Last week, we saw a number of important economic updates as we kicked off December. Business confidence fell unexpectedly last month, but a better-than-expected jobs report and increased consumer confidence bode well for future growth. This will be a relatively quiet week for economic updates, with November’s inflation figures and the retail sales report highlighting the release calendar.
Last week’s news
On Monday, the ISM Manufacturing index for November was released. Manufacturer confidence unexpectedly declined during the month, falling from 48.3 in October to 48.1 in November. Economists had previously forecast a slight increase to 49.2. This is a diffusion index, where values below 50 indicate contraction. As such, this was a disappointing result. This marks the fourth straight month that the index came in below 50, as slowing global trade and the ongoing U.S.-China trade war continue to negatively affect manufacturer confidence.
Wednesday saw the release of the ISM Nonmanufacturing index, which also unexpectedly declined. This measure of service sector confidence fell from 54.7 in October to 53.9 in November. This is also a diffusion index, where values above 50 indicate expansion. So, the index still sits in solid expansionary territory despite last month’s drop. The declines in both manufacturer and nonmanufacturer confidence leave the composite index of business confidence at 53.2, which typically signifies a slowly growing economy. Although the decline in November is disappointing, we still sit above September’s 52.1 reading, which was a three-year low.
On Thursday, October’s international trade report was released. The trade deficit shrank during the month, from $52.5 billion in September to $47.2 billion in October. Economists had previously forecast a smaller decline to $48.5 billion. Both exports and imports fell during the month; however, imports fell at a faster pace. Part of this decline in imports was caused by the General Motors (GM) strike and the temporary lull in demand for auto part shipments. So, this sharp monthly decline in imports is expected to be reversed in the future. Given slow global trade and declining business confidence, exports are not expected to increase meaningfully unless there are further positive steps toward a trade deal between the U.S. and China.
On Friday, the November employment report came in much better than expected, with 266,000 new jobs added during the month against expectations for 180,000. October’s headline figure was also revised higher. Roughly 40,000 of the jobs were due to striking GM workers returning to work. But even without this one-time boost, November’s headline jobs figure would be well above levels we’ve averaged this year. The underlying data was encouraging as well, with the surge in new jobs sending the unemployment rate back down to 3.5 percent. Wage growth also came in better than expected, increasing by 3.1 percent on a year-over-year basis. All things considered, this was a very strong report and could indicate that the slowdown in job creation we saw earlier in the year is behind us.
Finally, we finished the week with the first estimate of the University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey. It increased from 96.8 in November to 99.2 in December, against expectations for a more modest increase to 97. This marks the fourth straight month that the index has increased, after hitting a two-year low in August. Improving consumer confidence helps support additional consumer spending, so this increase is quite welcome.
What to look forward to
Wednesday will see the release of the Consumer Price Index for November. Consumer inflation is expected to increase by 0.2 percent for the month, which would bring annual inflation up to 2 percent. Core inflation is also expected to show 0.2 percent monthly growth, with annual core inflation set to remain unchanged at 2.3 percent. The tariffs imposed on consumer goods from China in September have not had much of an impact on consumer prices, as slowing economic growth has put downward pressure on prices.
The FOMC will be meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the FOMC rate decision will be released Wednesday afternoon. Economists expect the Fed to leave interest rates unchanged, breaking a streak of three straight meetings with a rate cut. Despite the expectation for unchanged rates, there will still be plenty to pay attention to. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is scheduled to hold a press conference after the meeting, where he will likely discuss the Fed’s updated outlook. Market participants will be widely monitoring Powell’s speech for any hints of future policy moves.
On Thursday, we’ll get a look at November’s Producer Price Index. As was the case with consumer prices, economists expect 0.2 percent monthly growth for headline and core producer prices. Both headline and core producer prices are expected to increase slightly on a year-over-year basis, with headline inflation set to increase by 1.2 percent and core inflation expected to show 1.7 percent growth. Inflation has been largely muted this year and sits below the Fed’s stated 2 percent target.
We’ll finish the week with Friday’s release of November’s retail sales report. Sales are expected to show 0.4 percent monthly growth, following a solid 0.3 percent increase in October. Core retail sales, which strip out the impact of volatile automobile and gas purchases, are also expected to show 0.4 percent growth, which would be the best result since August. Consumer spending has been the major driver of economic growth this year. So, this anticipated acceleration as we head into the busy holiday season would be very encouraging.
That’s it for this week—thanks for reading!