Thursday, June 12, 2014

Current Conditions Index: April 2014

This is an abbreviated version of the April Current Conditions Index report. The complete report, which includes tables, along with past reports, can be found on my website: .
The non-event bounce back from the adverse effects of the harsh February weather we witnessed in March apparently continued into April. What a way to begin the new quarter! The April Current Conditions Index remained stuck at its same value since February, 58. This extends the string of consecutive months where the CCI has failed to improve relative to its year-earlier value to nine. Looking at the CCI for all of 2014, one has to conclude that this year is turning out to be a real disappointment. If I had to summarize Rhode Island’s current economic performance with one word, that word would be precarious.

This should not be viewed as indicating that there are no positive forces at work here. Look at how much payroll employment has been rising: for March, Rhode Island added 7,600 jobs while only losing 900, for a net change of 6,700. Clearly, the pace of job growth has accelerated here of late while job loss has diminished to levels far below what we experienced during The Great Recession. Yet in spite of this, and recent healthy declines in our state’s Unemployment Rate, we remain well below our prior employment peak of December of 2006 and our jobless rate is still the highest in the nation. Worse yet, Rhode Island’s image has suffered nationally: we have now come to be known as “the unemployment rate state.” Not only can we do better than this, we have to! The clock continues to run. Some promising legislative changes have emerged from the Rhode Island House. Let’s hope the Senate follows suit.

For April, only three of the five leading indicators contained within the Current Conditions Index improved, some by healthy rates.  The two that failed to improve do not signal any real weakness or transition to noticeably slower growth. Single-Unit Permits, which reflect new home construction, the indicator most adversely impacted by winter weather, stumbled in April, declining by 4.5 percent after bouncing back with a healthy 20.2 percent increase in March. Employment Service Jobs, which includes temporary employment, and is a prerequisite to employment growth, fell 1.0 percent in April, its fifth consecutive decline. Let’s just say I continue to view changes in this indicator suspiciously.

New Claims for Unemployment Insurance, the timeliest measure of layoffs, declined for the second consecutive month and fifth time in the last seven months. In spite of these recent improvements, it is not yet clear whether this indicator has resumed the longer-term downtrend that will be needed if we are to improve activity levels significantly in coming months. Total Manufacturing Hours, which measures strength in our manufacturing sector, rose sharply in April (+4.0%), as the workweek rose by a full hour and manufacturing employment increased by 600. It was odd to see that in spite of this manufacturing momentum, the Manufacturing Wage actually fell by 1.9 percent in April.  Finally, US Consumer Sentiment rose by 10 percent in April, its fifth increase following three consecutive months of declines.