Market Focus: As the first quarter draws to a close the stock and bond markets have shown some volatile swings. Lower earnings expectations and weak reports all based on the assumption that the weakness was weather related. Well the polar vortex is over and this week’s reports cover employment, manufacturing, and trade. It should be an interesting week. For the first time in many I will not speculate on the outcome. I will just sit back and watch. Monday morning quarterbacking is much easier.
Chicago PMI: Manufacturing and non-manufacturing firms are both surveyed. Hence, it is not directly comparable to pure manufacturing surveys. Readings above 50 percent indicate an expanding business sector. The consensus estimate is a rise to 59 after last month’s 59.9. What it means to you: The Chicago PMI gives a detailed look at the Chicago region’s manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors. Many market players don’t realize that non-manufacturing activity is covered in this index and tend to focus on the manufacturing side only. On its own, it can be viewed as a regional indicator of general business activity.
Dallas Fed MFG Survey: The Dallas Fed conducts this monthly survey of manufacturers in Texas regarding their operations in the state. Participants from across the state represent a variety of industries. Participants are asked whether various indicators have increased, decreased or remained unchanged. Answers cover changes over the previous month and expectations for activity six months into the future. The breakeven point for each index is zero with positive numbers indicating growth and negative numbers reflecting decline. What it means to you: By tracking economic data such as the Dallas 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 Dallas Fed survey gives a detailed look at the manufacturing sector, how busy it is and where things are headed.
Motor Vehicle Sales: Unit sales of domestically produced cars and light duty trucks (including sport utility vehicles and mini-vans). Motor vehicle sales are good indicators of trends in consumer spending. The consensus estimate is for 12.4 million units (slightly more than last month’s 12.2 million). What it means to you: Since motor vehicle sales are an important element of consumer spending, market players watch this closely to get a handle on the direction of the economy. The pattern of consumption spending is one of the foremost influences on stock and bond markets. In a more specific sense, auto and truck sales show market conditions for auto makers and the slew of auto-related companies. Given that most consumers borrow money to buy cars or trucks, sales also reflect confidence in current and future economic conditions.
PMI Manufacturing Index: Purchasing Managers’ Manufacturing Index (PMIs) is based on monthly questionnaire surveys of selected companies which provide an advance indication of what is really happening in the private sector economy. What it means to you: PMI manufacturing data give a detailed look at the manufacturing sector, how busy it is and where things are headed. 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.
ISM Mfg Index: The Institute for Supply Management surveys more than 300 manufacturing firms on employment, production, new orders, supplier deliveries, and inventories. Readings above (below) 50 percent indicate an expanding (contracting) factory sector. Export orders, import orders, backlog orders and prices paid for raw and unfinished materials are also measured, but these are not included in the overall index. The consensus estimate is to increas slightly from 53.2% to 54%. What it means to you: The ISM manufacturing composite index indicates overall factory sector trends. The relevance of this indicator is enhanced by the fact that it is available very early in the month and not subject to revision. The ISM manufacturing data give a detailed look at the manufacturing sector, how busy it is and where things are headed. Since the manufacturing sector is a major source of cyclical variability in the economy, this report has a big influence on the markets. More than one of the ISM sub-indexes provides insight on commodity prices and clues regarding the potential for developing inflation.
Construction Spending: The dollar value of new construction activity on residential, non-residential, and public projects. Data are available in nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) dollars. The consensus estimate is for .1% same as last month’s increase. What it means to you: Construction spending has a direct bearing on stocks, bonds and commodities because it is a part of the economy that is affected by interest rates, business cash flow and even federal fiscal policy. Businesses only put money into the construction of new factories or offices when they are confident that demand is strong enough to justify the expansion. The same goes for individuals making the investment in a home.
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.
ADP: The ADP national employment report is computed from a subset of ADP records that in the last six months of 2008, represented approximately 400,000 U.S. business clients and approximately 24 million U.S. employees working in all private industrial sectors. What it means to you: The employment statistics also provide insight on wage trends, and wage inflation is high on the list of enemies for the Federal Reserve. Fed officials constantly monitor this data watching for even the smallest signs of potential inflationary pressures, even when economic conditions are soggy. If inflation is under control, it is easier for the Fed to maintain a more accommodative monetary policy. If inflation is a problem, the Fed is limited in providing economic stimulus.
Factory Orders: Factory orders represent the dollar level of new orders for both durable and nondurable goods. This report gives more complete information than the advance durable goods report which is released one or two weeks earlier in the month. The consensus estimate is for a huge increase from -.7% to 1.2%. What it means to you: The orders data show how busy factories will be in coming months as manufacturers work to fill those orders. This report provides insight to the demand for not only hard goods such as refrigerators and cars, but nondurables such as cigarettes and apparel. In addition to new orders, analysts monitor unfilled orders, an indicator of the backlog in production. Shipments reveal current sales. Inventories give a handle on the strength of current and future production.
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 311,000 to 320,000. 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.
Challenger Job Cut Report: This monthly report counts and categorizes announcements of corporate layoffs based on mass layoff data from state departments of labor. The job-cut report must be analyzed with caution. It doesn’t distinguish between layoffs scheduled for the short-term or the long term, or whether job cuts are handled through attrition or actual layoffs. Also, the job-cut report does not include jobs eliminated in small batches over a longer time period. What it means to you: The job-cut report is basically a rehash of the weekly jobless claims report but provides additional insight into where layoffs are occurring. There is industry and geographic (states) detail that is not available with weekly jobless claims.
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 narrowing from -39.1 billion to -38.8 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.
ISM Non Mfg Report: The non-manufacturing ISM surveys nearly 400 firms from 60 sectors across the United States, including agriculture, mining, construction, transportation, communications, wholesale trade and retail trade. The consensus estimate is a reading of 53.3 an increase from last month’s reading of 51.6%. What it means to you: The non-manufacturing composite index has four equally weighted components: business activity, new orders, employment, and supplier deliveries. The ISM did not begin publishing the composite index until the release for January 2008. 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.
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.
Employment Situation: The employment situation is a set of labor market indicators based on two separate surveys in this one report. Based on the Household Survey, the unemployment rate measures the number of unemployed as a percentage of the labor force. The average workweek reflects the number of hours worked in the nonfarm sector. Average hourly earnings reveal the basic hourly rate for major industries as indicated in nonfarm payrolls. The consensus estimate is for an increase from last month’s 175,000 to 206,000, the unemployment rate to drop slightly from 6.7 to 6.6%, and average hourly earnings to be up .2% after last month’s .4%. What it means to you: The employment situation is the primary monthly indicator of aggregate economic activity because it encompasses all major sectors of the economy. It is comprehensive and available early in the month. Many other economic indicators are dependent upon its information. It not only reveals information about the labor market, but about income and production as well. In short, it provides clues about other economic indicators reported for the month and plays a big role in influencing financial market psychology during the month.