The Census Bureau today announced that new orders for factory durables goods declined -2.1%, on top of a -1.1% revision to the March level. That decline was driven by a drop in orders for nondefense aircraft, reflecting the travails of the 737 Max plane. However, even stripping out aircraft, vehicles, etc., orders for durable goods excluding transportation equipment showed no change alongside a -0.7% revision to March.
The swings ex-aircraft are not horrible, but they do sustain a string of soggy changes going back to last summer. With today’s data, "core" new orders for durables goods have been flat or declining for the last 10 months.
As you may have read in previous By the Numbers installments, the US manufacturing sector had been rebounding over most of 2017 and 2018. Careful inspection of the data reveals that this rebound accounted for almost all the improvement the US economy had displayed over that period. The rebound in the oil patch accounted for the rest. With the factory sector now "back to ground," with the oil patch also stalling, and with homebuilding falling over the last year, we’re back in a slow-growth environment, and today’s data indicates that sluggish growth stretch to be continuing.
(And, yes, we know the 1Q19 GDP print suggests otherwise. However, the 3.2% growth currently reported for 1Q19 GDP simply is not a valid indicator of what the economy did then. For one thing, the details of the GDP data indicate rapid 1Q19 growth in goods-producing sectors: manufacturing and mining. Yet all the production, orders, and employment data we have for these sectors indicate flat or falling output.)
The silver lining in this soggy stew is that while manufacturing has stalled over the last 10 months, it is still doing better than it did over 2013-16. So, our take is that growth will be somewhere in between the near 3% pace of 2017-18 and the roughly 1.5% pace of 2015-16, likely to the lower end of that range. As indicated in our last installment, the recent stumble in retail sales adds some downside risk to that outlook.
Usually when covering the durables orders data, we focus on capital goods orders ex-aircraft. So far, we highlighted the "big picture" data today. For the record, though, CAPEX orders ex-aircraft declined -0.9%, alongside a -0.7% revision to March. Here too, activity has stumbled since last summer.