January review: Key industrial data points for homebuilders

Part 4
January review: Key industrial data points for homebuilders (Part 4 of 4)

Empire State Survey falls, but future job growth looks bright

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey is a barometer of economic conditions in New York State

The survey is put out by the New York Fed and covers a wide range of economic indicators—from general business conditions to new orders, shipments, unfilled orders, delivery times, inventories, prices paid and received, headcount, and average workweek. It also asks businesses for their six-month outlook. It’s a relatively comprehensive survey of business conditions, but it concentrates on New York State, which is a small subset of the population. Like most Fed surveys, it employs a diffusion index methodology, asking respondents whether a certain metric is getting better, getting worse, or staying the same. The index value is the percent of respondents who say the metric is getting better less the percent who say it’s getting worse.

Empire State Manufacturing SurveyEnlarge Graph

The volatile sub-indices gave back last month’s gains, but the outlook for employment continues to improve

The general business conditions index fell ten points, and closed at +4.4 (29.4% of respondents reported better conditions, while 25% reported worse conditions—so the net result is 4.4%). This was a decrease from last month. The headline general business conditions survey wasn’t the only highlight of the report. The New Orders index gave back last month’s jump and closed at even, and the shipments index dropped 13 points, to 2.1. Employment fell by 1 point. The outlook was rosy as well, with 34% expecting to expand payroll, while only 8.5% expected to have fewer employees in six months. Overall, the plans for employment continue to improve.

Every month, the survey includes a special report, focusing on some facet of business. This month, it concerned hiring expectations. Currently, 35% of manufacturers and 40% of service firms expect to increase headcount over the next year. This is much more positive than the same time a year ago, when the survey asked the same questions. The biggest issue holding back hiring was sales growth, but healthcare costs also played a role.

Implications for homebuilders

Overall, the report shows the economy is still expanding moderately, and firms are generally optimistic about the future. Consumer sentiment is driven first and foremost by jobs, and nothing in this report indicates that employment conditions will materially worsen. Employers expect the average workweek to increase. Plans for increased capital expenditures increased slightly. Overall, you could consider the report a modest positive for homebuilders.

The increase in manufacturing activity will drive job creation, which will drive more business for homebuilders like Lennar (LEN), D.R. Horton (DHI), PulteGroup (PHM), and Toll Brothers (TOL). Right now, the luxury end of the market is doing best, but increasing manufacturing jobs will help the builders that serve the lower end of the market. This will mean a huge overall economic benefit. An alternate way to invest in the sector would be through the S&P SPDR Homebuilder ETF (XHB).

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