Fed’s Bullard says a ‘robust debate’ is coming over steep interest rate cut

FILE PHOTO: St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard speaks at a public lecture in Singapore October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

(Reuters) – Federal Reserve policymakers will have a “robust debate” about cutting U.S. interest rates by a half percentage point at their next policy meeting in September, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard said on Friday.

The Fed cut rates by a quarter point at its July policy review although the minutes of that meeting showed a couple OF policymakers favored a 50 basis point reduction.

Bullard said there would be a hardy discussion about a steep cut next month.

“I think there will be a robust debate about 50,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “I think it’s creeping onto the table.”

Bullard said a key reason for further rate cuts is the Treasury yield curve, which recently inverted again.

“The yield curve is inverted here. We’ve got one of the higher rates on the yield curve here. That’s not a good place to be,” Bullard told CNBC in a separate interview.

Bullard had said last week that he was not ready to commit to reducing rates at the Fed’s upcoming Sept. 17-18 meeting.

(Reporting by Jason Lange in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

China strikes back at U.S. with new tariffs on $75 billion in goods

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. flag on an embassy car is seen outside a hotel near a construction site in Shanghai, China, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song

By Se Young Lee and Judy Hua

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Friday it will impose retaliatory tariffs against about $75 billion worth of U.S. goods, putting as much as an extra 10% on top of existing rates in the dispute between the world’s top two economies.

The latest salvo from China comes after the United States unveiled tariffs on an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, including consumer electronics, scheduled to go into effect in two stages on Sept. 1 and Dec. 15.

China will impose additional tariffs of 5% or 10% on a total of 5,078 products originating from the United States including agricultural products such as soybeans, crude oil and small aircraft. China is also reinstituting tariffs on cars and auto parts originating from the United States.

“China’s decision to implement additional tariffs was forced by the U.S.’s unilateralism and protectionism,” China’s Commerce Ministry said in a statement, adding that its retaliatory tariffs would also take effect in two stages on Sept. 1 and Dec. 15.

The White House and U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment on China’s latest tariffs.

Though Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators held another discussion earlier in August, neither side appears ready to make a significant compromise and there have been no sign of a near-term truce.

The protracted dispute has stoked fears about a global recession, shaking investor confidence and prompting central banks around the world to ease policy in recent months. U.S. stocks fell on Friday on the news of China’s tariffs, underscoring growth concerns.

In an interview on CNBC, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland President Loretta Mester said she viewed the Chinese retaliatory tariffs as “just a continuation” of the aggravated trade policy uncertainty that has begun weighing on American business investment and sentiment.

AGRICULTURE, AUTO SECTORS HIT

The knock-on effects of the U.S.-China trade dispute was a key reason behind the Fed’s move to cut interest rates last month for the first time in more than a decade.

“It is unclear as things stand whether the U.S.-China trade negotiations will continue as planned in early September,” said Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at The Economist Intelligence Unit, in an e-mail statement.

“All eyes will now turn to the U.S. Fed to see whether Jerome Powell, the Fed Chairman, will react to these developments by accelerating rate cuts.”

Among U.S. goods targeted by Beijing’s latest tariffs were as soybeans, which will be hit with an extra 5% tariff starting Sept. 1. China will also tag beef and pork from the United States with an extra 10% tariff.

China is also reinstituting an additional 25% tariff on U.S.-made vehicles and 5% tariffs on auto parts that had been suspended at the beginning of the year. Carmakers such as Daimler <DAIGn.DE> and Tesla <TSLA.O> had adjusted their prices in China when the auto and auto parts tariffs had been suspended.

Ford <F.N>, a net exporter to China, said in a statement it encouraged the United States and China to find a near term solution.

“It is essential for these two important economies to work together to advance balanced and fair trade,” the company said.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox Business News that trade negotiations with China would still go on behind closed doors.

(Reporting by Judy Hua, Min Zhang, Se Young Lee, Stella Qiu, Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton in BEIJING, Yilei Sun in SHANGHAI, Doina Chiacu and David Shepardson in WASHINGTON; Editing by Alison Williams)

Trump ‘not ready’ for China trade deal, dismisses recession fears

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets with China's President Xi Jinping at the start of their bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo/File Photo

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and top White House officials dismissed concerns that economic growth may be faltering, saying on Sunday they saw little risk of recession despite a volatile week on global bond markets, and insisting their trade war with China was doing no damage to the United States.

“We’re doing tremendously well, our consumers are rich, I gave a tremendous tax cut, and they’re loaded up with money,” Trump said on Sunday.

But he was less optimistic than his aides on striking a trade deal with China, saying that while he believed China was ready to come to an agreement, “I’m not ready to make a deal yet.”

He hinted that the White House would like to see Beijing resolve ongoing protests in Hong Kong first.

“I would like to see Hong Kong worked out in a very humanitarian fashion,” Trump said. “I think it would be very good for the trade deal.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said trade deputies from the two countries would speak within 10 days and “if those deputies’ meetings pan out… we are planning to have China come to the USA” to advance negotiations over ending a trade battle that has emerged as a potential risk to global economic growth.

Even with the talks stalled for now and the threat of greater tariffs and other trade restrictions hanging over the world economy, Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” the United States remained “in pretty good shape.”

“There is no recession in sight,” Kudlow said. “Consumers are working. Their wages are rising. They are spending and they are saving.”

Their comments follow a week in which concerns about a possible U.S. recession weighed on financial markets and seemed to put administration officials on edge about whether the economy would hold up through the 2020 presidential election campaign. Democrats on Sunday argued Trump’s trade policies were posing an acute, short-term risk.

U.S. stock markets tanked last week on recession fears with all three major U.S. indexes closing down about 3% on Wednesday, paring their losses by Friday due to expectations the European Central Bank might cut rates.

The U.S. Federal Reserve and 19 other central banks have already loosened monetary policy in what Fitch Ratings last week described as the largest shift since the 2009 recession.

Markets are expecting more cuts to come. For a brief time last week, bond investors demanded a higher interest rate on 2-year Treasury bonds than for 10-year Treasury bonds, a potential signal of lost faith in near-term economic growth.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Sunday dismissed the idea that last week’s market volatility was a warning sign, saying “good” economic dynamics were encouraging investors to move money to the United States.

“We have the strongest economy in the world and money is coming here for our stock market. It’s also coming here to chase yield in our bond markets,” Navarro told ABC’s “This Week.”

For bond markets, the sort of movement Navarro described is often driven by trouble – in this case the possibility that the trade battle with China is lasting far longer than expected and becoming disruptive to business investment and growth.

The U.S. economy does continue to grow and add jobs each month. Retail sales in July jumped a stronger-than-expected 0.7%, the government reported last week, and Kudlow said that number showed that the main prop of the U.S. economy was intact.

But manufacturing growth has slowed and lagging business investment has become a drag.

A slowdown would be bad news for Trump, who is building his 2020 bid for a second term around the economy’s performance. He told voters at a rally last week they had “no choice” but to vote for him to preserve their jobs and investments.

The president and his advisers have repeatedly accused the Fed of undermining the administration’s economic policies. On Sunday, Kudlow again pointed the finger at the central bank, describing rate hikes through 2017 and 2018 as “very severe monetary restraint.”

The Fed hiked rates seven times over those two years as part of a plan to restore normal monetary policy following emergency steps taken to battle the 2007-2009 global financial crisis and recession.

Even with those steps, the Fed’s target interest rate has remained well below historic norms, and policymakers have started cutting rates in response to growing global risks.

Democratic presidential candidates on Sunday joined the many economic analysts who have said the administration’s sometimes erratic policies on trade – at one point threatening tariffs on Mexico over immigration issues – are to blame for increased uncertainty, disappointing business investment and market volatility.

“I’m afraid that this president is driving the global economy and our economy into recession,” Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Speaking to CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg criticized the administration for failing to deliver a deal with China.

“There is clearly no strategy for dealing with the trade war in a way that will lead to results for American farmers, or American consumers,” he said.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Ginger Gibson; editing by Michelle Price, Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien)

Predicting the next U.S. recession, investors apprehensive

FILE PHOTO: Ships and shipping containers are pictured at the port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A protracted trade war between China and the United States, the world’s largest economies, and a deteriorating global growth outlook has left investors apprehensive about the end to the longest expansion in American history.

The recent rise in U.S.-China trade war tensions has brought forward the next U.S. recession, according to a majority of economists polled by Reuters who now expect the Federal Reserve to cut rates again in September and once more next year.

Trade tensions have pulled corporate confidence and global growth to multi-year lows and U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of more tariffs have raised downside risks significantly, Morgan Stanley analysts said in a recent note.

Morgan Stanley forecast that if the U.S. lifts tariffs on all imports from China to 25 percent for 4-6 months and China takes countermeasures, the U.S. would be in recession in three quarters.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N> said on Sunday that fears of the U.S.-China trade war leading to a recession are increasing and that Goldman no longer expects a trade deal between the world’s two largest economies before the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Global markets remain on edge with trade-related headlines spurring big moves in either direction. On Tuesday, U.S. stocks jumped sharply higher and safe-havens like the Japanese yen and Gold retreated after the U.S. Trade Representative said additional tariffs on some Chinese goods, including cell phones and laptops, will be delayed to Dec. 15.

Besides watching developments on the trade front economists and investors are watching for signs they hope can alert them to a coming recession.

1. THE YIELD CURVE

The U.S. yield curve plots Treasury securities with maturities ranging from 4 weeks to 30 years. When the spread between the yield on the 3-month Treasury bill and that of the 10-year Treasury note slips below zero, as it did earlier this year, it points to investors accepting a lower yield for locking money up for a longer period of time.

As recession signals go, this so-called inversion in the yield curve has a solid track record as a predictor of recessions. But it can take as long as two years for a recession to follow a yield curve inversion.

The closely-followed yield spread between U.S. 2-year and 10-year notes has also narrowed – marking the smallest difference since at 2007 – according to Refinitiv data.

GRAPHIC – Yield curve as a predictor of recessions🙂

2. UNEMPLOYMENT

The unemployment rate and initial jobless claims ticked higher just ahead or in the early days of the last two recessions before rising sharply. Currently the U.S. unemployment rate is near a 50-year low.

“Although job gains have slowed this year, they continue to signal an above-trend economy,” economists at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research said in a recent note.

Claims will be watched over the coming weeks for signs that deteriorating trade relations between the United States and China, which have dimmed the economy’s outlook and roiled financial markets, were spilling over to the labor market.

(GRAPHIC – Unemployment rate: )

3. GDP OUTPUT GAP

The output gap is the difference between actual and potential economic output and is used to gauge the health of the economy.

A positive output gap, like the one now, indicates that the economy is operating above its potential. Typically the economy operates furthest below its potential at the end of recessions and peaks above its potential towards the end of expansions.

However, the output gap can linger in positive territory for years before a recession hits.

(GRAPHIC – The GDP output gap peaks before recessions🙂

4. CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

Consumer demand is a critical driver of the U.S. economy and historically consumer confidence wanes during downturns. Currently consumer confidence is near cyclical highs.

(GRAPHIC – Consumer confidence is at cyclical highs: )

5. STOCK MARKETS

Falling equity markets can signal a recession is looming or has already started to take hold. Markets turned down before the 2001 recession and tumbled at the start of the 2008 recession.

The recent pullback in U.S. stocks has done its share to raise concerns about whether the economy is heading into a recession. On a 12-month rolling basis, the market has turned down ahead of the last two recessions. The 12-month rolling average percent move is now below the recent highs of January 2018 but still above higher than the lows hit in December.

(GRAPHIC – The S&P 500 has fallen during recessions🙂

6. BOOM-BUST BAROMETER

The Boom-Bust Barometer devised by Ed Yardeni at Yardeni Research measures spot prices of industrials inputs like copper, steel and lead scrap, and divides that by initial unemployment claims. The measure fell before or during the last two recessions and has retreated from a peak hit in April.

(GRAPHIC – The Boom-Bust Barometer🙂

7. HOUSING MARKET

Housing starts and building permits have fallen ahead of some recent recessions. U.S. homebuilding fell for a second straight month in June and permits dropped to a two-year low, suggesting the housing market continued to struggle despite lower mortgage rates.

(GRAPHIC – Housing starts have fallen before prior recessions: )

8. MANUFACTURING

Given the manufacturing sector’s diminished role in the U.S. economy, the clout of the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing index as a predictor of U.S. GDP growth has slipped in recent years. However, it is still worth watching, especially if it shows a tendency to drop well below the 50 level for an extended period of time.

ISM said its index of national factory activity slipped to 51.2 last month, the lowest reading since August 2016, as U.S. manufacturing activity slowed to a near three-year low in July and hiring at factories shifted into lower gear, suggesting a further loss of momentum in economic growth early in the third quarter.

“The slowdown in manufacturing activity likely reflects, in part, the tariffs that went into effect over the course of last year,” economists at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research said in a note on Friday.

(GRAPHIC – ISM Manufacturing Index: )

9. EARNINGS

S&P 500 earnings growth dipped ahead of the last recession. Earnings estimates for S&P 500 companies have been coming down but companies are still expected to post growth for most quarters this year.

(GRAPHIC – Earnings fell during the last recession: )

10. HIGH-YIELD SPREADS

The gap between high-yield and U.S. government bond yields rose ahead of the 2007-2009 recession and then widened dramatically.

Credit spreads typically widen when perceived risk of default rises. Spreads have fallen from their January highs.

(GRAPHIC – Junk bond yields jumped in the 2008 recession🙂

11. FREIGHT SHIPMENTS

The Cass Freight Index, a barometer of the health of the shipping industry produced by data company Cass Information Systems Inc, logged a 5.3% year-over-year decline in June. That marked the index’s seventh straight month with a negative reading on a year-over-year basis.

“Whether it is a result of contagion or trade disputes, there is growing evidence from freight flows that the economy is beginning to contract,” Broughton Capital analyst Donald Broughton wrote in the June Cass Freight Index report.

(GRAPHIC – Cass Freight Index – shipments🙂

12. MISERY INDEX

The so-called Misery Index adds together the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. It typically rises during recessions and sometimes prior to downturns. It has slipped lower in 2019 and does not look very miserable.

(GRAPHIC – The Misery Index: )

(Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. weekly jobless claims fall; labor market strong

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting the labor market remains strong even as the economy is slowing.

The jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday, however, does not fully account for the impact of the recent escalation in the bitter trade war between the United States and China, which has led to an inversion of the U.S. Treasury yield curve and raised the risk of a recession.

Worries about the trade war’s impact on the U.S. economic expansion, the longest on record, prompted the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates last week for the first time since 2008. Financial markets have fully priced in another rate cut next month.

Expectations for a 50-basis-point cut at the Fed’s Sept. 17-18 policy meeting have also risen.

“Initial claims have been sending a reasonably upbeat message about conditions in the labor market,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York. “Today’s report likely doesn’t contain much information about the period since the recent escalations in trade tensions.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 209,000 for the week ended Aug. 3, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would be unchanged at 215,000 in the latest week.

“The message of the unemployment claims data into early August is that layoff activity remained subdued and the labor market is still tight,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York. “Though equity market volatility and low bond yields are driving pessimism about the economic outlook … we would have to see initial claims sustain a rise to the 250,000 level to become concerned about recession.”

U.S. stocks were trading higher as unexpectedly better Chinese data and a steadying of the yuan provided some comfort to investors rattled by the rise in U.S.-China trade tensions. Prices of U.S. Treasuries fell while the dollar <.DXY> was slightly stronger against a basket of currencies.

INVENTORY ACCUMULATION SLOWING Last week’s drop in claims pushed them to the lower end of their 193,000-244,000 range for this year. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, edged up 250 to 212,250 last week.

While hiring has slowed, the pace of job gains remains well above the roughly 100,000 needed per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 164,000 jobs in July, down from 193,000 in June. Job growth over the last three months averaged 140,000 per month, the lowest in nearly two years, compared to 223,000 in 2018. The moderation in employment growth partly reflects a shortage of workers.

“While net employment growth depends on gross hiring as well as the pace of layoffs, and the trend in payrolls gains may have moderated a bit, major weakening in employment growth is invariably associated with an uptrend in claims,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York.

The economy grew at a 2.1% annualized rate in the second quarter, slowing from the first quarter’s brisk 3.1% pace. Growth is seen below a 2.0% rate in the July-September quarter.

Slower economic growth was also underscored by a separate report from the Commerce Department on Thursday showing wholesale inventories unchanged in June instead of rising 0.2% as estimated last month.

The component of wholesale inventories that goes into the calculation of gross domestic product edged up 0.1% in June.

While inventories increased further in the second quarter, the pace of accumulation was slower than early in the year. Some of that slowdown reflects a surge in consumer spending in the second quarter.

Businesses are also carefully managing stock levels as the economy’s outlook continues to darken amid the escalation in trade tensions between the United States and China, which has roiled financial markets.

Inventories subtracted 0.86 percentage point from GDP growth in the second quarter.

Sales at wholesalers dropped 0.3% in June after falling 0.6% in May. At June’s sales pace it would take wholesalers 1.36 months to clear shelves, unchanged from May.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

The Fed will soon cut U.S. interest rates. What will it mean for your wallet?

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board building on Constitution Avenue is pictured in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Jason Lange

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A decision by the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates may do little at this point to cut some of the costs that matter to many U.S. consumers.

From mortgages to credit cards, banks and other lenders may resist offering substantially lower rates to consumers, analysts said, even if the central bank makes a widely expected cut to its policy rate, currently targeted between 2.25% and 2.50%.

For one thing, some borrowing costs are already low and markets have already priced in expectations the Fed would support the economy. Mortgage rates have also dropped, with rates on the average 30-year U.S. home loan falling under 4.1%, near a 22-month low, more than half a point below the average since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“If we drive down into the mid-3.7%, mid-3.8% range, you’re talking about historic affordability from a purchasing power standpoint,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for First American Financial Corp, which provides insurance related to real estate transactions. “There’s not a lot of wiggle room here in the first place. I think we established five or six years ago that a mortgage rate around 3.5% or 3.6% is a floor. That’s about as low as you can go.”

That low mortgage level was when the Fed’s rates were near zero and the central bank was buying mortgage bonds in the aftermath of the financial crisis to drive longer-term rates even lower – a far cry from where policy is now.

At the same time, one of the Fed’s main goals in cutting rates is to bring inflation up to the 2% level policymakers consider healthy, and maybe even higher to make up for long periods of missing that target. If the Fed succeeds, longer-term bonds most sensitive to inflation could fall in price, causing their yields to rise. Because U.S. mortgages are benchmarked to those longer-term bonds, rates could rise again.

For many consumers, the obstacle to buying a house has not been mortgage rates, but stricter lending standards that reduced access to mortgages in the first place. Big price increases and limited supply have also made housing less affordable. Lower rates could make housing even more out of reach by spurring demand, driving prices even higher.

Financing for new cars might be a different story, though, especially given the large role of automakers themselves in the car loan business. Those businesses have an incentive to increase lending to support the auto market.

Savers, meanwhile, have been rewarded in recent months for shopping around for higher-yielding savings accounts and certificates of deposit. Thanks to increased competition, some online banks have been pushing yields up for those products even with the expected rate cut.

That could change if the Fed is embarking on a prolonged series of rate cuts, as some investors are betting. But the biggest factor could still be overall competition between financial institutions for savers’ money, said Morningstar Inc analyst Eric Compton.

Consumers, however, are in a much better place than they have been in years, by some measures. They have higher take-home pay, lower debt and better credit scores than during the financial crisis. “You’ve got consumers that are pretty healthy, savings rates are pretty good,” said Neal Van Zutphen, president of Intrinsic Wealth Counsel Inc, a financial planner. “They’re taking advantage of this anticipatory drop in rates.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York and Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Moderate U.S. consumer spending, inflation support rate cut

FILE PHOTO: A man shops at a store that sells parts and accessories for Recreational Vehicles (RVs) in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer spending and prices rose moderately in June, pointing to slower economic growth and benign inflation that could see the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates on Wednesday for the first time in a decade.

The report from the Commerce Department on Tuesday was released as officials from the Fed were due to gather for a two-day policy meeting against the backdrop of an uncertain economic outlook. The 10-year old economic expansion, the longest in history, is facing headwinds from trade tensions, fears of a disorderly departure from the European Union by Britain and weak global growth.

With those risks in mind, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell early this month signaled the U.S. central would ease monetary policy. A strong labor market and signs that the economy was not slowing abruptly, however, saw financial markets dialing back expectations of a 50 basis point rate cut on Wednesday.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, gained 0.3% as an increase in services and outlays on other goods offset a decline in purchases of motor vehicles.

Data for May was revised up to show consumer spending rising 0.5% instead of the previously reported 0.4% advance. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast consumer spending climbing 0.3% last month.

The data was included in last Friday’s second-quarter gross domestic product report, which showed consumer spending increased at a 4.3% annualized rate, accelerating from a tepid 1.1% pace in the January-March period.

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

SAVINGS SURGE

Robust consumer spending blunted some of the hit to GDP from weak exports, business investment and a slowdown in inventory accumulation. The economy grew at a 2.1% rate last quarter, pulling back from the first quarter’s brisk 3.1% pace.

The economy is slowing largely as the stimulus from last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades.

Consumer prices as measured by the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index edged up 0.1% in June as food and energy prices fell. The PCE price index gained 0.1% in May. In the 12 months through June, the PCE price index rose 1.4% after a similar increase in May.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the PCE price index rose 0.2% last month, increasing by the same margin for a third straight month. That lifted the annual increase in the so-called core PCE price index to 1.6% from 1.5% in May.

The core PCE index is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure and has undershot the U.S. central bank’s 2% target this year.

When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending gained 0.2% in June. This so-called real consumer spending rose 0.3% in May. Last month’s small gain in core consumer spending likely sets up consumption for a step-down in the third quarter after the robust growth recorded in the April-June period.

Last month, spending on goods rose 0.3%. Spending on services also rose 0.3%.

Consumer spending in June was supported by a 0.4% rise in personal income, which followed a similar increase in May. Wages increased 0.5%. Savings shot up to $1.34 trillion from $1.31 trillion in May.

(Reporting Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. home sales tumble as prices race to record high

FILE PHOTO: A real estate sign advertising a home "Under Contract" is pictured in Vienna, Virginia, outside of Washington, October 20, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S home sales fell more than expected in June as a persistent shortage of properties pushed prices to a record high, suggesting the housing market was struggling to regain speed since hitting a soft patch last year.

Weak housing and manufacturing are holding back the economy, offsetting strong consumer spending. The National Association of Realtors said on Tuesday existing home sales dropped 1.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.27 million units last month. May’s sales pace was revised higher to 5.36 million units from the previously reported 5.34 million units.

“Meager inventory levels, especially in the entry-level segment, and still-rising prices continue to limit the selection of homes available to more budget-conscious buyers,” said Matthew Speakman, an economist at Zillow.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast existing home sales slipping 0.2% to a rate of 5.33 million units in June. Existing home sales, which make up about 90 percent of U.S. home sales, decreased 2.2% from a year ago. That was the 16th straight year-on-year decline in home sales.

The weakness in housing comes despite cheaper mortgage rates and the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 50 years.

Supply has continued to lag, especially in the lower-price segment of the housing market because of land and labor shortages, as well as expensive building materials. The government reported last week that permits for future home construction dropped to a two-year low in June.

According to the NAR, there was a 19% drop from a year earlier in sales of houses priced $100,000 and below.

The Realtors group said there was strong demand in this market segment, but not enough homes for sale. The NAR also said last year’s revamp of the U.S. tax code, which reduced the amount of mortgage interest payments homeowners could deduct, was weighing on demand for homes priced at $1 million and above.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate has dropped to an average of 3.81% from a more than seven-year peak of 4.94% in November, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac. Further declines are likely as the Federal Reserve is expected to cut interest rates next week for the first time in a decade.

Last month, existing-home sales rose in the Northeast and Midwest. They tumbled in the populous South and in the West.

June’s drop in existing homes sales likely means less in brokers’ commissions, which suggests that housing probably remained a drag on the gross domestic product in the second quarter. Spending on homebuilding contracted in the first quarter, the fifth straight quarterly decline.

The Atlanta Fed is forecasting GDP rising at a 1.6% annualized rate in the second quarter. The economy grew at a 3.1% rate in the January-March period. The government will publish it snapshot of second-quarter GDP on Friday.

The PHLX housing index &lt;.HGX&gt; was little changed, underperforming a broadly firmer U.S. stock market. The dollar held near a five-week high against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices fell.

HOUSE PRICES RE-ACCELERATE

There were 1.93 million previously owned homes on the market in June, up from 1.91 million in May and unchanged from a year ago. The median existing house price increased 4.3% from a year ago to $285,700 in June, an all-time high. House price inflation had been slowing after a jump in mortgage rates last year dampened demand.

Last month, houses for sale typically stayed on the market for 27 days, up from 26 days in May and a year ago. Fifty-six percent of homes sold in June were on the market for less than a month.

At June’s sales pace, it would take 4.4 months to exhaust the current inventory, up from 4.3 months in May. A six-to-seven-month supply is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

First-time buyers accounted for 35% of sales last month, up from 32% in May and 31% a year ago. Economists and realtors say a 40% share of first-time buyers is needed for a robust housing market.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; editing by Andrea Ricci)

Strong U.S. retail sales boost economic outlook

FILE PHOTO: A stack of shipping containers are pictured in the Port of Miami in Miami, Florida, U.S., May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. retail sales increased more than expected in June, pointing to strong consumer spending, which could help to blunt some of the drag on the economy from weak business investment.

The report from the Commerce Department on Tuesday did not change market expectations that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates this month for the first time in a decade.

But signs of strong consumer spending and rising underlying inflation suggest the U.S. central bank is unlikely to cut rates by 50 basis points at its July 30-31 policy meeting as markets had initially anticipated.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell last week told lawmakers the central bank would “act as appropriate” to protect the economy against risks stoked by a trade war between the United States and China, as well as slowing global growth.

“It certainly will counteract weak business spending to some degree,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia. “Given that the Fed is most worried about foreign economies and the threat of an escalating trade war, it is unlikely to dissuade them from cutting rates soon.”

Retail sales increased 0.4% last month as households stepped up purchases of motor vehicles and a variety of other goods. Data for May was revised slightly down to show retail sales gaining 0.4%, instead of rising 0.5% as previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales edging up 0.1% in June. Compared to June last year, retail sales advanced 3.4%.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales jumped 0.7% last month after an upwardly revised 0.6% increase in May. These so-called core retail sales, which correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, were previously reported to have increased 0.4% in May.

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; June’s strong gain in core retail sales, coming on the heels of solid increases in April and May, suggested an acceleration in consumer spending in the second quarter. Consumer spending grew at its slowest pace in a year in the first quarter.

The dollar rose against a basket of currencies, while U.S. Treasury prices fell.

BROAD GAINS

Consumer spending is being supported by a tight labor market, even as the broader economy is slowing as weaker business investment, an inventory overhang, a trade war between the United States and China, and softening global growth pressure manufacturing.

The Fed reported on Tuesday that manufacturing output rose 0.4% in June, boosted by increased production of motor vehicles and parts, after gaining 0.2% in May. Still, factory production dropped at an annual rate of 2.2% in the second quarter, the biggest drop in three years, after contracting at a 1.9% rate in the January-March period.

“Healthy consumption growth is especially important now amid the U.S. and global industrial slump that we expect to contribute to an outright decline in real business fixed investment in the second quarter and as manufacturers continue to work off the inventory overhang,” said Roiana Reid, an economist at Berenberg Capital Markets in New York.

The Atlanta Fed is forecasting GDP increased at a 1.4% annualized rate in the second quarter. The economy grew at a 3.1% pace in the January-March quarter. The government will publish its snapshot of second-quarter GDP next Friday. The economy is losing speed in part as last year’s stimulus from massive tax cuts and more government spending fades.

Auto sales increased 0.7% in June after a similar gain in May. Receipts at service stations fell 2.8%, reflecting cheaper gasoline. Sales at building material stores rebounded 0.5% after dropping 1.5% in May.

Receipts at clothing stores rose 0.5%. Online and mail-order retail sales climbed 1.7%, matching May’s increase. Receipts at furniture stores advanced 0.5%. Sales at restaurants and bars surged 0.9%. Spending at hobby, musical instrument and book stores was unchanged.

While core inflation perked up in June, gains are likely to remain moderate. A separate report on Tuesday from the Labor Department showed import prices dropped 0.9% last month, the biggest decrease in six months, after being unchanged in May.

Import prices, which exclude tariffs, were held down by a 6.2% drop in the cost of petroleum products. There were also decreases in the prices of imported food and capital goods.

The cost of goods imported from China slipped 0.1%, matching May’s drop. Prices of Chinese goods fell 1.5% in the 12 months through June, the largest decrease since February 2017.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Additional reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. job openings, hiring fall in May

FILE PHOTO: Job seekers line up at TechFair in Los Angeles, California, U.S. March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job openings fell in May, pulled down by declines in the construction and transportation industries, potentially flagging a slowdown in employment growth in the months ahead.

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, slipped by 49,000 to a seasonally adjusted 7.3 million in May, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS on Tuesday. The job openings rate dipped to 4.6% from 4.7% in April.

Hiring dropped by 266,000 to 5.7 million in May, with the biggest decrease in the professional and business services industry. The hiring rate fell to 3.8% from 4.0% in April.

Nonfarm payrolls surged by 224,000 jobs in June after increasing only by 72,000 in May, the government reported last Friday. The unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.7% as more people entered the labor market, a sign of confidence in their employment prospects.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)