Published: June 8, 2018
The May employment report was regarded as good, but when you dig past the top-level numbers, it was better than it looked. However, while the 3.8% unemployment rate looks good on the surface, it really can’t be compared to when it was last attained nearly 20 years ago. So many workers left the workforce that this figure implies a tighter labor than it really is. We will really know we have a strong economy when the active labor force starts increasing.
Published: May 18, 2018
Durable goods orders for consumers (less transportation) are growing at a rate almost two times faster than Real GDP. This data series remains -14% below where it was at the start of the recession in December 2017, and is a critical one to monitor for indications of an improved economy.
Published: May 11, 2018
The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ advance report estimated that Q1-2018 real gross domestic product was up at an annual rate of +2.3%, which was slower than the +2.9% for Q4-2017. Because companies and individuals, especially corporations, shifted expenses into 2017 and delayed revenue recognition to 2018 to take advantage of the rates in the new tax law, many key economic data series—such as this one—will be subject to larger than usual revision.
Published: April 13, 2018
The Federal Reserve revised 2015–2017 industrial production down from its original reports, meaning that industrial production peaked in 2014 and then slowed. The initial data made things seem better than what consumers and employees were actually experiencing.
Published: April 6, 2018
Q4-2017 GDP estimates were raised to +2.9% from the original estimate of +2.5%. (But beware inventories.) At the same time, shenanigans resulting from the latest tax bill are blurring statistics visibility, especially where corporate profits are concerned.
Published: March 9, 2018
The capital expenditures of commercial printers fell in 2016, but the investment in less expensive used equipment may have been a major factor.
Published: March 2, 2018
Canada’s printing industry has been holding steady compared to the US, despite being subject to the same competition from digital media
Published: February 28, 2018
WhatTheyThink surveyed printing business owners and executives: "What are your areas of interest in new print-related applications."
Published: February 20, 2018
WhatTheyThink surveyed printing business owners and executives: "Which of the following investment items have you budgeted for and plan to acquire in the next 12 months?"
Published: February 16, 2018
CPI-adjusted consumer durable goods manufacturing remains well below its pre-recession level—one of the reasons that GDP has been so lackluster.
Published: February 15, 2018
WhatTheyThink surveyed printing business owners and executives: "In the next 12 months, which of the following will be your biggest business opportunities?"
Published: February 9, 2018
The first report of fourth quarter GDP was a disappointing +2.6%. Sources such as the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s GDPNow and the New York Fed’s Nowcast were for a stronger reading. Inventories are a major factor in the volatility of GDP data, and excluding that data, the economy neared those estimates, producing a much better +3.2% rate compared to Q3.
Published: February 5, 2018
WhatTheyThink surveyed printing business owners and executives: "In the next 12 months, which of the following will be your biggest business challenges?"
Published: February 2, 2018
The US Commerce Department has released data for November 2017, and this is the first look at the full year by making an estimate for December. Based on shipment and employment trends, it appears that 2017 came in at $76.3 in current dollars. That's a -6.4% decrease in current dollars compared to 2016, and a -8.4% decrease on an inflation-adjusted basis. The chart includes selected prior years starting at 1995. December data will be released at the beginning of February, and will be revised in March. In May, the Commerce Department will revise the last three years of data, plus minor revisions to the years prior to that.
Published: January 29, 2018
Inflation distorts our interpretation of history and clouds business decisions. All dollars may look alike, but what a dollar bought in 1950 is a lot different than a dollar in 2017. Unfortunately, commercial printing prices have not kept up with inflation, but the costs of running a printing business usually have. This means that it's harder to keep earnings and payrolls up to this level. If past dollars had greater value, this chart can be used to adjust past financial statements to bring those data to current value. This is especially important in budgeting processes where looking for trends in prior years is one way of assessing performance and goals.
Published: October 5, 2017
Inflation and population changes often distort the analysis of economic trends. This chart shows the changing nature of retail sales on a per capita (per person) and inflation-adjusted (using the Consumer Price Index) basis by the percentage change compared to the same period of the prior year.
Published: September 11, 2017
The recovery indicators (when we started these we thought they’d be around for about a year or so) had four of its six factors turn negative, with one of those falling back to its recession level of December 2007. Yes, that’s when the recession started. That long ago.
Published: August 17, 2017
The Bureau of Economic Analysis released the Q2-2017 GDP data and revisions to historical data beginning with 2014. Back in mid-May, the Commerce Department updated historical commercial printing shipments (NAICS 323) as part of its manufacturing shipments revisions. This week’s chart shows an updated view of both data series in current dollars (sometimes called “nominal;” both terms mean that data are not adjusted for inflation). The red line is year-to-year growth rate in GDP, and the blue line is year-to-year change in quarterly shipments. Since around 1997 printing shipments have not met GDP growth except for a moment between 2010 and 2015. The most recent printing shipments trend at the right of the chart are remarkable for their direction. A discussion of the GDP revisions and the current status of printing shipments can be found in the column of August 7.
Published: July 6, 2017
The Fed has been so reticent about raising rates, and in the process, rates for the 10-year US Treasury actually were negative in February. No, that’s not market rates, that’s the 10-year rate less the year-to-year Consumer Price Index. Since that time, the rate calculated in this manner has moved up 80 basis points. The rate peaked in September 2015 and it’s been down since then. The Fed is having problems making the decision to raise rates, and often announced more rates in a future period but increasing rates at a slower pace. They have a target inflation rate of 2% (which means you lose about 25% of your savings over 10 years on a compounded basis). If you believe that the inflation rate is calculated in a manner that makes it seem lower than it actually is, then the Fed’s desire to see inflation at the 2% rate before they start pushing interest rates higher may be be difficult to reach or sustain. That means long term rates will stay artificially low (on purpose) for a longer period of time than most experts expect.
Published: May 25, 2017
The Commerce Department’s revisions to industry shipments show a much different picture of a key metric for the industry, sales per employee. The chart was created using 12-month moving totals of inflation-adjusted shipments and the 12 month moving average of total industry employment. The latest reading through March 2017 is $182.65 per employee, a meager +1.5% higher than it was at the end of 1992. It fell from a peak of $195.51 which was just before the burst of the housing bubble, the rise of social media platforms, tablets, and smartphones. The fall in this calculation has some interesting characteristics. Historically, large printing businesses focused on magazines, catalogs, and newspaper inserts, had sales per employee that were significantly higher than the industry averages, anywhere from 30% to 50% higher.
Published: May 11, 2017
The Commerce Department tracks the number of business establishments by industry, and among he more interesting reports is the calculation of new and closed businesses. The data take a while to be released, and these new data about 2014 were recently made available. There’s a word of caution here. If someone was a corporation and decides to become a partnership or a proprietorship, that counts as one business closed and one business opened. And then there’s “poor man’s mergers” where two business owners decide to close their two businesses and open one new one. Same people, same equipment, no real change except to the tax authorities and government statisticians. The most important number is the net change of births less deaths. In the worst of the recession, the net number was 6% of establishments. For 2014, that had fallen to a little more than 2%.
Published: April 27, 2017
In what is not a surprise to many, the job shop operational structure of many printing businesses put the industry near the bottom of all manufacturing industries in terms of its management processes.
Published: April 13, 2017
The financial markets were rattled a little bit by the recent minutes of the Fed meeting where they discussed the unwinding of their interventions and the ballooning of their balance sheet. The data are reflected in the St. Louis Fed Adjusted Monetary Base. The chart shows how the run-up in the S&P 500 stock index relates to the Fed’s quantitative easings
Published: March 30, 2017
Yes, that sounds boring, but the data have been made interesting by including details about the last forty years or so of industry history and technological change. We added some statistical forecasts from our models that take the data out to 2025. When we started this chart almost ten years ago, those outlying years were near zero. They’re not any more (whew!). The data are inflation adjusted and based on the population data and forecasts of the US Census Bureau. It’s interesting how there are periods of relative stability, a change, followed by another period of stability. Technological change has been a much bigger factor affecting consumption than general economic conditions.
Published: March 23, 2017
Advertising agency revenues are having a slow rebound from their pullback in 2015. Publisher revenues are still having problems as ad pages and circulation are contracting. Clearly, agencies are finding other areas to garner revenues, especially in managing digital initiatives. Mobile communications are where their latest opportunities are, especially with website redesigns, creating the look and feel of content marketing for their clients, and assisting clients as they sort through the analytics that marketing automation offers.