In addition to weaker than expected preliminary S&P Global (formerly Markit) PMIs, another weak regional Fed manufacturing index hit the tape this morning. The Richmond Fed’s Manufacturing Composite dropped into contraction in May as the index hit its lowest level in two years. The 23-point month-over-month drop was also the second-largest decline on record behind the 49-point drop in April 2020.
Each regional Fed’s headline manufacturing number differs slightly in composition and the Richmond reading is made using shipments, new orders, and employment as inputs. As shown below, each of those indices experienced historic declines this month causing the massive drop in the composite. Breadth elsewhere in the report was not much better though. Other categories like capacity utilization, order backlogs, and average workweek also pulled back sharply. Meanwhile, expectations for several categories are in the bottom few percentile of their historical ranges going back to the start of the data in the 1990s. Overall, this month’s report showed a massive slowdown in activity that is consistent with other surveys that have come out this month.
Two of the inputs to the composite that also fell into contraction this month were new orders and shipments. New Orders have seen a small handful of larger declines with September of last year being the most recent one. New Orders were also much lower after that decline last fall. As for Shipments, the 31-point month-over-month decline ranks as the second-largest on record next to April 2020 when the index fell a whopping 77 points. While it does not necessarily outweigh the rapid deterioration in demand, one silver lining of the report was a further huge improvement in supply chains. The reading on Vendor Lead Times was sliced in half as the index remains below pre-pandemic levels.
Again, Employment is the third input to the composite and it was the sole input to remain in expansion in May. That being said, it too fell sharply versus the prior month. While that reading indicates lower mid-Atlantic manufacturers are currently net taking on more workers, expectations saw a record decline meaning hiring plans are likely to decelerate significantly in the near future. That is as wage growth has stalled out and the length of the average workweek has been cut.
Finally, in spite of supply chain improvements and weaker demand, prices have continued to rise unabated. Prices paid hit fresh record highs across both current conditions and expectations. Prices received are off-peak but the reading did tick up slightly in May. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.
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As we noted in an earlier post, inflation appears to be a major driver as to why small businesses are reporting historic pessimism for the US economy. Looking across the most important problems reported by small businesses in the NFIB’s monthly survey, inflation takes the cake as the biggest concern. Nearly a third of responding firms reported higher prices as their biggest problem; the highest level on record in data going back to 1986. That has now surpassed the prior series high of 20% in mid-2008.
Given inflation has stolen such a large share of small business worries, several other problems are now at or near record lows. For example, no firms reported competition from big businesses as the biggest issue. Government requirements and red tape are similarly at a record low after a one percentage point decline month over month. Taxes, poor sales, and financial and interest rates are also not a huge concern according to the survey.
With both government-related concerns dropping yet again, the combined reading between the percentage of respondents reporting taxes and government red tape as their biggest issues hit a new record low of 22%. The past few Presidential administrations have seen this reading more elevated and rising with Democrat presidents while Republican Presidents have coincided with lower readings. The current administration is now an exception with big declines as inflation concerns have come front and center.
The rise of inflation concerns have also resulted in a pullback in the share of respondents reporting cost or quality of labor as the biggest issue. While the combined reading rose one point in April thanks to the quality of labor, the combined reading is well off the peak of 40% from last September. Additionally, for the second month in a row and for the first time in roughly a decade, inflation continues to be the bigger concern. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.
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“In spite of the cost of living, it’s still popular.” – Kathleen Norris
The CPI report that everyone was waiting for has finally arrived and as is usually the case when everyone expects the worst, the results weren’t as bad as feared (although they’re far from good). On a headline basis, CPI rose 1.2% m/m which was right in line with forecasts. Core CPI, however, rose ‘just 0.3%’ compared to forecasts for a gain of 0.5%. Given the weaker than expected core reading, futures have shot higher with the Nasdaq up nearly 1%. As equities have rallied, Treasury yields are falling but still high even relative to where they were last week!
Make no mistake, these readings are still very high relative to recent history. For example, backing out the period since 2020, the 0.3% increase in m/m Core CPI would have been the highest since March 2006. Compared to recent trends and what people were expecting, though, this morning’s report was a positive surprise.
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We all know that recent inflation data has been high, but the consistency of upward pressure has been incredible. It’s a popular narrative that the Fed is behind the curve, but they’re not the only ones. Economists have simply not been able to catch up and get ahead of the persistent trend of rising prices. The chart below shows the rolling 24-month total of the weaker than expected m/m headline CPI reports going back to 2000.
During this span there have only been three months where headline CPI came in weaker than expected. Three!. Going back to 2000, there has never been a period where weaker than expected CPI reports were as scarce as they have been in the last two years.
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