Market Focus: There are plenty of economic reports on the calendar in the week ahead, including Monday’s retail sales, Wednesday’s industrial production, key regional Fed surveys Wednesday and Thursday, and Thursday’s weekly jobless claims. There are also just a few earnings expected. Everything other than Housing starts appears to be anticipating good results.
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 drop of -.3% less than last month’s -.4%. And an increase of 0.4% 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 an increase from last month’s .1% 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.
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 increase from 89.5 to 90.5. 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.
Import and Export Prices: Import price indexes are compiled for the prices of goods that are bought in the United States but produced abroad and export price indexes are developed for the prices of goods sold abroad but produced domestically. These prices indicate inflationary trends in internationally traded products. The consensus estimate is for export prices to increase -.1% and import prices to increase -.5 versus last month’s -.5. What it means to you: Changes in import and export prices are a valuable gauge of inflation here and abroad. Furthermore, the data can directly impact the financial markets such as bonds and the dollar.
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.
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 -.7% gain in the overall number and a .2% gain in the core rate. 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.
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 3.05 to 3.75. 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.
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 a decrease from last month’s .4% to an increase of -.2% 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.
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 323,000 to 330,000. 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.
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 -.3% after last month’s -.2% increase and an increase in the core rate of 2% (higher than last month’s .1%). 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.
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 decrease from 1036 million annualized units to .969 million units. 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.
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 1.3 to 2.2. 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.
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.
Charles Plosser (Philadelphia Federal Reserve President) Speaks
Eric Rosengren (Boston Federal Reserve President) Speaks
John Williams (San Francisco Federal Reserve President) Speaks
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 an increase from 76.4 to 78. 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.
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 an increase from last month’s -.1 to .3. 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.
Narayana Kocherlakota (Miniapolis Federal Reserve President) Speaks