Welcome to the WhatTheyThink data analysis section. As a service to the printing and publishing industries, WhatTheyThink provides access to economic, trend and other data that is valuable to industry executives for strategic planning and other purposes. This is also an excellent way for industry executives to stay current with the latest trends. This includes proprietary data developed by our own Dr. Joe Webb, Director of the WhatTheyThink economics and research center, as well as data from a variety of partner sources.
Data from the Economics & Research Center
Monthly Commercial Printing Shipments data series
Industry Snapshot collection of regularly updated industry data about various measures of business activity
Published: January 12, 2017
The NFIB's small business index came in at 105.8. It has had two months near-vertical increase, now at levels not seen since December 2004 when it was 106.1. It's sheer optimism that small business concerns about taxes, regulation, and the economy will improve. There are many reports about improved confidence, especially among consumers, but it seems like it's too much too soon. While the new administration might be able to provide some regulatory relief in its early days, most of its desired actions require acts of Congress. Those can sometimes take forever... or longer.
Published: January 11, 2017
The US commercial printing industry finished the year with 439,900 employees, down -11,200 compared to 2015. The number of production employees was down -3,100, a -1.0% decrease. Non-production employees represented the biggest change, down -8,400 (-6.0%).
Published: January 9, 2017
With the Dow Jones and S&P 500 at all-time inflation-adjusted highs. The recovery indicators are stronger than they have been in a while, with very bullish increases in new orders for manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors, and a strong reading of the NASDAQ stock index.
Published: December 22, 2016
The Bureau of Economic Analysis released its third report of real Gross Domestic Product, at an annualized +3.5% over the second quarter. This is considered the final report, revising the advance report of +2.9% two months ago, and +3.2% in last month's preliminary report. This is important because each release of GDP data is based on increasing amounts of actual reported data. The advance report relies the most on estimates and models.
Published: December 16, 2016
The effects of consolidation, a challenging pricing environment, cost controls and productivity measures have sent shipments per employee to unprecendented levels. The prior peak was just before the recession began. The industry is more efficient in many ways, especially with the exit of weak and marginal establishments. But is it more profitable? In the December 15 webinar and in the new Forecast 2017 report, industry profit levels are discussed. Despite reaching new levels of sales per employee, profit levels have become tepid, a sign of tightening market conditions. In the webinar we discussed the possibility that another wave of media change is underway. The last major one was the rise of social media ten years ago, and now the growing impact of mobile media, especially this year.
Published: December 1, 2016
The Bureau of Economic Analysis issued its second estimate of real gross domestic product, raising it to +3.2%. Real GDP for 2Q-2016 was +1.4%. Each advance release of GDP data is revised monthly as “more complete source data” is used rather than estimates. We prefer comparing GDP data to the same quarter as the prior year, which helps minimize the variation and possible distortions of seasonal adjustments. Compared to last year, Q3-2016 was +1.6%. Because inventory changes can distort GDP estimates, we also look at the data less inventories, and it shows the economy still hovering around a +2.0% growth rate. Lately, the inventory adjustments have been small. Theoretically, they should be zero in the long run, and for these last two quarters that has nearly been the case. In 2015, it averaged +$82 billion per quarter. Some of 2016's sluggish performance has been an inventory adjustment in the overall economy. The Atlanta Fed's GDPNow estimate for the current Q4 is running at +2.4%.
Published: November 17, 2016
Will the newly inaugurated President Trump be dealing with a recession like his predecessor did? In December 2008, a recession was declared, and the experts said it started almost a year before then. Several economic indicators, like durable goods orders and factory orders, have been negative compared to the prior year's level for almost two years. The Federal Reserve's Industrial Production Index released on November 16 marked its thirteenth consecutive negative comparison to the prior year. The only sector that is holding up in the GDP reports is the consumer side of that bookkeeping. That can't hold up for long unless the production and investment side of the GDP ledgers start to perk up. There is optimism in the markets about a Trump recovery, but it must be noted that there are many legislative hurdles ahead, and most economic plans take about 18 months to develop notable impact.
Published: November 7, 2016
US commercial printing shipments for September 2016 were down -$8 million compared to the prior year (-0.1%). On an inflation-adjusted basis, shipments were down by -$118 million. Interestingly, inflation-adjusted August shipments were up by +$118 million, making the net change for the two months zero.
Published: November 7, 2016
The business headlines about the October employment report may have said “unemployment rate falls to 4.9%; payrolls grow +161,000,” but the details of the overall employment picture deteriorated.
Published: November 4, 2016
Last month's recovery indicators bounced back big from a dreadful report, but this month's have moderated. The ISM manufacturing and non-manufacturing new orders decreased, but they are still above the 50 breakeven level, showing growth. The non-manufacturing side is still strongly on the growth side of the line.
Published: November 1, 2016
Prior to the release of Q3's advance estimate of real GDP, the Atlanta Fed's GDPNow forecast was +2.1%. The official figure came in much better, at +2.9%. It is likely to be revised down slightly, but it was a much better showing than recent data.
Published: October 29, 2016
The National Retail Federation issued its forecast of holiday retail sales. It expects a +3.6% increase compared to 2015. But what's the real increase? After deducting for inflation, that's about +1.5%. If real GDP comes in at +2% in the October 28, 2016 advance report for Q3, holiday retail sales growth will be in line with the growth rate of +1.4% for the year. In some ways, this can be a good year compared to recent history. Holiday retail sales have averaged +2.46% since 2007, with a net after inflation of only +0.64%. On a per person basis, that's actually a decline in that period.
Published: October 13, 2016
Since the beginning of the economic recovery in 2009, first class mail is down by -12%, standard mail (discounted bulk mail) down by -18%, and periodicals down a whopping -32%.
Published: September 22, 2016
Data about manufacturing from the ISM and the Commerce Department have show a contraction compared to the prior year. In some cases that slowdown and contraction has been in process for 18 or more months. Retail sales and consumer spending have been the brighter spots of the economy. The inflation-adjusted growth rate of retail sales has been slowing since the beginning of 2015.
Published: September 15, 2016
The Pew Research Center's recent report about book reading gives us a peek at the relationship of print and digital media. The report says “A growing share of Americans are reading e-books on tablets and smartphones rather than dedicated e-readers, but print books remain much more popular than books in digital formats.” The chart shows what formats their respondents used in the year prior to the survey. Only 6% were digital-only readers. The report states that 26% read no book in the last year; they may have read other things, but not books. Contrary to many reports about the “demise” of e-books, that has risen from 17% to 28%. It's been stuck there for three years. Print-only readers were 39% (remember: that used to be the entire market of book readers). Print and digital readers are now at 29%. Add the 6% digital-only, and you're at 35%. Content needs to be available in multiple media. Media selection is based on many factors, such as time, convenience, price, income, education, age, and others. Pew also offers insights into the use of audiobooks. The report is free can be downloaded from the Pew Research Center. One other note: when you hear that tablet sales are down or that e-book reader sales are down, keep in mind the versatile use of smartphones and their growing role in content engagement. Among readers 18-29 years old, 22% of them are reading books on their smartphones, 4x more than read them on e-book readers.
Published: September 8, 2016
The recovery indicators were hit hard last month last month, with two of them falling below the levels at the start of the last recession. Those levels were the readings of these indicators for December 2007.
Published: September 7, 2016
The reversal in trend for US commercial printing shipments went from somewhat benign to significant in July's data. Last year, the industry was relatively stronger than 2014, but shipments have been on a downturn for the last four months of reporting.
Published: August 29, 2016
The latest revision of real US GDP for Q2-2016 dropped from +1.2% to +1.1%. The estimate for Q3 from the Atlanta Fed is above +3%.
Published: August 25, 2016
E-commerce has been running at the rate of 15% annual growth for many years, but is just 8% of retail sales. That seems tiny in relation to what we've seen happen to print promotions like catalogs and direct mail, and the rise of zombie or troubled shopping malls. The problem is that big ticket items, like autos, raise the size of retail sales. Those items may be researched online, but their actual purchase is not made until it is transacted at a car dealer. Restaurant purchases are also a distorting issue in the data. This chart explains it a little better. E-commerce sales is at the bottom (red line). In the second quarter, it was just short of $100 billion. The blue line is retail sales less vehicles and parts. The green line has food service sales deducted. The black line had e-commerce sales deducted, and shows retail sales through traditional channels. Those sales through older channels are lower than they were at the start of the recession. All of the growth in non-auto and non-restaurant retail for the last decade has occurred in e-commerce channels.
Published: August 11, 2016
Since January 2013, the number of production employees in commercial printing establishments has grown slightly, and is up +0.7%, from 307,700 employees to 310,000. Other employees, which are mainly administrative including sales, are down -8.1%, from 145,000 to 133,300.
Published: August 5, 2016
In data released by the US Department of Commerce, commercial printing shipments for June 2016 were down -$58 million compared to last year (-0.8%). On an inflation-adjusted basis, shipments were down -$130 million (-1.8%).
Published: August 4, 2016
The NASDAQ had a good month, rebounding by 6.5% last month. Compared to last year at this time, the NASDAQ is up +0.6%, which is a negative return compared to inflation (less inflation it is -0.5% because the CPI is +1.1%).
Published: July 28, 2016
A way of judging the health of the economy is to calculate the inflation-adjusted sales of all of the companies in the S&P 500 and divide it by the total number of public shares. This index should have a natural upward bias. S&P 500 companies are very large, and acquire or merge with other companies, many of which are outside of the 500 companies. Buybacks of stock, which has been a trend of note these last five or so years, reduce the number of shares, or slow the growth in shares, reduce the denominator, again, giving it an upward bias. Instead, this measure has suffered. It peaked in 2007, and has yet to surpass that level. This means that corporate profits, which have generally been good (though slowing lately) have been managed by refinancing of debt to lower interest rates and reductions in costs and expenses. Those better profits are not the result of increased revenues. Slow, sluggish economic growth is reflected in these figures, and is a reminder that one should not look only to GDP as an indicator of the true health of the private sector.
Published: July 7, 2016
The recovery indicators showed better economic activity in June. This ended the second quarter in a manner that seemed contrary to many recent economic data.
Published: July 7, 2016
This chart shows the Fed's balance sheet in the format known as the St. Louis Adjusted Monetary Base. Prior to the doubling of that balance sheet, it was growing at the annual rate of 6%, which was basically comprised of the long term rates of 1% for population growth, 2% for inflation, and 3% for economic growth.