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April 15, 2015

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U.S. Industrial Production Falls in March
Wall Street Journal (04/15/15) Eric Morath

U.S. industrial production declined a seasonally adjusted 0.6% in March from February, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, capacity utilization, a measure of slack in the industrial sector, declined six-tenths of a percentage point to 78.4%. The measure is 1.7 percentage points below the long-run average recorded since 1972. Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.4% fall in industrial production and capacity utilization of 78.6%.

Industrial production in the first quarter declined at an annual rate of 1.0%, marking the first quarterly decrease since the second quarter of 2009 and suggesting that a retreating oil industry and stronger dollar are curbing production. “The decline last quarter resulted from a drop in oil and gas well drilling and servicing,” the Fed said. “And from a decrease in manufacturing production of 1.2%.”

Small-Business Owners Less Upbeat in March, Says NFIB
Wall Street Journal (04/14/15) Kathleen Madigan

The National Federation of Independent Business’ small-business optimism index declined to 95.2 in March from 98.0 in February. Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal had forecast a reading of 98.0. The index is at its lowest since June 2014 and is below its long-term average.

Small-business owners plan to do less hiring. The new-job creation subindex fell from 12% to 10%. Part of the weaker hiring number reflects an increase in recent hiring. The average increase in employees added per employer was 0.18 in March, which NFIB says was better than the “excellent” readings of 0.16 in January and February. The subindex for jobs that are difficult to fill declined from 29% to 24%. However, of those companies looking for employees, 84% said they are seeing few or no applicants who are qualified for open jobs.

Empire State Manufacturing Survey Shows Mixed Activity
Federal Reserve Bank of New York (04/15/15)

Business activity was flat for New York manufacturers, according to the April 2015 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index turned slightly negative for the first time since December, falling eight points to -1.2. The new orders index, negative for a second consecutive month, dropped four points to -6.0—evidence that orders were declining. The shipments index climbed to 15.2, indicating that shipments expanded at a solid pace.

Labor market conditions were mixed. Although the index for number of employees fell, it remained well above zero at 9.6, indicating that employment continued to grow. However, the average workweek index fell nine points to -4.3, pointing to a slight decline in the average workweek.

U.S. Consumers Open Their Wallets, Cautiously
Wall Street Journal (04/14/15) Kate Davidson; Eric Morath

Sales at retailers and restaurants rose 0.9% to a seasonally adjusted $441.4 billion in March, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, marking the biggest monthly gain in a year despite falling from the highest level reached since the end of the recession in November. The increase failed to meet economists’ expectations of a 1.1% gain; the March thaw was expected to offset three months of declines attributed to the harsh winter.

“This outcome confounds all the standard consumer-spending models,” says Michael Feroli, JPMorgan Chase chief U.S. economist. “Job gains, wealth gains, low gas prices, and very high consumer sentiment would all point to solid consumer spending increases.” The report shows a jump in car sales, spending at home-improvement stores, and increased sales of clothing and accessories, but spending on gas, electronics, appliances, online shopping, and groceries decreased.

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