U.S Producer Prices Rise in January

U.S. producer prices accelerated in January, boosted by strong gains in the cost of gasoline and healthcare, offering more evidence that inflation pressures were building up.

The report came on the heels of data on Wednesday showing a broad increase in consumer prices in January. The Labor Department said on Thursday its producer price index for final demand rose 0.4 percent last month after being unchanged in December.

In the 12 months through January, the PPI rose 2.7 percent after advancing 2.6 percent in December. A key gauge of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services jumped 0.4 percent last month. The so-called core PPI edged up 0.1 percent in December.

It rose 2.5 percent in the 12 months through January, the largest increase since August 2014. The core PPI increased 2.3 percent in the 12 months through December.

The PPI report bolsters expectations that inflation will gain steam this year even though its correlation with consumer prices has weakened.

Economists believe that a tightening labor market, weak dollar and fiscal stimulus in the form of a $1.5 trillion tax cut package and increased government spending will lift inflation toward the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target this year.

The U.S. central bank’s preferred inflation measure, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy, has undershot its target since May 2012.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

The Fed has forecast three interest rate increases this year, with the first hike expected in March. Most economists are, however, forecasting four rate increases this year because of rising inflation pressures.

FOOD PRICES FALL

Last month, the cost of hospital outpatient care surged 1.0 percent, the largest increase since August 2014, after gaining 0.1 percent in December.

Hospital inpatient care rose 0.3 percent. Overall, the cost of healthcare services shot up 0.7 percent in January. Those costs feed into the core PCE price index.

Wholesale goods prices increased 0.7 percent last month, after nudging up 0.1 percent in December. Gasoline prices, which rose 7.1 percent, accounted for nearly half of the increase in the cost of goods last month.

Wholesale food prices fell for a second straight month, with prices for prepared poultry posting their biggest drop in 14 years and chicken eggs declining by the most since December 2015. Core goods prices rose 0.2 percent for the second consecutive month.

Reuters

US weekly jobless claims rebound from near 45-year lows

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rebounded from a nearly 45-year low last week, but remained below a level that is associated with a tightening labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 230,000 for the week ended Feb. 10, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Claims fell to 216,000 in mid-January, which was the lowest level since January 1973. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 230,000 in the latest week.

Last week marked the 154th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. The tighter labor market is starting to exert upward pressure on wage growth, which will over time add to inflation pressures.

The Labor Department said claims for Maine were estimated last week. It also said claims-taking procedures in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands had still not returned to normal, months after the territories were slammed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Last week, the four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,500 to 228,500.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 15,000 to 1.94 million in the week ended Feb. 3. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 5,750 to 1.94 million.

CNBC.com

U.S. Trade Deficit Is Wider Than Any Month or Year Since 2008

The U.S. trade deficit widened to the biggest monthly and annual levels since the last recession, underscoring the inherent friction in President Donald Trump’s goal of narrowing the gap while enjoying faster economic growth.

The deficit increased 5.3 percent in December to a larger-than- expected $53.1 billion, the widest since October 2008, as imports outpaced exports, Commerce Department data showed Tuesday. For all of 2017, the goods-and-services gap grew 12 percent to $566 billion, the biggest since 2008.

The trend may extend into this year: Solid consumer spending and business investment — assuming they hold up amid the recent stock-market rout — will fuel demand for foreign-made merchandise. While improving overseas growth and a weaker dollar bode well for exports, Trump’s efforts to seek more favorable terms with U.S. trading partners remain a work in progress, and his tax-cut legislation may cause the deficit to widen further.

One of the central themes of Trump’s presidential campaign was a pledge to level the playing field for American workers. In his first State of the Union address last week, Trump promised to “fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.” The president recently placed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, sparking concern the U.S. may prompt trade wars.

With two of Trump’s main targets, China and Mexico, the imbalances worsened in 2017. America’s merchandise-trade gap with China, the world’s second-biggest economy, widened 8.1 percent in 2017 to a record $375.2 billion.

Nafta Talks

The goods-trade deficit with southern neighbor Mexico increased 10 percent last year to $71.1 billion, the highest since 2007. The administration is currently renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, and Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the pact.

U.S. merchandise exports to China and Mexico in 2017 were the highest on record — and so were imports.

For the full year, total U.S. exports rose 5.5 percent to $2.33 trillion, while imports climbed 6.7 percent to a record $2.9 trillion. Both showed the biggest gains since 2011.

The December goods-and-services gap was wider than the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg for $52.1 billion.

Exports rose 1.8 percent to $203.4 billion in December from the previous month, led by record shipments of capital goods and gains in industrial supplies and materials. Imports advanced 2.5 percent to $256.5 billion, boosted by record U.S. purchases of consumer goods, capital goods and food products.

The monthly figures add to details for the fourth quarter, when trade was a substantial drag on the economy, and show how a widening deficit may mitigate any gains in the pace of expansion in 2018. Net exports subtracted 1.13 percentage points from gross domestic product growth, which registered an annualized rate of 2.6 percent in the October-December period.

Other Details

  • After eliminating the influence of prices, which renders the numbers used to calculate GDP, the December goods-trade deficit widened to $68.4 billion from $66.5 billion in the prior month
  • For all of 2017, the real petroleum gap of $95.9 billion was the narrowest in records going back to 2003, as real petroleum exports rose to a record high; the non-petroleum goods deficit of $740.7 billion was the widest on record
  • Exports and imports of goods account for about three-fourths of America’s total trade; the U.S. typically runs a deficit in merchandise trade and a surplus in services
  • Bloomberg