Key Economic Data

Written by Sandy Williams

New residential sales of  single-family homes dropped in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 440,000 according to estimates by the Commerce Department. Sales were 3.3 percent below the revised January rate of 455,000 and 1.1 percent below the February 2013 estimate of 445,000. Inventory was still tight at 189,000, a 5.2 month supply.

Existing home sales declined 0.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.60 million in February from 4.62 million in January, according to the National Association of Realtors. February’s pace of sales was the lowest since July 2012, when it stood at 4.59 million. The median existing-home price for all housing types in February was $189,000, an increase of 9.1 percent above February 2013. Housing inventory rose 6.4 percent to 2 million existing homes for sale, a 5.2 month supply at the current sales rate and an increase from 4.9 months in January.

NAHB builder confidence was up by only one point to 55 on the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI in March as builders worried about finding buildable lots and skilled labor to meet spring demand. Rising prices for materials was also highlighted.

The Architecture Billings Index inched up to 50.7 in February, up just slightly from 50.4 in January. The new projects inquiry index fell to 56.8 from 58.5 the previous month. Increase in design activity for multi-family residential and commercial nudged growth in February. Severe winter weather was blamed for holding back design and construction activity.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey rose slightly in March to 5.61 from 4.48 in February, below economist expectations of 6.0 to 7.0. New orders increased to 3.13 after contracting to -0.21 last month. The outlook for the next six months continues to be optimistic but New York manufacturers are slightly more cautious. Manufacturers are expecting tighter conditions with all indices falling except prices received and prices paid which increased slightly from last month’s forecast.

The PMA Business Conditions report showed metalforming companies have renewed optimism for business in the next three months. PMA president William E. Gaskin said business conditions in the industry are positive overall, however, “companies continue to be cautious, due to higher costs of health care, continued threats of increased regulatory burdens and the failure of job figures to rise as they should if the economy is on a path to a stronger recovery.” First quarter is off to a good start, he added.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Steel Buyer’s Survey reports a softening in new orders. Current tons on hand will cover less than one month for 36.4 percent of buyers, 1-2 months for 45.5 percent and 2-4 months for 18.2 percent. Inventories were still considered on the high side with 36 percent planning reductions over the next six months. Selling prices were viewed as competitive.

Global manufacturing activity showed steady improvement during February. The JP Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI rose to 53.3 in February, inching up from 53.0 in January. The global PMI has been on a gradual upward trend for the past fifteen months.

Auto sales in February rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 15.29 million from a nine month low of 15.2 million in January. Sales fell below analyst consensus of 15.4 million and IHS forecast of 15.5 million. WardsAuto estimates inclement weather pushed sales down by 3 percent or 75,000 units in February. US auto sales for February totaled 1.19 million vehicles bringing year to date results for 2014 to just less than 2.2 million units, said WardsAuto, down 1.5 percent from the first two months of 2013.

The Chicago Business Barometer indicated firm growth in February while remaining essentially unchanged at 59.8 in February compared to 59.6 in January, according to MNI Indicators. Production, new orders, and backlogs expanded at a slower rate offsetting double digit growth in employment. Prices paid dropped in February following price increases by suppliers in January. Inventories of finished goods increased slightly as companies replenished stocks.

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