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From Home Furnishing Business

Reality Bytes

A Disappointing 3rd Quarter
For the Furniture Industry

The first quarter of this year in the furniture and bedding industry started off continuing the 5 percent plus growth over the previous year for all quarters in 2015. But as the year wore on, subsequent quarters did not perform to those levels. Quarter two fell to 3.7 percent growth and quarter three fell to 3.0 percent growth over the same quarters of 2015 (Table A). Year-end sales in 2015 totaled $92.5 billion.  Third quarter year-to-date industry sales reached $71.5 billion, a 3.0 percent increase over the first three quarters last year.

These numbers reflect a weakening furniture store sales growth (which includes lifestyle retailers) and are in line with the government’s reports of personal consumption expenditures. Retailers are hoping for a bump in consumer confidence in the fourth quarter to help ramp up growth.

Furniture Store Sales

Furniture stores, which include all lifestyle furniture retailers, posted a dismal 1.3 percent increase in the third quarter of this year compared to the same quarter in 2015 (Table B). Retail store sales are at an average quarterly growth of 3.2 percent – down from a 5.7 percent growth (2014 to 2015). Furniture Store sales increased from $14.3 billion in the second quarter of 2016 to $14.9 billion in quarter three, an increase of 4.3 percent.

Personal Consumption Expenditures

Personal Consumption Expenditures for furniture also experienced a third quarter slump this year – increasing 2.1 percent over the same period in 2015. Over the previous six years, third quarter year-over-year growth averaged 4.4 percent. (Table C).

Economic Influencers and Catalysts

Real GDP. The furniture industry, aside from demographics, is driven by economic influencers and catalysts. Gross Domestic Product the measure of goods and services in the U.S., is chief among them. Real GDP growth has continued to decline since the first quarter of 2015 when growth was at 3.3 percent. Growth in 2016 has been steady, but slow, with quarterly averages between 1.3 percent and 1.6 percent (Table D).

Payroll Employment. The number of employed workers (non-farm) was at its highest level in history in October of this year at 149 million. However, employment growth this year has slowed throughout each quarter. In 2015 growth averaged 2.1 percent year over year, but has fallen to an average of 1.4 percent increase in October of this year (Table E).

Consumer Price Index. For furniture and bedding, prices have been relatively stable, falling less than 1 percent from the prior year’s quarter, until the second quarter of this year.  In 2016 Q2 prices were down 2.8 percent and in 2016 Q3 down 3.1 percent (Table F).

Unemployment Rates

Over the last five years, the Unemployment Rate has declined rapidly – dropping from 9 percent to 5 percent (Table G). From 2011 to 2015, the third quarter each year has decreased an average of 1.0 percentage points. Although only slightly moving 0.2 percentage points from 2015 Q3 (5.2 percent) to 2016 Q3 (5.0 percent), employment is now at pre-recession levels.

Consumer Confidence

Consumer Confidence has not moved more than 6 points in any quarter over the last two years hovering from 95 to 101 (Table H). A confidence level of 100 usually indicates neither extreme confidence nor lack thereof. The year 1985 was chosen by the Conference Board as the base index of 100 because that year showed neither a peak nor trough in the business cycle. Consumer Confidence was at its highest in the year 2000 at 139. Conversely, Consumer Confidence was at its lowest of 39 at the bottom of the last recession in 2009.

Housing Industry

Nothing impacts furniture industry growth perhaps more than home sales both existing and new.

Existing Home Sales. Home re-sales experienced healthy first and second quarters this year growing 5.0 and 4.2 percent from 2015. However, 2016 Q3 dropped 0.4 percent from 2015 Q3. At an annualized rate, third quarter existing home sales totaled 5.3 million units. (Table I).

New Home Sales. Part of the third quarter decline in existing home sales this year is offset by new single-family home sales that surged 23.1 percent in the third quarter to an annualized rate of 599 thousand units. After double-digit growth in 2015, 2016 year started with very slow growth in the first quarter of 1.6 percent. The second quarter rebounded, however, to 14.5 percent increase followed by the third quarter surge (Table J).

Housing Starts. Despite the strong third quarter in new home sales, housing starts did not keep up the momentum. Single-family unit starts increased by only 1.9 percent from 2015 Q3 to 2016 Q3 (Table K). Third quarter annualized starts totaled 759,000 single-family units. On a positive note, September starts were at the highest level since last February and the year should end with over 13 percent growth.

For multi-family units, the picture is not so bright. After a flurry of building in 2014 and 2015, starts are off significantly this year. While the first quarter of 2016 experienced 5.2 percent growth, the second and third quarters have posted negative growth of 9.5 percent and 7.7 percent respectively (Table L).

Many economists are projecting new single-family home building and sales to be strong in 2017, with moderate growth in existing home sales. Much of home buying is by first-time home buyers, the young Millennials who are finally making their move to be the consumers the furniture industry and many others have been waiting to see. But political and economic uncertainty can throw a wrench in at any time.

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