Americans across the nation opened their wallets in August spending their hard earned money on automobiles and a range of other goods, including back-to-school items. Retail Sales rose by 0.6% last month, above the 0.3% recorded in July, which was revised from 0.0%. The report signals that the economy continues to recover after the weak readings from the beginning of the year.
Consumer Sentiment hit a 14-month high this month, in a survey done by the University of Michigan showing a rate of 84.6, up from the previous reading of 82.5. The surveys gauge of consumer expectations rose to 75.6 from the 71.3 reading last month and above a forecast of 73.0. The uptick in Consumer Sentiment was one of the reasons for the rise in Retail Sales as consumers feel more confident about the economy.
The price for oil continues to fall after a ramp in supplies pushing the price to lows not seen in over a year. The recent drop has pushed prices at the gas pump lower as the national average price for a regular gallon of gasoline is at $3.41, down nearly 4% from this time last year. Prices usually fall this time of year after the summer driving season, but with the large supply of oil on the market, AAA predicts a 15 to 20 cent drop by Halloween. The drop in gas prices puts extra cash in the consumers pocket, which could be used on the upcoming shopping seasons.
The housing sector received some good news on Tuesday as the National Association of REALTORS® reported that June Existing Home Sales rose by 2.6% from May to an annual rate of 5.04 million units. That was slightly above the 5.0 million expected. However, the 5.04 million is 2.3% below the 5.16 million recorded in June of 2013. The median sales price in June was $223,300, a 4.3% increase from last year, marking the 28th consecutive month of year-over-year gains. Sales are based on single-family, town homes, condominiums and co-ops.
Higher prices for gasoline in June led consumer prices higher, which was somewhat offset by moderating food costs. The Consumer Price Index, a key measure of consumer inflation, rose by 0.3% last month, which matched expectations. Since May of 2013, prices have risen 2.1%. Gasoline prices jumped 3.3%, the biggest increase in a year, while overall food prices rose by a modest 0.1%. The conflict in Iraq pushed oil prices higher in June, which led to the higher gas prices, but most believe that prices at the pump have peaked for the summer.
In earnings news, Coca-Cola reported lower than expected revenues in North America, failing to show growth for the second consecutive quarter. Coke sales as well as Pepsi have been declining as developed countries such as the U.S. become more health conscious and look for healthier alternatives. The soda maker reported earnings per share of 58 cents, which was lower than the 59 cents recorded in the same period last year.
Foreclosure starts across the U.S. unexpectedly rose from April to May by 9.5%, as reported by Black Knight Financial Services. The rise comes after eight straight months of declines with starts down 32% since January. Black Knight said that half of the foreclosure starts are repeat foreclosures, rather than new entries. Repeats are loans that had been in foreclosure, shifted back to either current or delinquent due to a modification, repayment plan or some action by the borrower, but have since fallen back into foreclosure.
Government sponsored entity Fannie Mae released its June 2014 Economic and Housing Outlook revealing that economic activity contracted in the first quarter, which could lead to lower growth in 2014 that was seen in 2013. Fannie Mae has forecasted just 2.1% overall growth in 2014, one-half a percentage point below the 2013 pace. Fannie went on to say that “overall growth in the housing market pulled back in the first quarter, with major housing indicators coming in lower year over year compared to the first quarter of 2013.”
Karl “Chip” Case of the Case/Shiller Home Price Index says that we have much more negative vibrations in the housing surveys abut home ownership that we have ever had before. Mr. Case went on to say that only buy a house for the long haul and says for first time home buyers, be sure you can afford the house and don’t expect a quick profit.
Housing news dominates the headlines this week as the sector tries to stabilize after the harsh winter weather early in the year weighed on the market. Black Knight Financial Services reported today that home prices rose 0.9% from March to April and were up 6.4% year-over-year. Within the report it showed that 19 of the 20 largest states saw month-over-month increases.
The National Association of REALTORS© (NAR) reported that May Existing Home Sales were up 4.9% from April to an annual rate of 4.89 million units. The 4.9% was the highest monthly rate since the 5.5% recorded in August 2011. The report showed that the median home price was $213,400, which is 5.1% above May 2013, while inventories account for a 5.6 month supply. The NAR said that “buyers are benefiting from slower price growth due to much needed, rising inventory levels since the beginning of the year.”
The cost of air conditioning homes across the U.S. is around $11 billion a year with air conditioning accounting for about 5% of all electricity produced in the U.S. There are a few tips to help cut costs. If you have central air conditioning, a shaded area for the unit is the best spot to ensure the highest efficiency. During the cooling period, change the filter once a month so that the unit doesn’t have to work extra hard to cool the house. Closing the blinds and curtains during the peak sun hours will also boost efficiency. In addition, installing ceiling fans will also reduce costs and try to keep the lights off during the long days of sunlight in the summer.
Consumers across the nation stepped up spending in March after dismal spending in the beginning of the year, due to the severely harsh winter weather. Retail Sales rose by 1.1% last month, the biggest gain since September 2012, while February’s 0.7% rise was revised up from 0.3%. Retail Sales account for 1/3 of consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for about 2/3s of the U.S. economy.
Home loan lending declined in the first quarter of 2014 due to rising interest rates and home prices. Total lending came in at about $226 billion, the lowest level since 1997 and less than one-third of the 2006 average. Home loan rates are up from the best levels seen early in 2013 after the Federal Reserve began to taper its massive stimulus program. Wells Fargo recently reported that its home-loan originations fell to $36 billion in the first quarter after it exceeded $100 billion for seven straight quarters through June 2013.
Banking giant Citigroup reported first quarter earnings of $3.9 billion or $1.30 per share, easily beating the $1.14 per share estimated by Thomson Financial Research. The gains were due in part to solid performances from its consumer and international businesses. In addition, the bank also grew both loans and deposits, while holding the line on its expenses.
Americans’ attitudes towards the economy fell to lows not seen since November as higher heating and gasoline costs put a strain on household budgets. The March Consumer Confidence Index came in at 80.0, which was inline with estimates and the February reading. Economic data in 2014 has been a bit disappointing, but the harsh winter weather could have been the reason. As spring blooms, consumers will be looking for signs of more positive economic data, which would confirm that the weather had a big impact on the early year tepid economic numbers.
Consumer spending rose by the most in three months in February on services such as health care and utilities. Personal Spending rose by 0.3% last month, which was inline with estimates. Personal Income also rose by 0.3% last month, which also matched estimates. Within the data it showed that the personal savings rate edged up to a four month high of 4.3% from 4.2% in January. In addition, inflation remained tame as evidenced by a 0.1% rate in the Core Personal Consumption Expenditure, the Federal Reserves favored gauge for inflation.
In an effort to brew up some business, fast food giant McDonald’s will be offering free small cups of coffee at no charge during breakfast hours from March 31 through April 13. The world’s largest restaurant chain is rolling out the campaign for the first time to lure in new customers and to get existing customers to come in more frequently. The company is figuring that it’s likely that those stopping in for the free coffee will purchase a breakfast sandwich or other items.
Economic data had little impact t on the capital markets today as all eyes continue to focus in on the geopolitical news out of Europe. The republic of Crimea has voted to break off from Ukraine and join Russia. President Obama has stated that Crimea’s vote “would never be recognized” by the U.S. and warned of further military action toward other parts of Ukraine.
The New York Federal Reserve reported that its Empire Manufacturing Index rose to 5.6 in March, above the 4.5 recorded in February and nearly inline with estimates. Within the report it showed that both the new orders index and the employment component both saw positive gains. Readings over 0.0 indicates improving conditions, below indicates worsening.
Over in housing news, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) March Housing Market Index rose to 47 in March from the 46 recorded in February and below the 50 that was expected. The NAHB said that poor weather and difficulties in finding lots and labor weighed on the index. A number below 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as poor than good.
Americans filing for first time unemployment benefits fell to lows not seen since late November, signaling an uptick in the labor market. The Labor Department reported that Weekly Initial Jobless Claims fell by 9,000 in the latest week to 315,000, which was below the 329,000 that was expected. As the country moves out of the unbearable cold weather and massive snowstorms, the sector could be on its way to greener pastures.
In the foreclosure arena, RealtyTrac reported that foreclosure activity across the nation fell to its lowest level in more than seven years, due in part to the rise in home equity. February foreclosure starts fell by 9% from January to February and are down a whopping 27% from one year earlier. However, 14 states saw an increase in foreclosure starts last month, with New Jersey seeing an increase of 126% from a year ago.
The Commerce Department reported on Thursday that after falling for 2 months, Retail Sales rose by 0.3%, above the 0.2% expected in February, as consumers purchased a variety of goods, despite the harsh winter weather last month. When stripping out autos, sales also rose by 0.3%, above the 0.2% expected. Retail Sales make up about 1/3 of consumer spending, the main driver behind economic growth. If consumer spending can continue to expand, economic growth will continue to increase.
As the spring and summer driving seasons near, one thing is for certain – higher gas prices at the pump. The national average price for a regular gallon of gasoline is $3.48, up from $3.28 a month ago as prices have increased 28 straight days. AAA predicts that prices will rise an additional 10 to 20 cents this spring and could rise more if the tensions in the Ukraine ramps up. Russia is the third largest oil producing country behind Saudi Arabia and the U.S. and any disruptions could cause oil prices to increase.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that its JOLTS report, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, revealed that job openings rose by 1.5% from December to January. The report may not have as much impact as the monthly Jobs Report, but it does give insight into the labor market on hires, quits, layoffs and job openings. The report is also closely watch by newly appointed Fed Chair, Janet Yellen.
Fast food chain McDonald’s reported a larger than expected decline in comparable global sales in February, once again hurt by slowing sales in the U.S. Reports from restaurants said worldwide sales for stores open at least 13 months fell by 0.3%, below the -0.1% expected. McDonald’s said that sluggish economic growth, internal missteps, rising record beef prices, along with higher labor costs, are the hurdles that are hurting sales.