KEY DATA: Consumption: +0.3%; Disposable Income: +0.3%; Prices: +0.1%/ Pending Sales: -0.8%/ Layoffs: 33,825/ Claims: +1,000
IN A NUTSHELL: “It looks like the economy is sustaining the momentum created in the spring as consumers are still spending decently.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Can the economy keep it up? GDP expanded quite solidly in the second quarter, led by strong consumer spending and robust business investment. While the investment numbers are not yet out, it looks like the consumer is still hitting the stores and websites, though not at the pace we saw in the spring. Consumption rose moderately in July. When adjusted for price gains it was good but not that great even though inflation remains contained. Still, spending on both durable and nondurable goods was robust. It was just that demand for services was mediocre. Consumers, though, can maintain that decent pace. Disposable income continues to grow as wage and salary gains were strong for the third time in four months. The concern, though, is that the savings rate continues to decline, so how long people will keep up the spending pace is uncertain.
The roller coaster that is the housing market continues its up and down ride. The National Association of Realtors reported that pending home sales fell slightly in July. Declines were in three of the four regions, with only a small gain in the West. Over the year, there was an increase only in the Northeast. It looks like home sales will not pick up much, if at all, in the next couple of months.
Businesses continue to hold on to their workers tightly. Challenger, Gray and Christmas reported that layoff announcement did rise in August, both over the month and the year. But so far this year, planned payroll reductions are down over 26% compared to the first eight months of 2016. Retailers have announced the largest number of layoffs this year, but that is slowing. The services sector is also running well ahead of 2016 numbers. In contrast, the energy sector has cut its layoff announcements by 87%.
Weekly jobless claims rose minimally last week and remain near record lows.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The expansion continues unabated, but it is beginning to look like we may not see growth at or above the 3% pace posted in the second quarter. Houston is going to create some noise in the data for quite a while. The metro area is so large that reductions in some sectors or increases in others can affect the monthly, seasonably adjusted data. The numbers don’t account for major natural catastrophes. So, it is really hard to know what third and fourth quarter growth will come in at. That said, the overall impact might not be large, as much of the rebuilding will occur over many months if not years. I had flood insurance but it still took many weeks to get just the first check after Sandy flooded the first floor. Some homes took years to be rebuilt. Imagine the situation in Houston where most people don’t have insurance. It could take a long time to get things done, even if Congress acts quickly. Thus, investors will have to parse the data over the next few months really carefully to separate out the temporary factors from the underlying trend. As for tomorrow’s jobs report, the expectations are that it will be a good one with about 175,000 new positions added and the unemployment rate remaining at 4.3%. I think that forecast is high and it will be closer to 150,000.