· New orders for manufactured durable goods increased 3.1% in February, following a 3.5% decrease in the previous month. Shipments increased 0.9%, following a 0.5% increase in the previous month. Inventories increased 0.4%, the same increase as in the previous month. Year-to-date, new orders increased 9.1% from the same period a year ago, while shipments increased 7.8%.
· The U.S. current account deficit increased to $128.2 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017 from $101.5 billion in the third quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The deficit increased to 2.5% of GDP in the final quarter of 2017, from 2.1% of GDP in the previous quarter. For the year 2017, the current account deficit was $466.2 billion, compared with $451.7 billion in 2016. The deficit was 2.4% of GDP in both 2017 and 2016.
· State personal income grew on average 3.1% in 2017, after increasing 2.3% in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Growth of state personal income ranged from negative 0.3% in North Dakota to positive 4.8% in Washington.
· Private nonfarm business sector multifactor productivity increased 0.9% in 2017, following a 0.6% decrease in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This 2017 increase reflected a 2.9% increase in output and a 2.0% increase in the combined inputs of capital and labor. Capital services grew by 2.2% and labor input grew by 1.9%.
· February existing home sales increased 3.0% to an annualized rate of 5,540 thousand units, according to the National Association of Realtors. The February figure was 1.1% above the February 2017 figure. There were 1,590 thousand homes for sale at the end of the month. This represents a supply of 3.4 months at the current sales rate, compared to 3.8 in February of 2017. The median sales price of existing homes sold was $241.7 thousand, 5.9% above February 2017.
· February new home sales decreased 0.6% to an annualized rate of 618 thousand units. The February figure was 0.5% above the February 2017 figure. There were 305 thousand homes for sale at the end of the month. This represents a supply of 5.9 months at the current sales rate, compared to 5.1 in February of 2017. The median sales price of new houses sold was $326.8 thousand, 9.7% above February 2017.
· U.S. House prices rose 0.8% in January, following a 0.4% increase in the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA). For the 12 months ending in January, U.S. prices rose 7.3%.
· The results of Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey showed average fixed mortgage rates inched up after falling for the first time in 2018 last week. 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.45% for the week ending March 22, up from last week when it averaged 4.44%. A year ago at this time, the 30-year fixed-rate averaged 4.23%. 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.91%, up from last week when it averaged 3.90%. A year ago at this time, the 15-year fixed-rate averaged 3.44%.
· Mortgage applications decreased 1.1% from a week earlier, according to data from Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Applications Survey for the week ending March 16th.
· The advance figure for initial claims for unemployment insurance increased 3 thousand to 229 thousand in the week ending March 17. The 4-week moving average was 223.75 thousand, an increase of 2.25 thousand from the previous week’s average. The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment (ongoing) during the week ending March 10 was 1,828 thousand, a decrease of 57 thousand from the previous week’s revised level. This is the lowest level for insured unemployment since December 29, 1973 when it was 1,805 thousand. The 4-week moving average was 1,880.5 thousand, a decrease of 11.75 thousand from the previous week’s revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since January 5, 1974 when it was 1,838.5 thousand.
· Employer costs for employee compensation averaged $35.87 per hour worked in December 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wages and salaries averaged $24.49 per hour worked and accounted for 68.3% of these costs, while benefit costs averaged $11.38 and accounted for 31.7%. Total employer compensation costs for private industry workers averaged $33.72 per hour worked in December 2017. Total employer compensation costs for state and local government workers averaged $49.19 per hour worked.
· The Conference Board index of leading economic indicators increased 0.6% in February, following a 0.8% increase in the previous month. In the six-month period ending February 2018, the leading economic index increased 4.0% (about an 8.2% annual rate), faster than the growth of 2.4% during the previous six months. Furthermore, the strengths among the leading indicators remained very widespread. The coincident index increased 0.3% in February, following a 0.1% increase in January. The coincident economic index rose 1.5% (about a 3.0% annual rate) for the six-month period ending February 2018, almost twice the growth of 0.8% for the previous six months.
· The Federal Open Market Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 1.50% to 1.75%. “The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run.”