Durable Goods for September May Offer Stronger Support for Q3 GDP

Jon C. Ogg

If there is one economic report that can be highly volatile and can look counter-cyclical despite the broader economic direction, that would be the one on durable goods. The U.S. Department of Commerce has released its reading showing that new orders for durable goods rose by 2.2% to $238.7 billion in September. Bloomberg was calling for a gain of just 1.0% on the headline reading. The year-over-year reading showed a gain of 8.3% on the headline report.

While durable goods are subject to revisions, September was supposed to be hampered by the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. This strength may help mute the drag that had been expected for third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP).

August’s level was revised to a gain of 2.0% to $233.6 billion, after having initially been reported as a gain of 1.7%. August’s year-over-year headline reading was revised to 5.5% from the preliminary 5.1% gain. This increase in new orders on the headline is now up in three of the past four months. Transportation equipment was also up for three of the past four months, and shipments of manufactured durable goods are now up four of the past five months.

If you back out transportation, durable goods orders rose 0.7% in September, versus the 0.5% expected by Bloomberg. That reading excluding transportation was up 7.5% in September from the prior year, and August’s annual comparison was revised up to 6.8% from 6.1%.

Then there is the core capital goods reading, nondefense excluding aircraft, which measures the underlying capital spending on the rest of the civilian economy. This figure was up 1.3% in September’s monthly reading and was up 7.8% on the annualized reading. Nondefense new orders for capital goods rose $4.3 billion (or 6.1%) to $74.9 billion in September.

An area of softness was vehicle orders, with just a fractional gain after smoothing out the hurricane-induced orders. Unfilled orders for manufactured durable goods showed a gain in September, erasing two consecutive monthly decreases. Inventories of manufactured durable goods in September rose 0.6% to $403.6 billion, and that was shown to now be up for 14 of the past 15 months.

Investors and economists know that the headline durable goods reading is hard to use as a true barometer. After all, one large defense order or several airplane orders with Boeing can alter how the headline data looks. That is why investors and economists focus on that core reading outside of planes and defense orders.

The Census Bureau’s report through the Commerce Department bases each durable goods report on roughly 5,000 reporting units representing about 3,100 companies for its monthly changes within the manufacturing sector.

The companies included in the survey represent roughly 64% of the total value of manufacturing shipments from the 2012 Economic Census, and these companies include almost two-thirds of the manufacturing companies with $500 million or higher in annual shipments.

With gains like this, it seems likely to expect that they will offer at least some strength under the expectations for third-quarter GDP. The first look on third-quarter GDP will be released on Friday, October 27. Bloomberg has a consensus estimate calling for a 2.5% gain and Dow Jones is calling for a 2.7% headline GDP. That compares with a 3.1% gain in the second quarter, but it is expected that the two major hurricanes to hit the continental United States will have been a drag that should be made up in the fourth quarter.