KEY DATA: Confidence: +2.1 points: Current Conditions: +6.7 points; Expectations: -1 point/ Orders: +22.6%; Excluding Aircraft: +1.6%/ Home Prices (Monthly): 1%; Year-over-Year: 8.1%
IN A NUTSHELL: “Consumers are getting some real smiles on their faces and that should help propel spending, but only if wage increases improve.”
WHAT IT MEANS: There were a number of key reports released today and maybe the most interesting one was the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence numbers. Overall confidence rose solidly again in August, the fourth consecutive increase. The level hasn’t been this high since October 2007. The eye-opening component was the Present Situation index, which surged. There was a sharp rise in the percentage of respondents who thought that jobs were plentiful and a modest decline in those who felt it was difficult to find a position. Strangely, fewer believe job openings will rise in the near future. Rationality may not be at work here. The other key finding is that people are not overly optimistic about their incomes increasing going forward. That, even more than their general view of the world, could keep households from spending briskly.
Orders for big-ticket items skyrocketed in July, but when civilian aircraft orders rise 318%, you know that the headline is largely meaningless. Excluding private and defense aircraft, orders did jump and that was due to strength in the vehicle sector, which was up over 10%. Otherwise, the numbers were largely off, with only communications posting a nice gain. Business capital spending eased, but quite modestly compared to the jump posted in June. Backlogs are building nicely and that should mean expanding production going forward.
Home prices continue to rise, but the rate of increase is decelerating. The S&P/Case Shiller 20-city index was up decently in June and has moved back to fall, but the gain over the year was down in all twenty cities. The price index is back to where it was in fall 2004.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Consumers are feeling a lot better about economic conditions, but they are not exuberant about their income possibilities. That is holding back spending and until the labor market tightens further, wage increases will remain limited. That is why the debate over the slack in the workforce is so important. In addition, home price gains are slowing. While that may help affordability, it hurts the churn in the market as fewer homeowners will see their equity levels rise to where they can once again sell their homes. That said, the jump in orders does point to continued decent overall economic growth but until we get the consumer going, strong growth will remain a wish not a reality. Investors should understand that, even as they bid up prices. But these reports only add to the divisions that exist at the Fed. It’s still the labor market and we don’t get the August employment report until the Friday after Labor Day.