Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Good News for Goldilocks

The soft landing scenario for the U.S. economy became even more likely with today's economic data that shows the economy is still chugging along on almost all cylinders.

Growth was revised for the 3rd quarter to be quite a bit stronger. From the front page of the WSJ -

GDP Growth Revised Up to 2.2% For 3rd Period on Less Trade Drag

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy was stronger last summer than first thought because businesses accumulated more inventory and trade was less of a drag. Gauges measuring third-quarter inflation were lowered slightly, according to Wednesday's data revisions.
Gross domestic product increased at a 2.2% annual rate July through September, the Commerce Department said Wednesday in its first revision to third-quarter 2006 GDP. The government initially estimated growth at 1.6%......

Also, the Fed's favorite inflation indicator continued to move downward. This gives the Fed more room to maneuver funds rates down as the bond market has priced in by about 52%

...The government's price index for personal consumption increased 2.4%, lower than the previously estimated 2.5% climb but below the second quarter's 4.0% rise. The PCE price gauge excluding food and energy increased 2.2%, lower than the previously estimated 2.3% climb and below the second quarter's 2.7% rise.

What about American companies how are they doing? Well just fine thank you!

...Corporate profits after taxes climbed 4.6% to $1.167 trillion in July through September from the second quarter, the report showed. In the second quarter, profits increased 0.3%. Year-to-year, profits surged 31.5% since the third quarter of 2005.

And what are these profitable companies doing with their cash you ask?

...Businesses increased third-quarter spending more than previously thought. Outlays rose 10.0% July through September, higher than the originally estimated 8.6% advance. Business spending rose 4.4% in the second quarter. Third-quarter investment in structures surged 16.7%. Equipment and software increased 7.2%.

And lastly, don't forget about the American consumer......urh.................the energizer bunny..

Third-quarter spending by consumers increased 2.9%, down from a previously reported 3.1% but above the second quarter's 2.6% advance.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Strong outlook for holiday retail

Another article regarding the strong holiday shopping season

Most forecasts run 5 to 6 percent above 2005, promising a lift for the US economy.

NEW YORK – The US economy is about to get its largest jolt of the year: the annual holiday buying blitz that ends 31 days from Friday.

By the time all the wrapping paper is discarded, Americans will spend $676 per household, for an estimated total of $251 billion, according to one survey - an amount more than the annual gross domestic product of Chile and Israel combined.

The nation's holiday spending, even adjusted for inflation, sets a record every year, and this year will be no exception. Surveys and analysts predict holiday spending will rise about 5 to 6 percent over last year, which was 6.1 percent higher than 2004. If this level of spending prevails, it will give merchants - and the economy as a whole - a solid foundation going into 2007....

...Americans will be entering the holiday period with enough cash in their pockets, or room on their credit cards, to happily hit the malls, some economists and retail experts say. "Every month this year, all the way back to last October, there has been an increase in real disposable income," says Richard Feinberg, a researcher at the Purdue Retail Institute in West Lafayette, Ind....

By Ron Scherer Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Predictions of a Happy Holiday Season

According to a recent article in Businessweek there are some good reasons to be merry. With low unemployment, rising wages, low inflation, lower gas prices, and a possible bottoming out in housing, expectations are for a solid holiday shopping season.

U.S.: The Housing Grinch Won't Steal Christmas

Wallets are open, and even the outlook for home sales is improving

"....Retailers can put their fears behind them--and that's good news for the overall economy this quarter and next. Consumers are heading into the holidays buoyed by the sturdiest set of spending fundamentals in years. The labor markets are strong, with the unemployment rate at a 5 1/2--year low of 4.4%. Gasoline prices are down 26% since early August, resulting in a windfall of purchasing power for household incomes...

There is still almost no evidence of spillover effects from the housing downturn on consumer buying. That means the slump remains confined to the housing sector....

...based on the latest readings on retail sales and consumer prices through October, consumer spending in the fourth quarter is speeding up...."

The real story is despite the headline numbers retail sales have improved lately as described below.

"...RECENT GOVERNMENT REPORTS on retail sales require a careful reading. October sales dropped 0.8% from September, when they fell 0.2% from August. Those declines mainly reflected back-to-back decreases in gas station receipts of 11.1% and 6%, indicating lower pump prices, not less gasoline buying. In addition, retail sales of building materials and supplies fell for the third consecutive month. For purposes of measuring GDP growth, though, the government counts that activity as part of residential construction, not consumer spending. Overall retail sales from July to October fell at a 4% annual rate, but sales excluding gas and building materials grew at a healthy 5.1% rate. The bottom line is that consumer spending on most items began the final quarter with a head of steam, fueled largely by the additional buying power fueled by falling energy prices."

And Headline inflation is decelerating quickly

"...THAT BOOST WAS EVIDENT from the overall consumer price index in September and October. It posted monthly declines of 0.5% in each month, the largest two-month drop since 1948. The fourth-quarter CPI will actually be below the level for the previous quarter, a rare event in the past half century.

That means the same paycheck this quarter will buy more goods and services than it did last quarter. For example, the Labor Dept. reported that real weekly earnings of production workers in October increased 1.3% from September, when they rose 1% from August. Those were the biggest back-to-back gains in 24 years..."

And what about housing, is it bottoming?........

"...Consumer momentum is the chief reason retailers shouldn't fret about the housing slump spoiling their holiday party. Clearly, some of the housing-related data of late have looked alarming, especially the surprisingly large drop in October housing starts. But that decline might have been an exaggeration. The huge 26.4% plunge in new home starts in the South was one of the largest on record for that region. Several analysts say the swoon might have been due to exceptionally wet weather in that region. If so, the weakness may well reverse in November....

Several sales indicators appear to be stabilizing even as builders work through their stocks of unsold homes.......Strengthening demand is particularly noticeable in the new-home market, where sales increased in both August and September, the first two-month rise in a year and a half....

...THE MOST FAVORABLE SIGN that demand for homes will continue to firm comes from weekly mortgage applications to buy a house. Not only have applications stopped falling, their three-month average is now rising after declining steeply for more than a year. The applications statistics foreshadow data on housing sales, and sales are what drive new building....

By James C. Cooper - Businessweek

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bay Area "Percolating" With High Paying Jobs

The bay area is a good prognosticator for the future health of the northern California economy including Sacramento and the Central Valley. As an anchor of innovation, this area has rapidly been growing high paying jobs (just think Google, Youtube, Facebook, etc). Make no mistake, this is not the high flying dot com era that seems like a distant memory today, rather these are solid companies with real profits and promise.

Peninsula job growth is brewing

"Job growth in the San Francisco metro area appears to be percolating, buoyed by a trend toward adding high-paying positions, according to report released Friday....

...For the 19th consecutive month, the metro area that includes San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin counties added jobs on a year-over-year basis. The area tacked on 17,400 jobs over the past year, up 1.8 percent, outpacing both the state (up 1.1 percent) and rival East Bay (up 1.6 percent), according to the state Employment Development Department....

...San Mateo County's unemployment rate slipped to 3.3 percent in October, the lowest rate since May 2001 and the lowest October rate since 2000, when it was 2.7 percent....

...Meanwhile, California's unemployment rate fell to a record low of 4.5 percent in October, down from 4.8 percent in September. It was the state's lowest rate since the current employment data series was established in 1976....

....The San Francisco metro area gained 4,800 jobs between September and October. That's several times greater than the average September-to-October increase of 1,100 over the past 15 years, said Ruth Kavanagh, West Bay labor market specialist with the Employment Development Department.... "


Home Prices Could Go Up in 2007

Is it possible that the worst is behind us in many housing markets? With builders starting less homes and clearing out their inventories with incentives, what many would call a "supply correction" due to excess speculation might be passing soon. Just like it was hard to call the top of the market until it passed(August 2005) it will be very hard to call the bottom (now??? or soon) until 3-6 months after it has already happened.

This business week article (Biz Week )discusses the Boston Fed's analysis (Boston Fed Link)th
at house prices might increase next year.

This Just In From Boston ... Prices "Could Keep Increasing"

".........What makes the Boston Fed at least mildly positive on the market? Looking at housing cycles state by state, senior economist Yolanda K. Kodrzyicki and research associate Nelson Gerew conclude that "house prices have rarely decreased in the absence of a state recession."

Here's the tentative bottom line: "Assuming continued increases in personal incomes, an increase in mortgage rates in 2006, and flat apartment rates, an extrapolation suggests that national house price increases are likely to be in the range of 1 to 3 percent in 2006 and 2 to 5 percent in 2007."

By Peter Coy - Businessweek

Saturday, November 18, 2006

California Unemployment at 30 year Low

Excerpts from Sac Bee Article

"..........State officials announced Friday that California's unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent in October, the lowest since the state began modern record-keeping in 1976. The rate dropped three-tenths of a percent since September, prompting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to herald the "fantastic news.".......

........Meanwhile, Sacramento-area unemployment fell three-tenths of a point, to 3.9 percent. That's the first time it's been below 4 percent since the tech boom......

........."The restaurant industry's been hot," Lyons said, noting the wave of new places that have opened in midtown and downtown Sacramento, as well as Roseville, in the past year. The leisure and hospitality sector has added 4,600 jobs in the past year, or more than a quarter of all the new jobs in the region.
The region's manufacturing industry has stabilized. Affymetrix Inc., the West Sacramento biotech manufacturer, is expanding, while NEC Electronics' Roseville chip plant has been gradually rebounding from a severe slump, Lyons said. Siemens Transportation Systems Inc.'s light-rail plant in Sacramento is doing well, he said.......

Overall, payroll jobs have increased by 1.1 percent since last October. Roth said the job market remains healthy despite the construction slowdown.

"If you're looking for a job, I think your chances are pretty good," he said. "Labor markets are tight and employers are looking for people."

By Dale Kasler Sac Bee

  • Link to Sac Bee Article
  • Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    A Little Perspective on Housing?

    High Profits Even in Slumping Markets

    In October, the average San Diego home sold for $485,000, a 5.5% decline from October of 2005. The actual number of homes sold was down 21% year-over-year. But that doesn't mean all those sellers were losers. Hardly. According to research from First American Real Estate Solutions, a real estate data unit of title insurer First American, the average home seller in San Diego made a profit of $243,000 that month. That's the different between the price they bought it at, five years ago on average, and what they sold it for today. First American calcuates that only 6% of San Diego sellers lost money on their homes, most likely because they bought it in just the past year. The story looks even better in other parts of Southern California where home prices have held up better than San Diego. In San Bernadino County, east of Los Angeles, the average home seller made a $203,000 profit on the typical $360,000 home. That's an average annual return of 25% over the four-year average holding period. The First American data is a reminder that many people still have a tremendous amount of equity in their homes, even if some their neighbors have had to lower their asking prices.

    Nov 15, 2006 - Chris Palmeri - Businessweek

    25% - That's a pretty good return on investment, not to mention the leveraged return is much higher.

  • Businessweek Article
  • Saturday, November 11, 2006

    U.S. Wages grow by most in 4 years

    Despite the mainstream media complaints about only the "rich" (do people making $50k count?) real hourly wages are growing at the fastest pace in four years, and the costs of benefits (i.e. healthcare) are on track to grow at the smallest rate since the 1990's. So real disposable income for U.S. workers is on the rise and should underpin consumer spending .

    "Employers are getting the upper hand on the surging costs of benefits, particularly those of health insurance. But while companies are making many employees pay a bigger share of health-care premiums, the tighter labor market is also leading Corporate America to give back some of those savings in the form of fatter paychecks.

    Third-quarter figures from the employment cost index (ECI) showed benefit costs rising at a 3.3% pace from a year ago. That's the slowest gain in at least five years.........Costs in 2006 are on track to grow at the smallest rate since the late 1990s. Looking ahead, human resource companies Hewitt Associates and Towers Perrin are forecasting further deceleration in employer health-care costs for 2007.

    The ECI data, which adjusts for changes in the composition of the labor force, showed that wages and salaries grew by 3.2% from a year ago, the biggest rise in more than four years. Those figures validate other pay indicators, such as average hourly earnings, which stood at a multiyear high in September.

    Meanwhile, overall inflation is also slowing down as gasoline, oil, and natural gas prices have fallen off summer highs. The combination of improving income gains and slower inflation will translate into higher inflation-adjusted wages for workers and provide plenty of support for consumer spending."

    By James Mehring in New YorkBy James C. Cooper - Businessweek - Nov 13, 2006

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Housing Market Bottomed - Already?

    Mortgage rates and new home sales

    In a recent post by Dr James Hamilton of the University of San Diego Econobrowser
    he suggests that there is a 4-5 month lag between interest rates (both the Fed Funds rate and mortgage rates) and it's affect on a would be new home buyer's decision to purchase. He also notes a direct correlation to anticipated Fed Funds future rates and upcoming new home sales. Most importantly as we move into a period of quite likely, lower rates, housing should improve and he suggests we may have already bottomed out.

    "I also noted in my previous post that the fact that the Fed has stopped raising the fed funds rate was a factor in bringing mortgage rates down since this summer. But because mortgage rates had previously been rising up through the beginning of July, the lags in the process mean that one would expect to see home sales falling relative to the usual seasonal pattern in August and September, even though the mortgage rate by then was coming down. Given the rate hikes in the spring and early summer and the long lags in the process, I calculate that recent changes in the mortgage borrowing rate have on balance been a factor causing home sales to be lower than they otherwise would have been up through the middle of October.It is only within the last few weeks that one would expect to see home sales stop falling as a result of the policy change that first began to be recognized this summer.

    It was partly because of this calculation that I have been more open than many other analysts to the possibility that the
    most recent data might be suggesting that the bottom for home sales may indeed have already been reached. However, even if sales now stabilize, the inventory of unsold homes will continue to put downward pressure on house prices and employment, either of which could easily become a new factor in the unfolding story. But what we can say is that one very important fundamental has now turned from negative to positive."

    Posted by James Hamilton at November 8, 2006 05:25 AM

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    Good Riddance

    If this doesn't qualify as good news, then nothing will. Though you'd have to have been sleeping under a rock to be unaware of this colossal decision, it's worth taking a moment to thank our troops for bringing this monster to justice.

    BAGHDAD, Nov. 5 — Three and a half years after American troops captured Baghdad and ended the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi court set up to judge the brutalities of his 24 years in power found him guilty on Sunday of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death by hanging.

    Published: November 6, 2006

    New York Times

    Record Low Unemployment

    Strong Growth In New Jobs Eases Economy Worries

    Wall Street Journal

    So first the BLS revised it's job figures a few months ago and found another 800,000 jobs for the past year, then they revised both August and Septembers figures yet higher again. Unemployment in the U.S. is now at a record low and the economy is generating on average 160k jobs per month.

    The Labor Department said U.S. nonfarm payrolls rose by 92,000 in October as gains in service sectors made up for housing-related losses. More importantly, large revisions boosted the estimate of August and September payroll growth by a total of 139,000 jobs, bringing to about 5.8 million the number of jobs created since the current expansion began in late 2001. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate dropped to 4.4% -- the lowest level since May 2001 and well below economists' expectations.

    "This tells us that the economy is weathering the housing storm quite nicely," said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at consultancy MFR Inc.

    Since the BLS can't seem to count and their numbers keep getting reconciled closer to the Household number, maybe we should just use the Household number...........maybe we had 437k jobs in October, we'll see what happens with the next revision...........

    The employment report showed the job market strengthening in more ways than one. The household employment survey, a telephone poll of people in their homes, recorded a big gain of 437,000 jobs in October. Economists tend to focus more on the nonfarm payroll report, which is based on a larger sample and thus has less room for error, though recent upward revisions to payroll data have lent some credence to the higher household numbers.

    But what about the average worker? Are they getting a piece of the pie? If you listen to the mainstream media you'd think no, but..............................

    "Wage growth is now outpacing the rate of inflation, so that's positive for consumer-spending power," said Global Insight's Mr. Gault. "But the question then is what's going to happen on the inflation front."

    By MARK WHITEHOUSE, WSJ, November 4, 2006 5:22 p.m.; Page A1