Key Economic Indicators – March 9, 2020

  • Total non-farm payroll employment increased 273 thousand in February, the same increase as in the previous month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Private-sector payrolls increased by 228 thousand in the month, while government employment increased by 45 thousand.  Notable job gains occurred in health care and social assistance, food services and drinking places, government, construction, professional and technical services, and financial activities.
  •  In February, the unemployment rate decreased by 0.1 percentage point to 3.5%, and the number of unemployed persons decreased by 105 thousand to at 5.787 million. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), at 1.1 million, changed little in February and accounted for 19.2% of the unemployed.
  • The labor force participation rate held steady at 63.4% in February. The rate was 63.1% in February of 2019.
  • The average workweek increased by 0.1 hour to 34.4 hours, and average hourly earnings increased by 9 cents to $28.52.  Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings were up 3.0%.
  • Fourth quarter productivity increased 1.2% in the non-farm business sector, following a 0.3% decrease in the previous period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hourly compensation increased 2.1%, while unit labor costs increased 0.9%. From the fourth quarter of 2018 to the fourth quarter of 2019, productivity increased 1.8%, reflecting increases in output and hours worked of 2.6% and 0.8%, respectively.
  • Non-farm business sector productivity grew 1.9% in the year 2019, as output increased 2.7% and hours worked increased 0.8%. The 1.9% increase is the largest annual increase since 2010, when it increased 3.4%. The 0.8% increase in hours worked is the smallest increase in the annual series since 2010 (-0.1%). The average annual rate of nonfarm business sector productivity growth from 2007 to 201 is 1.4%, which is below the long-term rate from 1947 to 2019 of 2.1%.
  • In 2019, annual average unemployment rates decreased in 10 states, increased in 1 state, and were little changed in 39 states and the District of Columbia, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment-population ratios increased in 16 states, decreased in 2 states, and were little changed in 32 states and the District.
  • The advance figure for initial claims for unemployment insurance decreased 3 thousand to 216 thousand in the week ending February 29. The 4-week moving average was 213 thousand, an increase of 3.25 thousand from the previous week’s average. The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment (ongoing) during the week ending February 22 was 1,729 thousand, an increase of 7 thousand from the previous week’s revised level. The 4-week moving average was 1,721.25 thousand, a decrease of 7.5 thousand from the previous week’s revised average.
  • In January international trade deficit was $45.3 billion, $3.3 billion less than the revised December figure. January exports were $208.6 billion, $0.9 billion less than December exports. January imports were $253.9 billion, $4.2 billion less than December imports. Year-over-year, the goods and services deficit decreased $8.5 billion, or 15.8%, from January 2019. Exports increased $2.3 billion or 1.1%. Imports decreased $6.2 billion or 2.4% from a year ago.
  • Construction spending in January 2018 was 1.8% above the December figure. The January figure was 6.8% above the January 2019 level. Residential construction was up 2.0% from the previous month, and nonresidential construction was up 1.6%. Private construction was up 1.5% and total public construction was up 2.6% in January.
  • The results of Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey showed mortgage rates hit all-time low. 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.29% for the week ending March 5, down from last week when it averaged 3.45%. A year-ago at this time, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.41%. 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.79%, down from last week when it averaged 2.95%. A year-ago at this time, the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.83%.
  • Mortgage applications increased 15.1% from a week earlier, according to data from Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Applications Survey for the week ending February 28th.
  • The Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing survey indicated that the manufacturing sector grew in February, and the overall economy grew for the 130th consecutive month.
  • In February, the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) non-manufacturing survey results indicated growth in the non-manufacturing business activity (exceeded 50.0%) for the 121st consecutive month. Sixteen non-manufacturing industries reported growth, and two reported contraction.
  • The FED’s “Beige Book” indicated that economic activity expanded at a modest to moderate rate over the past several weeks. Consumer spending generally picked up, but growth was uneven across the nation. There were indications that the corona-virus was negatively impacting travel and tourism. Several Districts said that producers in manufacturing feared further disruptions in the coming weeks because of the corona-virus. While employment grew across most sectors, manufacturers, retailers, and transportation companies reported lower demand for labor in some Districts. Wages grew at a modest to moderate rate in most Districts. Firms reported that the tight labor market and minimum wage increases were putting upward pressure on wages. Most Districts reported modest growth in selling prices, as well as in non-labor input prices.
  • On March 3rd, the Federal Open Market Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate by 1/2 percentage point, to 1 to 1‑1/4 percent. The Committee stated, “The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the corona-virus poses evolving risks to economic activity.” The Committee made the emergency rate cut considering these risks and in support of achieving its maximum employment and price stability goals. The Committee also reiterated: “The Committee is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook and will use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.”

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