Monday Update: Economy Picking Up Speed

Posted by Sam Millette

This entry was posted on Dec 23, 2019 11:10:48 AM

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In his Monday Update, Commonwealth’s Sam Millette reviews last week’s positive reports on housing, industrial production, and consumer confidence.Last week, economic updates were largely positive, with seven of the eight releases beating forecasts. This week will be very quiet, with only two major updates scheduled, both on Monday morning.  

Last week’s news

We started the week with Monday’s release of the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index for December. Home builder confidence blew away expectations, with the index rising from 70 in November to 76 in December, against forecasts for a modest increase to 71. This is a 20-year high for the index, which is a very impressive turnaround considering home builder confidence hit a multiyear low of 56 in December 2018. This year, home builder sentiment has steadily improved, as low mortgage rates and high consumer confidence levels have been driving more interest in newly built homes. Builders have been happy to meet this demand by investing in and building new stock. Looking forward, increased home builder confidence should support additional construction as we head into the new year. 

On Tuesday, we saw the impact from improving home builder confidence, as November’s building permits and housing starts reports both came in above expectations. Builder permits increased by 1.4 percent for the month, against an anticipated 3.5 percent decrease. As for starts, although an increase of 2.4 percent was expected, growth came in at 3.2 percent. This result marked the second-highest monthly level for housing starts since 2007, as builders worked to meet increased home buyer demand in regions where supply is constrained.

Tuesday also saw the release of November’s industrial production report. Production increased by 1.1 percent during the month, beating expectations for 0.9 percent growth. This strong result helps offset a 0.8 percent decline in October, which was largely caused by the General Motors (GM) strike. As expected, increased automobile production was the major driver of November’s growth, with new car production rising by 12.4 percent for the month. Manufacturing output also beat expectations, showing 1.1 percent growth against forecasts for 0.8 percent. November’s rebound for industrial production and manufacturing output is encouraging, given the weakness we’ve seen in these sectors for most of the year. Looking forward, we can hope for growth in the new year, provided we continue to see progress toward a U.S.-China trade deal.

On Thursday, November’s existing home sales report came in. Sales fell by 1.7 percent during the month, against expectations for a 0.4 percent decline. Part of the drop can be attributed to low inventory, as available housing stock fell during the month. When broken down geographically, results were mixed. Increased sales in the Northeast and Midwest were not enough to offset declines in the South and the West. Despite the monthly decline, sales continued to increase on a year-over-year basis, going up by 2.7 percent over the past 12 months. This marks the fifth straight month of year-over-year growth for existing home sales, which indicates that the drawn-out slowdown that closed out 2018 is well behind us. Housing growth has been a bright spot for the economy since the summer. Lowered mortgage rates and high consumer confidence levels have combined to drive more prospective home owners into the market.

On Friday, November’s personal income and personal spending reports were released. Personal spending grew by 0.4 percent for the month, which was in line with expectations. Personal income was up 0.5 percent, against forecasts for 0.3 percent. Plus, a change was made to October’s personal income numbers, with a flat result revised to 0.1 percent growth. This encouraging result calmed fears of a prolonged slowdown in personal income growth. Personal spending has been strong this year, as November marked the ninth straight month of growth. The fact that personal income continues to grow indicates that the spending growth has been well supported.

We finished the week with Friday’s release of the second and final reading of the University of Michigan consumer confidence survey for December. The index increased slightly from an initial reading of 99.2 to 99.3, due to improvements to the current situation subindex. This final result is much better than the level of 97 economists forecasted at the start of the month. A better-than-expected November jobs report and equity markets near all-time highs both support higher consumer confidence levels. December is the fourth straight month of increasing confidence, helping to calm concerns following the index’s surprising drop to a two-year low in August. Improving consumer sentiment supports additional spending growth, so this result to end the year is certainly a positive development.

What to look forward to

We started the week with Monday’s release of November’s durable goods orders report. The numbers came in worse than expected, falling by 2 percent instead of showing the anticipated 1.5 percent growth. Much of the weakness in headline orders can be attributed to a slowdown in volatile defensive aircraft orders, which were down significantly. Core durable goods orders, which strip out the impact of transportation orders, were flat for the month. Core durable goods orders are often considered as a proxy for business investment, so the flat results were a silver lining in an otherwise disappointing data release.

Also on Monday, November’s new home sales report was released. Sales increased by 1.3 percent during the month, beating expectations for a modest 0.1 percent decline. Sales increased in the Northeast and West but remained flat in the Midwest and declined in the South. These results left new home sales at its third-highest monthly level since 2007. On a year-over-year basis, new home sales are up by more than 18 percent, highlighting the rebound in the housing sector we’ve seen this year.

That’s it for this week—thanks for reading!

Upcoming Appearances

Tune in to Bloomberg Radio's Bloomberg Businessweek on Friday, February 28, at 3:45 P.M. ET to hear Brad talk about the market. Stream the show live at https://www.bloombergradio.com/, listen through SiriusXM 119, or download Bloomberg's app, Bloomberg Radio+.

Tune into Yahoo Finance's The Final Round on Thursday, March 12, between 2:50 and 4:00 P.M. ET to hear Brad talk about the market. Exact interview time will be updated once confirmed. Watch at finance.yahoo.com

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