November Consumer Confidence, Small Business Employment and September Housing Prices

KEY DATA:  Confidence: -2.1 points/ Small Business Hiring (+0.3%); Over-Year: +6.8%/ Home Prices: +1%; Over-Year +19.5%

IN A NUTSHELL: “Consumers are getting rattled by rising prices and the Omicron variant is not going to help going forward.”

WHAT IT MEANS:  We know people have money – income gains have been robust – but at what pace will they spend it?  Consumer spending may hinge on consumer sentiment, and right now that is a little shaky.  The Conference Board reported that its Consumer Confidence Index fell in November.  After rebounding sharpy with the reopening of the economy, the reality of price increases and the continued presence of Covid have sapped confidence.  Views of current and future conditions faded, as job and income prospects declined.  The level of all the indices remains well below where they were pre-pandemic.  Hopefully, the Omicron variant will not turn out to be a major game-changer, as people already have enough to worry about.

Small businesses continue to hire.  The Paychex/HIS Markit Small Business increased again in November, though at a slower pace than October.  Still, the gain over the year is robust, and the 4.1% wage increase over the is strong, though not excessively so given the labor shortages.

Home prices remain out of control.  Yes, the Case-Shiller National Index rose more “moderately” in September, if you can call 1% moderate.  But the year-over-year increase did decelerate.  Of course, 19.5% is not much of a deceleration from the 19.8% rise posted in August.  I guess we can be happy about little things.

IMPLICATIONS:Consumers have been spending, but it doesn’t appear if they are particularly exuberant about things. Initial reports indicate that Black Friday cyber sales may have dropped over the year for the first time, though in-store sales look like they picked up.  That said, the availability of vaccines means there is little sense in comparing the last two years.  It also looks like the idea that Black Friday is the key day is also anachronistic.  Sales start early in the month, if not sooner, and accelerate.  Consumers have also recognized that you can sometimes save money by purchasing items before or after the Thanksgiving extended weekend.  So, while it is fun to make all these comparisons, it is not very enlightening.  We need to look at the entire shopping season and that looks like it will be up massively.  In addition, once vehicle makers can become vehicle builders again, vehicle sales should pick up.  Fourth quarter consumption should be really good.  But given the job and income growth, as well as the federal government’s continued largesse, it should be great.  Confidence will determine if that turns out to be the case.  I suspect we will not get the massive surge we should be seeing.  With firms announcing they will be raising prices next year and with Omicron a potential issue for at least for a few more weeks, we need to be a little cautious about the economic outlook.