U.S. consumer credit outstanding rose 2.8% in September, slowing from the 6.7% and 5.2% gains in July and August, respectively. Revolving credit (including credit cards and other credit lines) fell for the second consecutive month. This could suggest some hesitance on Americans’ willingness to incur more credit card debt.
Over the past 12 months, consumer credit outstanding has increased 3.0%, with revolving and nonrevolving credit up 1.9% and 3.4% year-over-year, respectively. The year-over-year pace of revolving credit activity registered the lowest reading in one year, down from 2.3% in the prior release.
The Index of Consumer Sentiment edged higher for the third straight month, up from 95.5 in October to 95.7 in November on a positive outlook for the coming months, according to preliminary data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters. This was offset somewhat by a weaker assessment of the current economy, with respondents citing political and trade uncertainties, but consumers have been encouraged by strong job and wage gains.
New orders for manufactured goods have fallen 3.5% since September 2018, declining 0.9% with transportation equipment excluded. Core capital goods orders—a proxy for capital spending in the U.S. economy—declined 0.6% in September, with a decrease of 1.0% year-over-year. The data continue to highlight weaknesses in the manufacturing sector, with global softness and trade uncertainties weighing on activity.
The U.S. trade deficit decreased to $52.45 billion in September, the lowest level since April, with goods imports falling by more than goods exports. In non-seasonally adjusted data, U.S.-manufactured goods exports have fallen 2.86% through the first three quarters of the year relative to the same period last year, with international demand pulling back after stronger data in 2017 and 2018.
As a sign of how energy dynamics have shifted dramatically in recent years, real imports in 2012 dollars of petroleum were the lowest since the series began in 1994, and the real petroleum trade deficit was also an all-time low at $4.39 billion in September.
There were 469,000 job openings in the manufacturing sector in September. Despite some easing recently, manufacturing job postings have remained elevated, averaging 485,000 year to date, including the all-time high reached in June (515,000). There continued to be more job openings (7,024,000) than the number of people looking for work (5,769,000)—a feat that has occurred now for 16 straight months.
Manufacturing labor productivity inched down 0.1% at the annual rate in the third quarter, extending the 2.4% decline in the second quarter. With that said, output in the sector rose 1.1% in the third quarter, ending two straight quarters of declines, with a similar trend for the number of hours worked, which increased 1.3%. Unit labor costs for manufacturers rose 3.6%.