Market Focus: Is it corporate earnings or Chairman Ben Bernanke speaking before Congress? Take your pick. Lots of “surveys” lots of housing and two days of Fed Speak all rolled up with the backdrop of an onslaught of earnings. Look for companies to beat lowered expectations.
Retail Sales: Retail sales measure the total receipts at stores that sell durable and nondurable goods. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of GDP and is therefore a key element in economic growth. The consensus estimate is for a rise of .2% after last month’s -.2% increase and up .0.1% excluding autos after last month’s -.4% increase. What it means to you: Retail sales are a major indicator of consumer spending trends because they account for nearly one-half of total consumer spending and approximately one-third of aggregate economic activity.
Empire State MFG: The New York Fed conducts this monthly survey of manufacturers in New York State. Participants from across the state represent a variety of industries. On the first of each month, the same pool of roughly 175 manufacturing executives (usually the CEO or the president) is sent a questionnaire to report the change in an assortment of indicators from the previous month. Respondents also give their views about the likely direction of these same indicators six months ahead. The consensus estimate is that there will be an increase from 2.29 to 4.5. What it means to you: The Empire Manufacturing Survey gives a detailed look at New York State’s manufacturing sector, how busy it is and where things are headed. Since manufacturing is a major sector of the economy, this report has a big influence on the markets. Some of the Empire State Survey sub-indexes also provide insight on commodity prices and other clues on inflation.
Business Inventories: Business inventories are the dollar amount of inventories held by manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. The level of inventories in relation to sales is an important indicator of the near-term direction of production activity. The consensus estimate is for a decrease from last month’s .4 to .3. This will still leave inventories historically low. What it means to you: Rising inventories can be an indication of business optimism that sales will be growing in the coming months. By looking at the ratio of inventories to sales, investors can see whether production demands will expand or contract in the near future. For example, if inventory growth lags sales growth, then manufacturers will have to boost production lest commodity shortages occur. On the other hand, if unintended inventory accumulation occurs (that is, sales do not meet expectations), then production will probably have to slow while those inventories are worked down.
CPI: The Consumer Price Index is a measure of the average price level of a fixed basket of goods and services purchased by consumers. Monthly changes in the CPI represent the rate of inflation. The consensus estimate is for an increase of 0% and an increase in the core rate of .2% (same as last month’s .2%). What it means to you: The consumer price index is the most widely followed monthly indicator of inflation. The CPI is considered a cost-of-living measure since it is used to adjust contracts of all types that are tied to inflation. For monetary policy, the Federal Reserve generally follows “headline” and “core” inflation. This latter measure excludes the volatile food and energy components. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure is not the CPI but the personal consumption price index because it reflects what consumers are actually buying during any given period-the component weights are updated annually while those for the CPI are updated infrequently.
Industrial Production: The index of industrial production is available nationally by market and industry groupings. The major groupings are comprised of final products (such as consumer goods, business equipment and construction supplies), intermediate products and materials. The industry groupings are manufacturing (further subdivided into durable and nondurable goods), mining and utilities. The capacity utilization rate — reflecting the resource utilization of the nation’s output facilities — is available for the same market and industry groupings. The consensus estimate is for an increase from last month’s -.1% to an increase of .3% in the month over month. What it means to you: Industrial production and capacity utilization indicate not only trends in the manufacturing sector, but also whether resource utilization is strained enough to forebode inflation. Also, industrial production is an important measure of current output for the economy and helps to define turning points in the business cycle (start of recession and start of recovery).
Housing Market Index: The National Association of Home Builders produces a housing market index based on a survey in which respondents from this organization are asked to rate the general economy and housing market conditions. The housing market index is a weighted average of separate diffusion indexes: present sales of new homes, sale of new homes expected in the next six months, and traffic of prospective buyers in new homes. What it means to you: This report provides a gauge of not only the demand for housing, but the economic momentum. People have to be feeling pretty comfortable and confident in their own financial position to buy a house. Furthermore, this narrow piece of data has a powerful multiplier effect through the economy, and therefore across the markets and your investments.
ICSC Goldman Store Sales: This weekly measure of comparable store sales at major retail chains, published by the International Council of Shopping Centers, is related to the general merchandise portion of retail sales. It accounts for roughly 10 percent of total retail sales. What it means to you: Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, so if you know what consumers are up to, you’ll have a pretty good handle on where the economy is headed.
Redbook: A weekly measure of sales at chain stores, discounters, and department stores. It is a less consistent indicator of retail sales than the weekly ICSC index. What it means to you: The pattern in consumer spending is often the foremost influence on stock and bond markets.
Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve) Speaks
Housing Starts: A housing start is registered at the start of construction of a new building intended primarily as a residential building. The start of construction is defined as the beginning of excavation of the foundation for the building. The consensus estimate is for a slight increase from .708 million annualized units to .745 million units. Also a slight drop in “permits from .780 to .775 million. What it means to you: The housing starts report is the most closely followed report on the housing sector. Housing starts reflect the commitment of builders to new construction activity. The level as well as changes in housing starts reveals residential construction trends. Housing starts are subject to substantial monthly volatility, especially during winter months. It takes several months to establish a trend. Thus, it is useful to look at a 5-month moving average (centered) of housing starts.
Beige Book: This book is produced roughly two weeks before the monetary policy meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee. On each occasion, a different Fed district bank compiles anecdotal evidence on economic conditions from each of the 12 Federal Reserve districts. What it means to you: This report on economic conditions is used at FOMC meetings. If the Beige Book portrays an overheating economy or inflationary pressures, the Fed may be more inclined to raise interest rates in order to moderate the economic pace. Conversely, if the Beige Book portrays economic difficulties or recessionary conditions, the Fed may see the need to lower interest rates in order to stimulate activity.
Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve) Speaks
EIA Petroleum Report: The Energy Information Administration (EIA) provides weekly information on petroleum inventories in the U.S. The level of inventories helps determine prices for petroleum products. What it means to you: Petroleum product prices are determined by supply and demand – just like any other good and service. During periods of strong economic growth, one would expect demand to be robust. If inventories are low, this will lead to increases in crude oil prices – or price increases for a wide variety of petroleum products such as gasoline or heating oil.
Weekly Jobless Claims: New unemployment claims are compiled weekly to show the number of individuals who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time. An increasing (decreasing) trend suggests a deteriorating (improving) labor market. The four-week moving average of new claims smoothes out weekly volatility. The consensus estimate is for an increase from 350,000 to 365,000. What it means to you: By tracking the number of jobless claims, investors can gain a sense of how tight, or how loose, the job market is. If wage inflation threatens, it’s a good bet that interest rates will rise.
Existing Home Sales: Existing home sales tally the number of previously constructed homes, condominium and co-ops in which a sale closed during the month. Existing homes (also known as home re-sales) account for a larger share of the market than new homes and indicate housing market trends. The consensus estimate is for an increase from an anemic 4.55 million units to 4.65 million units. What it means to you: This provides a gauge of not only the demand for housing, but the economic momentum. In a more specific sense, trends in the existing home sales data carry valuable clues for the stocks of home builders, mortgage lenders and home furnishings companies.
Philadelphia Fed Survey: The general conditions index from this business outlook survey is a diffusion index of manufacturing conditions within the Philadelphia Federal Reserve district. This survey, widely followed as an indicator of manufacturing sector trends, is correlated with the ISM manufacturing index and the index of industrial production. The consensus estimate is for an increase from -16.6 to -8. What it means to you: By tracking economic data such as the Philly Fed survey, investors will know what the economic backdrop is for the various markets. The stock market likes to see healthy economic growth because that translates to higher corporate profits. The bond market prefers more moderate growth so that it won’t lead to inflation. The Philly Fed survey gives a detailed look at the manufacturing sector, how busy it is and where things are headed.
Leading Indicators: A composite index of ten economic indicators that should lead overall economic activity. This indicator was initially compiled by the Commerce Department but is now compiled and produced by The Conference Board. It has been revised many times in the past 30 years – particularly when it has not done a good job of predicting turning points. The consensus estimate is for a decrease from last month’s .3 to-.1. What it means to you: By tracking economic data such as the index of leading indicators, investors will know what the economic backdrop is for the various markets. The stock market likes to see healthy economic growth because that translates to higher corporate profits. The bond market prefers less rapid growth and is extremely sensitive to whether the economy is growing too quickly-and causing potential inflationary pressures. The index of leading indicators is designed to predict turning points in the economy — such as recessions and recoveries.
Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index: A weekly, random-sample survey tracking Americans’ views on the condition of the U.S. economy, their personal finances and the buying climate. What it means to you: The pattern in consumer attitudes can be a key influence on stock and bond markets. Consumer spending drives two-thirds of the economy and if the consumer is not confident, the consumer will not be willing to spend. Confidence impacts consumer spending which affects economic growth.