The Independent Market Observer

Monday Update: Housing Sales Keep Improving

Posted by Sam Millette

This entry was posted on Sep 28, 2020 11:03:13 AM

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In his Monday Update, Commonwealth’s Sam Millette covers housing sales, durable goods orders, consumer and manufacturer confidence, and September jobs. Last week was relatively quiet on the economic update front, with a focus on August’s housing sales and durable goods orders reports. This week will be packed with economic updates, with a focus on consumer and manufacturer confidence and the September jobs report.

Last Week’s News

On Tuesday, August’s existing home sales report was released. Sales of existing homes rose by 2.4 percent during the month, which was in line with expectations. On a year-over-year basis, existing home sales grew by more than 10 percent. This solid result brings the pace of new home sales to its highest level since 2006, highlighting an impressive rebound for the housing market once reopening efforts began. Over the past few months, the housing sector has been buoyed by record low mortgage rates that have driven prospective home buyers into the market. Looking forward, one of the potential headwinds for faster housing growth is the limited supply on the market, as this report showed that the number of existing homes for sale is down 18.6 percent on a year-over-year basis.

On Thursday, the weekly initial jobless claims report for the week ending September 19 was released. This report disappointed, as the number of initial unemployment claims during the week rose from 864,000 to 870,000 against forecasts for a fall to 840,000. This was a frustrating step backwards after initial claims hit their lowest post-pandemic level the week before. Continuing unemployment claims also disappointed, falling by less than expected. Continuing unemployment claims, which are reported with a one-week lag to initial claims, remain elevated at 12.58 million. This report serves as a reminder of the ongoing pressure on the job market, as unemployment claims have historically remained well below current levels.

Thursday also saw the release of the new home sales report for August. New home sales beat expectations, rising by 4.8 percent during the month against calls for a 1.2 percent decline. In addition, July’s sale growth was revised up to 14.7 percent. As was the case with existing home sales, the continued improvement in August brought new home sales to their highest level since 2006. New home sales were strongest in the South, where purchases of new homes increased by 13.4 percent during the month. New home sales are a smaller and often more volatile portion of overall sales compared with existing home sales, but we have seen marked improvement in both segments since reopening efforts began. Housing has been one of the bright spots in the recent economic recovery, and these reports showcase the impressive rebound in home buyer demand seen over the past few months.

We finished the week with Friday’s release of the preliminary durable goods orders report for August. Durable goods orders disappointed during the month, rising by 0.4 percent against forecasts for a 1.5 percent increase. This result follows an upwardly revised 11.7 percent increase in July. Core durable goods orders, which strip out the impact of volatile transportation orders, also rose by 0.4 percent during the month, against forecasts for 1 percent growth. Core durable goods orders are often viewed as a proxy for business investment, so the continued improvement in August following a 3.2 rise in July is a positive sign for business spending during the month, even if the pace of improvement has slowed. Business spending has rebounded well following the shutdowns earlier in the year, and this continued improvement points toward a steady recovery for businesses.

What to Look Forward To

On Tuesday, the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index for September will be released. Consumer confidence is expected to improve during the month, with economists forecasting an increase from 84.8 in August to 90 in September. While this increase would be a positive development if estimates hold, it would still leave the index below the post-pandemic high of 98.3 it hit in June. August marked a six-year low for the index, as a weak jobs market and expiring federal stimulus dragged on confidence. Historically, improving consumer confidence levels support faster spending growth, so the weak overall confidence levels are concerning and will be closely monitored over the upcoming months.

On Thursday, August’s personal income and personal spending reports are set to be released. Spending is expected to grow by 0.7 percent during the month, following a 1.9 percent increase in July. Personal spending has improved notably since reopening efforts began; however, the pace of improvement has cooled as the tailwinds from reopening and extra government stimulus have faded. Personal income for August is expected to fall by 2.1 percent, due primarily to the expiration of the extra $600 jobless payments at the end of July. Personal income has been very volatile over the past few months due to changes in government policy. If estimates hold, this report would be another indication that the pace of the economic recovery has slowed.

Thursday will also see the release of the weekly initial jobless claims report for the week ending September 26. Economists expect to see an additional 850,000 initial unemployment claims filed during the week, which would be an improvement from the 870,000 initial claims recorded the week before. Despite the anticipated decline, initial claims would remain significantly higher than historical norms if estimates prove to be accurate. Over the past month initial claims have plateaued, which is concerning given the overall high level of initial claims being filed each week. We’ll continue to monitor this weekly update until the level of claims returns closer to historically normal levels.

The third release on Thursday will be the ISM Manufacturing index for September. This gauge of manufacturing confidence is expected to remain unchanged at 56 for the month. In August, the index rose to its highest level since 2018, so a similar result in September would be encouraging. This is a diffusion index, where values above 50 indicate expansion, so this report would be strong if estimates hold. A solid rebound in the demand for goods has caused manufacturing confidence and output to rise notably since reopening efforts began. So, a positive result here would be another sign that manufacturing is continuing to do well as we head into the fall, despite the slowdown in the pace of the overall economic recovery.

On Friday, September’s employment report will be released. Economists expect to see 900,000 jobs added during the month, following a better-than-expected 1.317 million additional jobs in August. The unemployment rate is expected to fall from 8.4 percent to 8.2 percent. While such improvements would certainly be welcome, it’s important to look at this report in context, given the fact that we lost more than 22 million jobs between March and April. While we did see a partial recovery for the job market once reopening efforts began, the pace of improvement has slowed, which is concerning given the notable gap in total employment compared with pre-pandemic levels. Ultimately, a full economic recovery will require significant improvements on the employment front, so these monthly releases will continue to be closely monitored.

We’ll finish the week with Friday’s release of the second and final estimate of the University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey for September. Economists expect to see the index remain unchanged during the month, after the preliminary report released earlier in the month showed a better-than-expected increase to 78.9. If estimates hold, this release would represent a modest improvement from the August result of 74.1 and would mark the highest level for the index since the pandemic hit. As is the case with the Conference Board report, improving confidence would certainly be a welcome development. Nonetheless, the index would sit significantly below the year’s pre-pandemic high of 101 recorded in February, indicating that consumers remain cautious.

That’s it for this week—thanks for reading and stay safe!

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