The expansion of private nonfarm payroll employment in May was markedly below the average pace of job gains in the previous months of this year. Initial claims for unemployment insurance rose, on net, between the first half of April and the first half of June. The unemployment rate moved up in April and then rose further to 9.1 percent in May, while the labor force participation rate remained unchanged. Both long-duration unemployment and the share of workers employed part time for economic reasons continued to be elevated.
Total industrial production expanded only a bit during April and May after rising at a solid pace in the first quarter. Shortages of specialized components imported from Japan contributed to a decline in the output of motor vehicles and parts. Manufacturing production outside of the motor vehicles sector increased moderately, on balance, during the past two months. The manufacturing capacity utilization rate remained close to its first-quarter level, but it was still well below its longer-run average. Forward-looking indicators of industrial activity, such as the new orders diffusion indexes in the national and regional manufacturing surveys, weakened noticeably during the intermeeting period to levels consistent with only tepid gains in factory output in coming months. However, motor vehicle assemblies were scheduled to rise notably in the third quarter from their levels in recent months, as bottlenecks in parts supplies were anticipated to ease.
Growth in consumer spending declined in recent months from the already modest pace in the first quarter. Total real personal consumption expenditures only edged up in April. Nominal retail sales, excluding purchases at motor vehicles and parts outlets, increased somewhat in May, but sales of new light motor vehicles declined markedly. Labor income rose moderately, as aggregate hours worked trended up, but total real disposable income remained flat in March and April, as increases in consumer prices offset gains in nominal income. In addition, consumer sentiment stayed relatively low through early June.
Activity in the housing market remained depressed, as both weak demand and the sizable inventory of foreclosed or distressed properties continued to hold back new construction. Starts and permits of new single-family homes were essentially unchanged in April and May, and they stayed near the very low levels seen since the middle of last year. Sales of new and existing homes remained at subdued levels in recent months, while measures of home prices fell further.
The available indicators suggested that real business investment in equipment and software was rising a bit more slowly in the second quarter than the solid pace seen in the first quarter. Nominal orders and shipments of nondefense capital goods declined in April. Business purchases of light motor vehicles edged up in April but dropped in May, while spending for medium and heavy trucks continued to increase in recent months. Survey measures of business conditions and sentiment weakened during the intermeeting period. Business expenditures for office and commercial buildings remained depressed by elevated vacancy rates, low prices for commercial real estate, and tight credit conditions for construction loans. In contrast, outlays for drilling and mining structures continued to be lifted by high energy prices.
Real nonfarm inventory investment rose moderately in the first quarter, but data for April suggested that the pace of inventory accumulation had slowed. Book-value inventory-to-sales ratios in April were similar to their pre-recession norms, and survey data also suggested that inventory positions generally remained in a comfortable range.
The available data on government spending indicated that real federal purchases increased in recent months, led by a rebound in outlays for defense in April and May from unusually low levels in the first quarter. In contrast, real expenditures by state and local governments appeared to have declined further, as outlays for construction projects fell in March and April, and state and local employment continued to contract in April and May.
The U.S. international trade deficit widened slightly in March and then narrowed in April to a level below its average in the first quarter. Exports rose strongly in both months, with increases widespread across major categories in March, while the gains in April were concentrated in industrial supplies and capital goods. Imports grew robustly in March, but they fell slightly in April, as the drop in automotive imports from Japan together with the decline in imports of petroleum products more than offset increases in other imported products.
Headline consumer price inflation, which had risen in the first quarter, edged down a bit in April and May, as the prices of consumer food and energy decelerated from the pace seen in previous months. More recently, survey data through the middle of June pointed to declines in retail gasoline prices, and prices of food commodities appeared to have decreased somewhat. Excluding food and energy, core consumer price inflation picked up in April and May, pushing the 12-month change in the core consumer price index through May above its level of a year earlier. Upward pressures on core consumer prices appeared to reflect the elevated prices of commodities and other imports, along with notable increases in motor vehicle prices likely arising from the effects of recent supply chain disruptions and the resulting extremely low level of automobile inventories. However, near-term inflation expectations from the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers moved down a little in May and early June from the high level seen in April, and longer-term inflation expectations remained within the range that has generally prevailed over the preceding few years.
Available measures of labor compensation showed that labor cost pressures were still subdued, as wage increases continued to be restrained by the large amount of slack in the labor market. In the first quarter, unit labor costs only edged up, as the modest rise in hourly compensation in the nonfarm business sector was mostly offset by further gains in productivity. More recently, average hourly earnings for all employees rose in April and May, but the average rate of increase over the preceding 12 months remained quite low.
Global economic activity appeared to have increased more slowly in the second quarter than in the first quarter. The rate of growth in the emerging market economies stepped down from its rapid pace in the first quarter, although it remained generally solid. The Japanese economy contracted sharply following the earthquake in March, and the associated supply chain disruptions weighed on the economies of many of Japan's trading partners. The pace of economic growth in the euro area remained uneven, with Germany and France posting moderate gains in economic activity, while the peripheral European economies continued to struggle. Recent declines in the prices of oil and other commodities contributed to some easing of inflationary pressures abroad.
The following sectors are slowing: job growth, personal consumption expenditures, industrial production, business spending and international markets.
Housing has yet to recover in any meaningful way.
In short -- there is little to cheer about right now.