, up from 5.21 million. Housing economist Tom Lawler expects the NAR to report sales of 5.31 million SAAR for April.