Consumer Credit: The dollar value of consumer installment credit outstanding. Changes in consumer credit indicate the state of consumer finances and portend future spending patterns. The consensus estimate is for an increase from 10.4 billion to 12.9 billion. What it means to you: Growth in consumer credit can hold positive or negative implications for the economy and markets. Economic activity is stimulated when consumers borrow within their means to buy cars and other major purchases. On the other hand, if consumers pile up too much debt relative to their income levels, they may have to stop spending on new goods and services just to pay off old debts. That could put a big dent in economic growth.
NFIB Small Business Optimism Index: The index is a composite of ten seasonally adjusted components based on questions on the following: plans to increase employment, plans to make capital outlays, plans to increase inventories, expect economy to improve, expect real sales higher, current inventory, current job opening, expected credit conditions, now a good time to expand, and earnings trend. The Consensus Estimate is for a slight drop from 94 to 93.5. What it means to you: Small businesses are responsible for a majority of new job creation and the NFIB focuses on this sector of the economy. The direction of the health of small businesses can portend changes in the stock market.
International Trade: International trade is composed of merchandise (tangible goods) and services. It is available nationally by export, import and trade balance. Detailed information is reported on oil and motor vehicle imports. Services trade is available by export, import and trade balance for seven principal end-use categories. The consensus estimate is for a slight widening from -39.1 billion to -40.0 billion. What it means to you: The international trade balance on goods and services is the major indicator for foreign trade. While the trade balance (deficit) is small relative to the size of the economy (although it has increased over the years), changes in the trade balance can be quite substantial relative to changes in economic output from one quarter to the next. Measured separately, inflation-adjusted imports and exports are important components of aggregate economic activity, representing approximately 17 and 12 percent of real GDP.
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.
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Wholesale Trade: Wholesale trade measures the dollar value of sales made and inventories held by merchant wholesalers. It is a component of business sales and inventories. The consensus estimate is for inventories to increase .1% versus .4% last month. What it means to you: Investors need to monitor the economy closely because it usually dictates how various types of investments will perform. The stock market likes to see healthy economic growth because that translates to higher corporate profits. The bond market prefers a slower rate of growth that won’t lead to inflationary pressures. Wholesale sales and inventory data give investors a chance to look below the surface of the visible consumer economy.
FOMC Minutes: The Federal Open Market Committee issues minutes of its meetings with a lag. The minutes of the previous meeting are reported three weeks after the meeting. What it means to you: Investors who want a more detailed description of Fed opinions will generally read the minutes closely. However, the Fed discloses its official view at the end of each FOMC meeting with a public statement. Fed officials make numerous speeches, which freely give their views to the public at large.
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.
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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 307,000 to 310,000. 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.
Chain Store Sales: Monthly sales volumes from individual department, chain, discount, and apparel stores are usually reported on the first Thursday of each month. Chain store sales correspond with roughly 10 percent of retail sales. Chain store sales are an indicator of retail sales and consumer spending trends. What it means to you: Just a few words of caution. Sales are reported as a change from the same month, a year ago. It is important to know how strong sales actually were a year ago to make sense of this year’s sales. In addition, sales are usually reported for “comparable stores” in case of company mergers. Chain store sales not only give you a sense of the big picture, but also the trends among individual retailers and different store categories. Perhaps the discount chains such as Target and Wal-Mart are doing well, but the high-end department stores such as Tiffany’s are lagging. Maybe apparel specialty retailers are showing exceptional growth.
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.
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Producer Price Index: The Producer Price Index (PPI) is a measure of the average price level for a fixed basket of capital and consumer goods received by producers. The consensus estimate is for a .2% gain in the overall number and a .1% gain in the core rate. Slightly higher than last month’s 0% but still very low.. What it means to you: Changes in the producer price index for finished goods are considered a precursor of consumer price inflation. If the prices that manufacturers pay for their raw materials rise, they would have to raise the prices that consumers pay for their finished goods in order to not decrease profit margins. Changes in the supply and demand for labor will affect wage changes with a delay because wages are institutionalized and contractual. However, commodity prices react more quickly to changes in supply and demand.
Consumer Sentiment: The University of Michigan’s Consumer Survey Center questions 500 households each month on their financial conditions and attitudes about the economy. Consumer sentiment is directly related to the strength of consumer spending. Consumer confidence and consumer sentiment are two ways of talking about consumer attitudes. The consensus estimate is for 75 a decrease from last month’s 77.5 as last month. What it means to you: Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, so the markets are always dying to know what consumers are up to and how they might behave in the near future. The more confident consumers are about the economy and their own personal finances, the more likely they are to spend. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how this index of consumer attitudes gives insight to the direction of the economy.
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 0% less than last month’s .2%. And an increase of .4% excluding autos and gas after last month’s .1% 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.
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 .2%. 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.