Thursday’s Mixed Economic Reports: Jobs, Production, E-Commerce, Leading Indicators

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On top of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes, there have been multiple economic reports issued this week. Thursday brought five different major views that measure broad economic activity, and the results look mixed. Jobs data looked strong, but other economic activity seems to be less robust than seen in prior months.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its weekly jobless claims data, showing that new claims were just 232,000 in the week ending August 12. Bloomberg’s consensus was 240,000, and the prior week’s reading was 244,000. The continuing claims, those that have taken benefits for two weeks or more, fell by just 3,000 to 1.953 million. Also, the unemployment rate for insured workers was unchanged at just 1.4%.

The Federal Reserve released its reading on industrial production and capacity utilization earlier than its expected normal release time on Thursday. Industrial production in July was up 0.2%, shy of the 0.3% consensus from Bloomberg and less than the June reading of 0.4%. The manufacturing data showed a 0.1% decline, worse than the 0.2% gain that was expected and lower than the 0.2% gain in June. July was the third consecutive decline in motor vehicles (−3.6%) and this largely held the production reading down.

Also included in the production report was capacity utilization. July’s capacity was just 76.7%, which met the estimates and matched the June reading as well. This figure on capacity has remained stubbornly below 80% for far too long now.

If you have been reading about economic trends on the internet over the past decade or two, you already know that e-commerce sales are rising even as other retail sales are struggling. The second quarter in 2017 saw a 4.8% gain, compared with the 4.1% gain in the first quarter of 2017. Online shopping continues to grow, and the e-commerce share of all retail sales rose by four-tenths to 8.9%.

A last report came from the Conference Board, this one on leading economic indicators for July. Much of the 10 forward-looking components in this index already have been seen, so there is not usually a major move against the expectations, and the markets often discount the importance of the report despite having such a “forecasting” name. Leading indicators rose 0.3% in July, meeting the 0.3% consensus from Bloomberg but lower than the 0.6% gain seen in June.

The stock market was signaling a weak open even before the economic data was released. At 11:40 a.m. the Dow was still down 108 points at 21,916 and the S&P 500 was down 15 points at almost 2,453. Crude oil was last seen up 38-cents at $46.96 and gold was up $7.50 at $1,290.40 per ounce. The yield on the 10-year Treasury Note was down almost one basis point at 2.218%.