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Manufacturing and Inflation Data Signal Economic Improvement

April 4, 2018

 

Overview: While the stock market was extremely volatile over the past week, mortgage markets were quiet. The reaction to the economic data and to the news on tariffs was muted, and mortgage rates ended the week nearly unchanged.

On Wednesday, China announced potential new tariffs on 106 U.S. products in retaliation for the recent tariffs the U.S. said it would impose on some Chinese products. Some people think that the threat of new tariffs from the Trump administration is just a negotiating tactic to help obtain better terms of trade. The decision on whether to actually implement the new tariffs will not take place for many weeks. Increased concerns about an escalating trade war had a strongly negative impact on the stock market.

 

On a more positive note, recent data revealed that the manufacturing sector continues to operate at strong levels. While it was a little lower than last month, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Manufacturing Index was at 59.3 in April. Readings above 50 indicate an expansion in the sector. The ISM Services Index demonstrated similar strength.

 

The most recent inflation data showed the expected slight increase. In February, the core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index was 1.6% higher than a year ago, up from an annual rate of 1.5% last month. This was the highest level since May 2017. Core PCE is the inflation indicator favored by the Fed, which has a stated target annual rate of 2.0%.. 
 
Week Ahead 

Looking ahead, the monthly Employment Report will be released on Friday. This data on the number of jobs, the unemployment rate, and wage inflation will be the most highly anticipated economic data of the month. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) will come out on April 11. CPI is a widely followed monthly inflation report that looks at the price change for goods and services. The minutes from the March 21 Fed meeting also will come out on April 11. These detailed minutes provide additional insight into the debate between Fed officials about future monetary policy.

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