KEY DATA: Confidence: 92.6 (up 1.6 points)/National Home Prices (Year-over-Year): 4.6%
IN A NUTSHELL: “The consumer is smiling and there is every reason to think the era of good feeling will continue next year.”
WHAT IT MEANS: If 2015 is to be the year of that the consumer makes a comeback, it will have to start with people actually feeling good about things – and they do. The Conference Board’s Consumer Index rose in December led by a surge in the current conditions measure. People viewed the labor market more positively with jobs becoming more plentiful. The perceptions of business conditions also improved. As a consequence, the Present Conditions Index hit its highest level since February 2008, which was at the start of the Great Recession but well before the banks collapsed. The only concern in the report was that the outlook for the future faded a touch. It is hard to understand how the present economy is clearly improving but optimism is not when there have been few factors that have raised concerns about the future. I guess record stock prices and soaring job gains are problems. Or maybe it was the election results. Or more than likely, it was just one month’s numbers.
As for housing, price gains continue to slow. The latest S&P/Case-Shiller report showed that the deceleration in year-over-year price increases continued in October. While the monthly change was negative, on a seasonally adjusted basis, the national index continued to post a solid rise. That holds out hope that we are reaching a bottom on the price appreciation decline. Nevertheless, it is not looking like we are in for a sharp rise in prices anytime soon. Looking across the country, none of the twenty metro areas identified posted a double-digit rise from October 2013. Similarly, none posted a decline over the month, when you look at the seasonally adjusted numbers, so that is something positive to work with.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The year is coming to an end and the good news is that people are feeling positive about economic conditions. All signs point to strong growth in 2015 and while optimism is great, households still need the wherewithal, i.e., income, to follow through on those thoughts. That is the big unknown entering 2015 and how wage and salary gains play out will determine the strength of the economy. I believe that job gains will be robust and by spring, labor shortages and with them, higher wage increases, will follow. That is my wish for the New Year, but as the saying goes, “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” In other words, we shall see. On that note, let me say:
Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!