WASHINGTON – US services sector activity slowed to a six-month low in January as businesses worried about the impact of a partial shutdown of the federal government on the economy.
Despite showing a second straight monthly moderation in activity, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) report on Tuesday continued to suggest solid economic growth. The five-week government shutdown ended on January 25 after President Donald Trump and Congress agreed to temporarily fund the government, without money for his US-Mexico border wall.
"This was clearly a disappointing non-manufacturing reading, aggravated by a number of factors, one of which was temporary," said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. "We anticipate a retracement of this setback in February, but that temporary factor may return to the fore."
The ISM said its non-manufacturing activity index dropped 1.3 points to a reading of 56.7 last month. That was the lowest reading since July and marked two straight monthly declines.
A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector, which accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity.
The ISM’s new orders sub-index for the services sector tumbled 5 points to a reading of 57.7 last month, the lowest since December 2017. Its business activity or production gauge also fell sharply. There was also a steep decline in the survey’s measure of export orders.
The survey’s services employment measure rose to 57.8 from a reading of 56.6 in December.
US financial markets were little moved by the data as traders awaited Trump’s State of the Union address due at 9pm EST. The dollar was up against a basket of currencies, while US Treasury yields fell. Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher.
According to the ISM, respondents were "concerned about the impacts of the government shutdown but remain mostly optimistic about overall business conditions." Some businesses complained about higher prices because of import tariffs and others said they were struggling with capacity constraints.
Eleven services industries, including transportation and warehousing, healthcare and social assistance, finance and insurance, utilities, and public administration, reported growth in January. That was down from 16 in December and the fewest since August 2016.
Seven non-manufacturing industries including retail trade, educational services and information reported contraction in January. The ebb in sentiment was also mirrored by another survey from data firm Markit, which showed its services sector PMI falling to a four-month low of 54.2 in January from a reading of 54.4 in December.
"We think that concerns about the government shutdown may have been depressing sentiment," said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York. " Now that the shutdown is over, we think that sentiment could bounce back at least somewhat, but this is not guaranteed."