Friday, July 18, 2014

Curent Conditions Index: May 2014

This is an abbreviated version of the May Current Conditions Index report. The complete report, which includes tables, along with past reports, can be found on my website: .
Rhode Island’s economy bounced back a bit from its earlier-year woes in May. Following a string of three consecutive 58 values, the Current Conditions Index rose to 67 in May, matching its January value. While Rhode Island’s overall performance in 2014 has been somewhat disappointing, perhaps the May bounce will turn out to be the beginning of a prolonged period of stronger economic activity driven in large part by an improving national economy. Clearly, there have been a number of positives during the first part of this year, most notably improvements in both payroll and resident employment, and along with the latter, a full percentage point decline in our state’s Unemployment Rate. Yet in spite of this good news, Rhode Island’s performance continues to lag in terms of several metrics, the most obvious being the #1 national ranking of our state’s jobless rate that has been sustained for far too long a period. So, while our state’s absolute economic performance continues to improve, its relative performance remains problematic. Sadly, this trend hardly something new. I will continue to describe the overall economic performance of Rhode Island’s economy as precarious, citing the fact that May was the tenth consecutive month where the CCI failed to improve relative to its year-earlier value.  

For May, only three of the five leading indicators contained within the Current Conditions Index improved, but two of those did so at healthy rates. Fortunately, the two that failed to improve do not necessarily signal any real weakness in our state’s economy or the possibility of a transition to slower growth. US Consumer Sentiment fell by 3.1 percent in May, ending a string of five consecutive increases. This decline very likely reflected stock market performance that has since reversed. Employment Service Jobs, which includes temporary employment, and is a prerequisite to employment growth, fell by another 1.1 percent in May, its sixth consecutive decline. Suffice it to say that I continue to view changes in this indicator somewhat suspiciously.

Single-Unit Permits, which reflect new home construction, and was adversely impacted by winter weather earlier in the year, turned in a strong performance in May, rising by 9 percent relative to last May. Total Manufacturing Hours, which measures strength in our manufacturing sector, rose sharply again in May (+3.1%), as both the length of the workweek rose and manufacturing employment increased by 900. Oddly, in spite of this manufacturing momentum, the Manufacturing Wage actually declined for a third time in May, by 2.3 percent. New Claims for Unemployment Insurance, the timeliest measure of layoffs, declined, albeit slowly in May, for a third consecutive month and sixth time in the last seven months. In spite of its recent improvements, it is not yet clear whether this indicator has resumed the longer-term downtrend that will be critical to our sustaining May’s overall momentum in the coming months.

Retail Sales remained strong in May, rising by just under 5 percent compared to a year ago. This indicator has now improved for eleven of the last twelve months. Based on its recent performance, it is one of the strongest CCI indicators. Benefit Exhaustions, which reflects longer-term unemployment, improved at a double-digit rate in May (-13.1%), registering its second consecutive double-digit improvement.