Monday Update: Housing Sales Decline in September

Posted by Sam Millette

This entry was posted on Oct 28, 2019 1:59:33 PM

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In his Monday Update, Commonwealth’s Sam Millette discusses housing sales, consumer confidence, the FOMC rate cut, GDP growth, and October jobs.Last week’s economic updates largely disappointed, with housing sales, durable goods orders, and consumer confidence all declining. Upon closer inspection, however, we found some positive developments, with continued year-over-year housing growth as a highlight. This week will be very busy, with the Fed’s October rate-setting meeting, the first report on third-quarter GDP growth, and the October jobs report all on the docket.

Last week’s news

On Tuesday, September’s existing home sales report was released. Existing home sales fell by 2.2 percent during the month, which was worse than the expected 0.7 percent decline. Despite the month-over-month drop, September’s sales represent a solid 3.9 percent growth on a year-over-year basis. This marks the 3rd straight month of year-over-year growth in existing home sales, following 16 straight months of year-over-year declines. Housing growth has continued to be one of the bright spots of the economy over the past few months, as lowered borrowing costs have driven more potential buyers into the market.

On Thursday, September’s durable goods orders report came in worse than expected. Durable goods orders fell by 1.1 percent during the month, against expectations for a 0.7 percent drop. This decline was partially attributable to the General Motors (GM) strike that started mid-September, but the uncertainty due to the ongoing trade war likely played a part. Core orders, which exclude volatile transportation orders, fell by a more modest 0.3 percent during the month, indicating that core business investment tailed off at the end of the quarter.  

Also on Thursday, September’s new home sales report was released. As we saw with existing home sales, new home sales declined, but the 0.7 percent drop during the month was better than the 1.6 percent drop economists expected. Furthermore, new home sales are up 15.5 percent since this time last year. The small monthly decline in this volatile portion of monthly home sales should not affect the broader housing market for the time being.

Finally, we finished the week with the second and final reading of the University of Michigan consumer confidence survey for October. Confidence fell during the month, from 96 midmonth to 95.5 at month-end. There was no one factor that led to this intramonth decline, as most of the subcomponents of the index declined slightly during the month. This result is disappointing. Yet October represents the second straight month in which overall confidence has increased following August’s reading of 89.8, which was nearly a three-year low.

What to look forward to

Speaking of consumer confidence, on Tuesday the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index will be released. Confidence is expected to increase from 125.1 in September to 128 in October. Although the projected increase is welcome, September’s reading marked a three-month low for the index. So, even if Tuesday’s results come in as expected, consumer confidence would still sit well below July’s recent high of 135.8. High levels of consumer confidence have supported strong consumer spending this year. A continued rise in confidence would help calm fears of a slowdown in consumer spending following a disappointing September retail sales report.

On Wednesday, we’ll get the first estimate of third-quarter GDP growth. Economists expect to see a 1.6 percent annualized growth rate for the quarter, which would be down from the 2 percent growth in the second quarter and 3.1 percent in the first quarter. This projection is largely based on declines in both business and government spending compared with earlier in the year. Net trade is also expected to be a drag once again, as the slowdown in global trade continues to negatively affect domestic growth here in the U.S.

The FOMC is meeting this week and, on Wednesday, will release the FOMC rate decision. Economists and market participants widely expect the Fed to cut the federal funds rate upper limit by 25 bps, from 2 percent to 1.75 percent. The Fed last cut the federal funds rate by 25 bps at its September meeting. Since then, notable declines in service sector confidence and a lackluster September jobs report have contributed to concerns for the economy. The Fed continues to be supportive of the ongoing economic expansion, so further rate cuts are not out of the question.

Thursday will see the release of September’s personal income and personal spending reports. Both are set to show solid 0.3 percent growth. These results would mark the 7th straight month of spending growth. The growth rate slowed during the third quarter, however, which likely contributed to the expected slowdown in overall GDP growth. Income growth has been consistent as well. The forecasted result would mark the 12th straight month of income growth following a flat result in September 2018.

The October employment report scheduled for Friday is set to show that an additional 90,000 new jobs were added during the month. This number is down from 136,000 new jobs reported in September. It’s also down markedly from 2018 growth levels that averaged more than 200,000 jobs per month. There may also be downside risk due to the GM strike. If so, this risk factor would be a onetime event that would likely be resolved the following month, as the strike concluded toward the end of October.

Finally, we will finish out the week with Friday’s release of the ISM Manufacturing index for October. Manufacturer confidence is expected to increase slightly from 47.1 in September to 49 in October. This is a diffusion index, where values below 50 indicate contraction. So, while the anticipated increase would be welcome, it would still leave the manufacturing sector of the economy in a recessionary state. This result would mark the third straight month in which manufacturer confidence came in below 50. Accordingly, any rebound from September’s 10-year low would be welcome.

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

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