June 25 – Weekly Economic Update

TARIFF TALK INTENSIFIES

Major economic powers proposed additional import taxes last week, as investors wondered if a global trade war was now underway. Monday evening, President Trump stated that he had instructed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to identify another $200 billion of Chinese products to subject to a new 10% import duty. Shortly before the trading week began, the European Union proclaimed it would place import taxes on $3.3 billion of U.S. products, in retaliation to recently imposed metals tariffs. Friday, President Trump mulled imposing a 20% tax on autos arriving from the E.U. unless it lifts such import duties. 1,2

 

EXISTING HOME SALES WEAKEN SLIGHTLY

A National Association of Realtors report says that sales tapered off 0.4% in May. While the inventory of homes listed grew 2.8% in the fifth month of the year, the median price of an existing home hit an all-time peak of $264,800. The sales pace was 3.0% slower than in May 2017. 3

 

HOUSING STARTS RISE, BUT PERMITS FALL

While home sales were nearly flat last month, groundbreaking increased 5.0% according to the Census Bureau. Its latest report on U.S. residential construction also noted a 4.6% drop in building permits, far exceeding the decline seen in April. 4

 

BLUE CHIPS SHED 2%

To be precise, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 2.03% last week, sinking to 24,580.89 at Friday’s close even with a 119-point Friday gain. Faring better, the Nasdaq Composite retreated 0.69% to 7,692.82 in the same time frame, while the S&P 500 declined 0.89% to 2,754.88. 5

 

THIS WEEK : Investors react to May new home sales data and Q2 earnings from Carnival on Monday. The Conference Board’s June consumer confidence index appears Tuesday, along with the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price index and earnings from Lennar and Sonic. On Wednesday, Wall Street considers the NAR’s May index of housing contract activity, May durable goods orders, and earnings from Bed Bath & Beyond, General Mills, Paychex, and Rite Aid. Thursday, the thirdestimate of Q1 economic growth arrives, along with the latest initial claims figures and earnings announcements from Accenture, ConAgra Brands, KB Home, Nike, and Walgreens Boots Alliance. May personal spending data, the May PCE price index, and the final June University of Michigan consumer sentiment index emerge Friday, plus earnings from Constellation Brands.

 

% CHANGE Y-T-D 1-YR CHG 5-YR AVG 10-YR AVG
DJIA -0.56 +14.88 +13.22 +10.76
NASDAQ +11.44 +23.35 +25.83 +22.25
S&P 500 +3.04 +13.16 +14.60 +10.90
REAL YIELD 6/22 RATE 1 YR AGO 5 YRS AGO 10 YRS AGO
10 YR TIPS 0.78% 0.46% 0.59% 1.75%

 

June 18 – Weekly Economic Update

FED, NEW TARIFFS GET WALL STREET’S ATTENTION

As expected, the Federal Reserve adjusted the target range on the federal funds rate to 1.75%-2.00% on Wednesday. The central bank’s latest dot-plot projection, however, raised some eyebrows: it showed four interest rate increases planned for 2018 instead of three. The median forecast of Fed officials puts the benchmark interest rate at 2.4% at the end of this year, on the way to a peak of 3.4% in 2020. Friday morning, the Trump administration announced new 25% tariffs on at least $34 billion of Chinese imports. Hours later, China retaliated, declaring that it would levy 25% import taxes on a minimum of $34 billion of goods from America. The U.S. and China both plan to implement their new tariffs on July 6. 1,2

 

YEARLY INFLATION REACHES 2.8%

The latest Consumer Price Index shows the highest 12-month inflation reading in six years; the core CPI (which leaves out food and fuel costs) rose 2.2% in the year ending in May. Both the headline and core CPI were up 0.2% last month. Wholesale inflation, as measured by the Producer Price Index, increased 0.5% in May. 3,4

 

AN IMPRESSIVE ADVANCE FOR RETAIL SALES 

According to the Department of Commerce, the May gain was 0.8% (0.9% with car and truck buying factored out). This follows an April improvement of 0.4% (revised up from 0.3%). 4

 

A MIXED WEEK FOR THE MAJOR INDICES

Once again, the Nasdaq Composite outran the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500. Last week, the tech benchmark added 1.32% to settle at 7,746.38 at Friday’s closing bell. The S&P 500 ended up flat for the week (+0.01%) at 2,779.42. At Friday’s close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had slipped 0.89% in five days to 25,090.48. 5

 

THIS WEEK : Nothing major is slated for Monday. Wall Street considers earnings from FedEx, La-Z-Boy, and Oracle on Tuesday, along with the latest Census Bureau snapshot of housing construction activity.   Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell discusses monetary policy at a European Central Bank forum on Wednesday morning; investors will also eye earnings from Micron Technology, Steelcase, and Winnebago, and a National Association of Realtors report on existing home sales. Thursday, the Conference Board issues its May leading indicators index, a new initial jobless claims report arrives, and Barnes & Noble, Darden Restaurants, Kroger, and Red Hat present earnings. Friday, Blackberry, and CarMax offer Q1 results.

 

% CHANGE Y-T-D 1-YR CHG 5-YR AVG 10-YR AVG
DJIA +1.50 +17.47 +13.30 +10.45
NASDAQ +12.21 +25.64 +25.25 +21.30
S&P 500 +3.96 +14.26 +14.17 +10.43
REAL YIELD 6/15 RATE 1 YR AGO 5 YRS AGO 10 YRS AGO
10 YR TIPS 0.81% 0.49% 0.09% 1.76%

June 11 – Weekly Economic Update

100 MONTHS OF GROWTH FOR SERVICE BUSINESSES

The Institute for Supply Management announced this milestone as it revealed a 58.6 May reading for its non-manufacturing purchasing manager index. That excellent reading was well north of the 56.8 mark seen in April. Fourteen of the fifteen service industries followed by the PMI reported expansion in May; the information sector was the only outlier. 1

 

Q2 GDP OUTLOOK BRIGHTENS

Is the economy now expanding at the rate of 5% a year? The bold new estimate by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta nearly says as much. The Atlanta Fed projects a 4.6% GDP reading for Q2. The first quarter saw a 2.2% rate of growth, and the economy grew 2.3% for all of 2017. 2

 

SOCIAL SECURITY TO TAP ITS RESERVES THIS YEAR

Last week, Social Security’s trustees announced that the program needs to dip into its trust funds for the first time in 36 years in order to fully fund itself in 2018. In their annual report, the trustees noted that monthly benefits could be reduced as much as 23% by 2034 if no legislative action is taken on Capitol Hill between now and then. The report also noted that Medicare’s hospital insurance fund risks being depleted by 2026; barring a fix, Medicare might only pay out 91% of hospital costs at that point. 3

 

NASDAQ ATTAINS RECORD TERRITORY AGAIN

Finishing Friday at 7,645.51, the Nasdaq Composite retreated from its historic closes on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week. Even so, it gained 1.21% across five trading sessions. The S&P 500 added 1.62% last week to settle at 2,779.03 Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average? It rose 2.77% for the week, reaching 25,316.53 at Friday’s closing bell. 4,5

 

THIS WEEK : Nothing major is scheduled on Monday. The May Consumer Price Index appears Tuesday, plus earnings from H&R Block.   Wednesday, Wall Street awaits a Federal Reserve interest rate decision and considers the May Producer Price Index. May retail sales numbers appear Thursday, in addition to a new initial jobless claims report and quarterly results from Michaels Companies. On Friday, the University of Michigan releases its preliminary June consumer sentiment index.

 

% CHANGE Y-T-D 1-YR CHG 5-YR AVG 10-YR AVG
DJIA +2.42 +19.52 +13.21 +10.62
NASDAQ +10.75 +20.94 +24.08 +21.09
S&P 500 +3.94 +14.19 +13.82 +10.41
REAL YIELD 6/8 RATE 1 YR AGO 5 YRS AGO 10 YRS AGO
10 YR TIPS 0.82% 0.41% 0.03% 1.54%

June – Monthly Economic Update

THE MONTH IN BRIEF
In May, investors were left to interpret mixed geopolitical and financial signals. The historic U.S.-North Korea summit was on, then off, then possibly on again. An apparent truce emerged in the U.S.-China tariffs battle, but it did not last. Oil rallied, but then prices fell. Federal Reserve policy meeting minutes indicated central bank officials would accept above-target inflation for a while. Other economic signals were clear: new and existing home sales were down, consumer confidence was back up, and consumer spending was strong. In the end, the markets took all this in stride – the S&P 500 rose 2.16% for the month. 1

 

DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH
On May 19, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin told the media that the U.S.-China trade war was “on hold.” Both nations agreed to refrain from imposing new import tariffs, and China announced plans to lower taxes on imported cars and trucks from 25% to 15%. Ten days later, the U.S. surprised economists, journalists, and investors by electing to proceed with the 25% tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports it had proposed in April. The Chinese government indicated it was ready to institute tariffs in response. On May 31, the Trump administration said that it would move forward with its planned steel and aluminum tariffs against Mexico, Canada, and the European Union, as well as extend short-term exemptions no further. Mexico and the E.U. quickly announced retaliatory taxes for U.S. imports. 2,3

 

What did the Federal Reserve mean when it used the word “symmetric” in the minutes of its May meeting? The text referred to its “symmetric inflation objective,” and that obscure adjective (meaning “showing symmetry”) was used nine times. Market participants did learn that Fed policymakers were willing to let inflation briefly top the central bank’s 2% target rate. The Fed held interest rates steady last month, but a June rate hike seemed a distinct possibility: “Most participants judged that if incoming information broadly confirmed their current economic outlook, it would likely soon be appropriate [to] take another step in removing policy accommodation.” 4,5

 

Looking at inflation gauges and other core economic indicators kept by federal government departments, the positives seemed to outnumber the negatives. Consumer prices were up 2.5% annually through April, just 0.1% above the March reading, and yearly wholesale inflation fell to 2.6% from the 3.0% advance measured in the third month of the year. The Core PCE Price Index showed 2.3% year-over-year inflation through April, as opposed to 2.5% through March. Hard goods orders were down 1.7% in April, but rose 0.9% minus defense industry orders. Retail sales improved another 0.3% for April, and that gain held up even with auto sales removed. Another report showed consumer spending advancing 0.6% in April, consumer incomes 0.3%. Gross domestic product in the first quarter was evaluated at 2.2%. 5,6

 

Unemployment dropped to 3.9% in April and 3.8% in May, according to the Department of Labor. That was a low unseen since 2000. Wages grew 0.1% in April and 0.3% a month later; net job creation was at 159,000 in April and 223,000 in May. The U-6 rate, tracking both unemployed and underemployed workers, fell to 7.6% in May; it was 0.2% higher a month before. 5,7

 

The Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing manager indices showed slightly slower industry growth in April than in March; both benchmarks lost 2.0 points. The manufacturing PMI was at 57.3; the non-manufacturing PMI, at 56.8. 8

 

Lastly, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose 2.4 points in May, reaching a lofty 128.0. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index declined 0.8 points from its initial May mark to 98.0. 5

 

GLOBAL ECONOMIC HEALTH
Political turmoil in Southern Europe made investors uneasy as May concluded. Italian President Sergio Mattarella effectively prevented the formation of a coalition government in late May. Populist parties managed to establish a new government as May ended, but investors and economists worried that the populists could try to push Italy out of the European Union. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was ousted by a parliamentary vote and replaced by new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who headed a coalition including Catalan separatists. 9,10

 

An analysis by Bloomberg pointed to a moderate deceleration in the Chinese economy. Bloomberg Economics concluded in late May that the P.R.C. was indeed on pace for 6.5% growth in 2018, parallel with official estimates. That would represent a drop from the nation’s 6.9% GDP in 2017. Meanwhile, new data showed the Japanese economy contracting 0.6% the first quarter, displaying its first negative GDP reading in more than two years. In its May economic report, Japan’s Cabinet Office maintained that the world’s third-largest economy was “gradually recovering.”11,12

 

WORLD MARKETS
Away from America, the TSX Composite achieved the standout gain of the month, rising 2.91%. Nearly matching Canada’s leading stock benchmark, the United Kingdom’s FTSE 100 advanced 2.25%. Taiwan’s TSE 50 improved 1.09%. There were other, minor index improvements: the Shanghai Composite rose 0.43%; the Sensex, 0.46%; the MSCI World, 0.31%. 13,14

 

Losses were widespread in a month with much geopolitical and trade uncertainty. The West saw two of the biggest drops: a 7.64% slump for Mexico’s Bolsa and a 10.87% fall for Brazil’s Bovespa. Political tension in Spain drove the IBEX 35 5.16% lower. Singapore’s Straits Times index slipped 5.14%, and Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Composite took a 6.94% fall. France’s CAC 40 lost 2.21%; the Nikkei 225, 1.45%; the Hang Seng, 1.10%. The MSCI Emerging Markets index retreated 3.75%. 13,14

 

COMMODITIES MARKETS

In the middle of May, light sweet crude seemed poised for a major monthly gain. Although the NYMEX price surpassed $72 at one point, things reversed: oil ended up losing 2.09% on the month, settling at $67.15 on May 31. Natural gas was the leader among major energy futures, up 6.62%. Heating oil rose 2.22%, while unleaded gasoline gained 1.94%. Crops were led by cotton, which jumped 11.10%, and sugar, which surged 11.02%. Coffee futures advanced 2.74% in May; wheat, 1.79%; corn, 0.32%. Soybeans retreated 1.93%, and cocoa dropped 13.60%. 15

 

Ending May at a COMEX close of $1,298.00, gold was down 1.17% for the month. Other key metals advanced: silver gained 1.14%; platinum, 1.25%; copper, 0.30%. (Silver futures closed out the month at $16.45.) The U.S. Dollar Index stood at 94.07 at the close on May 31, having added 2.43% for the month. 15,16

 

REAL ESTATE
Mortgage rates may have soared in April, but they stabilized in May. On May 31, Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey found the mean interest rate for a conventional home loan at 4.56%, which was 0.02% lower than on April 26. (At the end of May 2017, the average interest rate on a 30-year ARM was 3.95%.) The average rate for the refinancer’s favorite, the 15-year FRM, rose 0.04% to 4.06% between April 26 and May 31; the average rate for the 5/1-year ARM increased 0.06% to 3.80%. 17,18

 

Home buying fell off in April. According to National Association of Realtors research, there was a 2.5% retreat in the pace of existing home sales. What homes did sell spent an average of 26 days on the market. The median sale price ($257,900) was up 5.4% in April from the start of 2018. Census Bureau data showed new home sales slowing 1.5% in the fourth month of the year, and while the median sales price for a new residence declined 7.9% during April, that median price ($312,400) was not exactly in starter-home territory in many parts of the country. 18

 

The March S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price index arrived, displaying a 6.8% overall annualized improvement for housing values across 20 metro areas; the increase matched that seen in the February edition. The NAR’s pending home sales index declined 1.3% for March. Builders went to work on 3.7% fewer projects in April than they had in March. Mirroring the decline in starts, the Census Bureau also recorded a 1.8% dip in building permits. 5

 

LOOKING BACK…LOOKING FORWARD  
What really attracted equity investors in May? Tech and small-cap shares. Both the Nasdaq Composite and Russell 2000 had a great month. The Nasdaq surged 5.32%; the Russell, 5.95%. (The Russell, incidentally, ended May at +6.39% YTD.) The S&P 500 posted a fine 2.16% gain, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose a respectable 1.05%. The CBOE VIX lost 3.14% for the month. When the closing bell rang on May 31, the Dow settled at 24,415.84; the Nasdaq, 7,442.12; the S&P, 2,705.27; the Russell, 1,633.61; the VIX, 15.43. 1,19

 

% CHANGE Y-T-D 1-YR CHG 5-YR AVG 10-YR AVG
DJIA -1.23 +16.22 +12.31 +9.32
NASDAQ +7.80 +20.06 +23.07 +19.50
S&P 500 +1.18 +12.17 +13.18 +9.32
REAL YIELD 5/31 RATE 1 YR AGO 5 YRS AGO 10 YRS AGO
10 YR TIPS 0.76% 0.40% -0.05% 1.58%

 

Sources: wsj.combigcharts.comtreasury.gov – 5/31/18 1,20,21,22

Indices are unmanaged, do not incur fees or expenses, and cannot be invested into directly. These returns do not include dividends. 10-year TIPS real yield = projected return at maturity given expected inflation.

 

Tariffs are now being levied on imported steel and aluminum, and the trading partners affected by these taxes are responding or planning to respond with tariffs of their own on U.S. goods. Could stocks stall out because of this? An impeded flow of international trade would certainly impact the GDP of the world’s major economies and exert a drag on corporate earnings. The uneasiness about the brewing trade war gives some investors pause; the potential scope of it seems too large to price in. It is hard to imagine any kind of summer rally if the measures and countermeasures taken by various countries escalate. Not all investors appear to be worried, though – witness what happened in May even as the distinct possibility of trade wars emerged. The blue chips were hurt, but the tech sector and the small caps held up. Do these shares have further room to advance, and will investors retain their bullishness about them? June presents significant questions for investors worldwide, and we may see equities tested as threatened tariffs become reality.

 

UPCOMING ECONOMIC RELEASES:  Here is what is ahead for June: the May ISM services PMI (6/5), the May Consumer Price Index (6/12), a Federal Reserve interest rate decision and the May Producer Price Index (6/13), May retail sales (6/14), May industrial production and the preliminary June consumer sentiment index from the University of Michigan (6/15), the Census Bureau’s latest look at housing construction activity (6/19), May existing home sales (6/20), a new Conference Board index of leading indicators (6/21), May new home sales (6/25), the latest Conference Board consumer confidence index (6/26), May pending home sales and hard goods orders (6/27), the third estimate of Q1 growth from the federal government (6/28), and May personal income and personal spending, the final June University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, and a new PCE price index (6/29).

June 4 – Weekly Economic Update

HIRING, HOUSEHOLD SPENDING STRENGTHEN

Net job growth surprised to the upside in May: companies added 223,000 more workers than they laid off or fired. At 3.8%, the unemployment rate is now where the Federal Reserve thought it would be at the end of 2018, and it is also at its lowest level since April 2000. Underemployment, as measured by the Department of Labor’s U-6 jobless rate, fell 0.2% in May to a 17-year-low of 7.6%. Year-over-year wage growth was measured at 2.7% in this latest labor market snapshot. In another sign of a strong economy, the Department of Commerce said that consumer spending grew by a noteworthy 0.6% in April, with consumer incomes rising 0.3%.1,2

 

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE REBOUNDS

The Conference Board’s closely watched consumer confidence index improved to 128.0 in May, rising 2.4 points from its April mark. Analysts polled by MarketWatch expected a reading of 127.5. 2

 

FACTORY SECTOR CONTINUES TO BOOM

Growth picked up in U.S. manufacturing last month, according to the Institute for Supply Management’s May purchasing manager index. At an impressive reading of 58.7, the PMI was 1.4 points better than it was in April and matched its average reading over the past 12 months. The index has not been below 56.5 for a year. Any reading above 50.0 indicates expansion. 3

 

WALL STREET SHRUGS AT NEW IMPORT TAXES

The Trump administration is following through on its pledge to impose tariffs on metals imported from Mexico, Canada, and the European Union – and all those trading partners are responding in kind. Incipient trade war or not, investors felt confident last week – confident enough to send the Nasdaq Composite another 1.62% higher in four days. The S&P 500 added 0.49% in those four sessions, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.48% last week. Their respective Friday settlements: Dow, 24,635.21; Nasdaq, 7,554.33; S&P, 2,734.62. 4,5

 

THIS WEEK : On Monday, Apple kicks off its weeklong 2018 developer conference, and Dell Technologies and Palo Alto Networks announce earnings. The ISM service sector PMI appears Tuesday. Wednesday, Thor Industries reports quarterly results. On Thursday, Wall Street reviews the latest initial jobless claims data and earnings from Broadcom and J.M. Smucker. Friday, nothing major is scheduled.

 

% CHANGE Y-T-D 1-YR CHG 5-YR AVG 10-YR AVG
DJIA -0.34 +16.51 +12.60 +9.70
NASDAQ +9.43 +20.93 +23.72 +20.32
S&P 500 +2.28 +12.53 +13.54 +9.74
REAL YIELD 6/1 RATE 1 YR AGO 5 YRS AGO 10 YRS AGO
10 YR TIPS 0.80% 0.40% -0.05% 1.51%

April 16th – Weekly Economic Update

CONSUMER SENTIMENT INDEX DESCENDS SLIGHTLY

In its initial April edition, the University of Michigan’s survey of household sentiment saw its index decline to 97.8 from its final March reading of 101.4. The survey’s chief economist, Richard Curtin, believed that “uncertainty surrounding the evolving [U.S.] trade policy” affected the reading, but he added that “confidence still remains relatively high.” 1

A SURPRISE RETREAT FOR THE HEADLINE CPI

Economists polled by Briefing.com assumed the Consumer Price Index would rise 0.1% in March. Instead, it fell by that amount, largely due to a dip in gasoline costs. Core consumer inflation increased 0.2% and matched their expectations. Looking at the big picture, the Department of Labor said that consumer prices were up 2.4% year-over-year through March. 2,3

OIL SOARS AS POSSIBILITY OF SYRIA STRIKE LOOMS

Light sweet crude rose 8.6% in five days on the NYMEX, breaking a 2-week losing streak and settling at $67.39 Friday. That was oil’s best close since December 2014. 4

STOCKS CLIMB AS EARNINGS SEASON BEGINS

Less anxiety about tariffs and renewed optimism about tech and financial shares led the market higher last week. The S&P 500 gained 1.99% in five days to settle at 2,656.30 Friday. The Dow Industrials rose 1.79% to a Friday close of 24,360.14, and the Nasdaq Composite added 2.77%, wrapping up Friday’s trading day at 7,106.65. Wall Street’s “fear index,” the CBOE VIX, declined 18.99% for the week. 5

 

THIS WEEK : On Monday, Bank of America, Celanese, and Netflix present Q1 results, and March retail sales numbers also arrive. Tuesday, earnings from Comerica, CSX, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Northern Trust, and UnitedHealth appear, plus data on March construction activity. Wednesday’s earnings roll call includes Abbott Labs, Alcoa, American Express, Fred’s, Morgan Stanley, U.S. Bancorp, and United Rentals; investors will also consider a new Federal Reserve Beige Book.  BoNY Mellon, BB&T, Blackstone Group, E*TRADE, GATX, KeyCorp, Novartis AG, Nucor, Pentair, Philip Morris, Quest Diagnostics, Snap-On, Sonoco Products, and W.W. Grainger report earnings on Thursday, when new initial jobless claims numbers are also released. GE, Honeywell International, Procter & Gamble, Regions Financial, Schlumberger, State Street, SunTrust Banks, and Waste Management announce earnings Friday.

 

% CHANGE Y-T-D 1-YR CHG 5-YR AVG 10-YR AVG
DJIA -1.45 +19.10 +12.78 +9.80
NASDAQ +2.94 +22.42 +23.14 +21.23
S&P 500 -0.65 +14.06 +13.44 +10.00
REAL YIELD 4/13 RATE 1 YR AGO 5 YRS AGO 10 YRS AGO
10 YR TIPS 0.69% 0.32% -0.68% 1.23%