Last week was a big one for economic data, with four major reports. Despite the weaker tone of the data in recent weeks, the latest news was quite positive. All indicators either met or beat expectations—sometimes by a lot.
Last week’s news
On Monday, the personal income and spending report for December did slightly better than expected. Income growth rose from 0.3 percent in November to 0.4 percent for December, while spending ticked down slightly from 0.6-percent growth in November to 0.4-percent growth for December. Previous months were revised up, leaving the total spending level above expectations. Fourth-quarter consumption was up by 3.8 percent, which is excellent. One concern, however, was that spending was driven by savings rather than income, as the savings rate dropped to the lowest level since late 2005. This worry has been somewhat offset, however, by the strong wage growth figure in the jobs report (discussed below).
On Tuesday, the Conference Board consumer confidence survey surprised to the upside. Confidence ticked up from 122.1 in December to 125.4 in January, well above expectations of 123. With the stock market rising and the tax cuts starting to affect paychecks, the increase came from the expectations index, rather than the present-conditions index, which may bode well for the future. Overall, this index remains at levels consistent with continued strong growth.
The regular meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee concluded on Wednesday. As expected, the committee took no action on interest rates, but the meeting statement was interpreted as somewhat more hawkish than previous statements. As this was Chair Yellen’s last meeting, markets were watching for clues to see how the policy tilt of the new chair, Jay Powell, may be different. The perceived hawkish lean may have helped drive rates higher.
On Thursday, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Manufacturing index for January was released. It ticked down from a downwardly revised but still very strong 59.3 in December to an almost as strong 59.1 for January, which was above expectations of 58.6. This drop reflected both continued weakness in the dollar, which makes U.S.-manufactured goods more affordable, and continued growth throughout the world. This is a diffusion index, where levels above 50 indicate expansion, so the current level still signals healthy growth.
Finally, on Friday, we got the employment report, which was quite strong. Total job growth was 200,000 for January, while December was revised up from 148,000 to 160,000. This equates to a total add of 212,000—well above expectations of 180,000. Almost all of the growth came from private companies, which added 196,000 jobs in January. This result was up from an upwardly revised 166,000 gain in December and, again, well above expectations of 181,000. Wage growth was also strong. In January, wages were up 0.3 percent, above expectations of a 0.2-percent increase, while December was revised up from growth of 0.3 percent to 0.4 percent. On an annual basis, wage growth rose to 2.9 percent, the highest level since the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009.
What to look forward to
This will be a light week for economic news, with only two major releases.
On Monday, the ISM released its Nonmanufacturing index, which tracks the service sector. The index handily beat expectations, climbing to 59.9 in January, from 56 in December. This is a diffusion index, with values greater than 50 indicating expansion. After two down months, this result is especially welcome. It is also in line with last week’s ISM Manufacturing survey, as well as strong consumer confidence numbers.
On Tuesday, the international trade report is expected to show that the trade deficit widened again—from $50.5 billion in December to $52.1 billion in January. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported earlier this month that the goods trade deficit widened by $1 billion, and services should account for the remainder. If the numbers come in as expected, this would be a further drag on fourth-quarter economic growth. Signs suggest, however, that export growth should start outpacing import growth in 2018, which would improve matters going forward.
Have a great week!