INFLATION SUDDENLY INTENSIFIES The Consumer Price Index rose 0.5% in January, its greatest month-over-month advance since January 2017. Core inflation (minus food and energy prices) increased 0.3%, marking the largest monthly gain in almost 13 years.1    RETAIL SALES PACE SLOWS Contradicting perceptions that the economy might be overheating, retail purchases fell 0.3% in January. Minus car buying, retail sales would have been unchanged for a second straight month, as a Department of Commerce revision rendered the previously announced December gain flat.2   DEVELOPERS BUILT MORE IN JANUARY Groundbreaking increased 9.7% last month, according to a Census Bureau report. The first

WALL STREET SEES ITS FIRST CORRECTION SINCE 2016 On Friday, the S&P 500 settled at 2,619.55, down 5.16% for the week. Thursday, it entered correction territory just nine days after its January 26 record close. The Dow Jones Industrial Average made even bigger headlines last week by taking two 1,000-point drops within four days, the second occurring Thursday.1,2 Last Monday, U.S. equities took their largest single-session fall in more than six years as higher interest rates for bonds and inflation concerns strengthened selling pressure. To add to the anxiety, two of the financial industry’s top ‘roboadvisor’ websites crashed during Monday’s

WAGE GROWTH PICKS UP AT LAST In January, average hourly pay was 2.9% higher than it was a year earlier. That was the key takeaway from the Department of Labor’s latest jobs report, which noted the addition of 200,000 net new workers last month. In January, the headline unemployment rate stayed at 4.1%; the broader U-6 rate, which counts the underemployed, ticked up to 8.2%.1   ISM: FACTORY SECTOR IN GREAT SHAPE The Institute for Supply Management released its January purchasing manager index for the manufacturing industry last week, and the reading of 59.1 surpassed the forecast, made by economists surveyed

THE ECONOMY EXPANDED 2.6% in Q4 The Department of Commerce’s first estimate of fourth-quarter gross domestic product was 0.6% below the Q3 number, but still well above the 2.1% rate the nation has averaged in the recovery from the Great Recession. America saw 2.3% economic growth in 2017, according to the report.1   HOME SALES RETREATED DURING THE HOLIDAYS Winter chill possibly encouraged the decline as much as high prices and low inventory. The National Association of Realtors noted a 3.6% slump in resales in December, while the Census Bureau said that new home purchases fell 9.3% last month. Existing home

CONSUMER SENTIMENT READING COOLS The initial January University of Michigan consumer sentiment index came in at 94.4 last week, 1.5 points beneath its final reading of 2017 and 4.1 points under its level of one year ago. Without prompting, 34% of respondents to the latest UMich survey brought up the subject of the recent federal tax reforms; 70% of them felt the reforms would have a positive effect on their lives; 18%, a negative effect.1    WINTER WEAKENS HOUSING STARTS New Census Bureau data shows groundbreaking decreased 8.2% in December after a (revised) 3.0% November gain. Building permits ticked down

THE YEAR IN BRIEF History will remember 2017 as a terrific year for equities. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 25.08%, practically doubling its 2016 gain. Major tax reforms were passed in Congress, reshaping some of the fundamentals of the Internal Revenue Code. Bitcoin soared to dizzying heights, alarming some economists who saw a bubble ready to burst. While terrorism, devastating storms, and threats of war seized the headlines, the year was calm on Wall Street – nothing seemed to rattle institutional investors much, certainly not enough to cause a correction. Gold, oil, and other key commodities were up for

RETAIL SALES ROSE IN DECEMBER Consumers spent freely during the holidays: the latest Census Bureau report shows a nice advance for retail purchases. They improved 0.4% last month, with core retail sales up by the same amount.1    PRODUCER PRICES UNEXPECTEDLY RETREAT In December, wholesale inflation declined for the first time in 18 months. Even with that 0.1% dip, the Producer Price Index advanced 2.6% for 2017, compared with 1.7% in 2016. Households contended with 2.1% inflation during 2017 according to the Consumer Price Index, which ticked up 0.1% last month. Core consumer prices rose 0.3% in December, so the

LOW UNEMPLOYMENT, BUT LESS HIRING The Department of Labor’s latest jobs report announced a headline unemployment rate of only 4.1% in December, but it also showed companies adding just 148,000 net new workers last month. Even so, net payroll growth averaged 204,000 during the last three months. In hiring terms, the health care sector grew more than any other industry in 2017, expanding by 300,000 jobs. Wages rose 2.5% last year. The broader U-6 jobless rate, encompassing the underemployed, ticked up a tenth of a point to 8.1%, which was still half a percent below its level of a year

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE DECLINES In December, the Conference Board’s monthly index fell sharply from its lofty November reading of 128.6. That number was a 17-year high. Economists polled by Bloomberg expected a retreat to 128.0; instead, the gauge dropped to 122.1, which was still one of its best readings in the past 15 years. Lynn Franco, the Conference Board’s director of economic indicators, noted that consumer expectations remain at “historically strong levels, suggesting economic growth will continue well into 2018.”1   OIL ENDS 2017 ABOVE $60 The yearlong comeback of light sweet crude culminated in a December 29 NYMEX close of $60.42,

LANDMARK FEDERAL TAX CHANGES SLATED FOR 2018 Congress passed the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act last week, and President Trump signed the bill into law on Friday. The new legislation authorizes major changes to the Internal Revenue Code. On January 1, 2018, the corporate tax rate will be reduced to 21%, most pass-through businesses will be allowed to claim a 20% deduction on earnings, the estate tax exemption will double, the individual standard deduction will rise to $12,000, and personal exemptions will disappear. At the start of 2019, the health insurance requirement for individuals set by the Affordable Care Act

FED MAKES ITS FINAL RATE MOVE OF 2017 As expected, the Federal Reserve raised the benchmark interest rate by 0.25% last week. The Federal Open Market Committee voted 7-2 to take the target range for the federal funds rate up to 1.25-1.5%. Fed officials made little change to their dot-plot chart – they still see three rate hikes in 2018, and their consensus projection has the federal funds rate at 2.1% a year from now. They did elevate their 2018 GDP forecast from 2.1% to 2.5%.1    CORE INFLATION LAGS HEADLINE CPI ADVANCE According to the Department of Labor, consumer

ANOTHER MONTH OF SOLID HIRING According to the Department of Labor, the U.S. workforce gained 228,000 more jobs than it lost during November. Annualized wage growth improved from 2.5% to 2.7%. The headline jobless rate held at 4.1% last month, while the U-6 rate, that includes the underemployed, ticked up a tenth of a percent to 8.0%. Even though October’s net job gain was revised down to 244,000, October-November 2017 represents the best two-month hiring period in more than a year.1,2   ISM INDEX MISSES EXPECTATIONS The Institute for Supply Management’s gauge of service sector activity fell 2.7 points to a

CONSUMERS ACT ON THEIR CONFIDENCE A new factoid points out just how well the economy is doing: the federal government just upgraded its estimate of third-quarter growth to 3.3%. New data on consumer spending and confidence hints at fourth-quarter strength. Personal spending improved 0.3% in October following the 0.9% leap in September, and household wages were up 0.4% in October for a second straight month. At a mark of 129.5, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index reached a YTD peak in November, having soared 9.1 points in two months.1,2   TWO VERY POSITIVE HOUSING SIGNALS New homes are selling strongly. October

CONSUMER SENTIMENT DECLINES FOR NOVEMBER The University of Michigan’s monthly gauge of how households perceive current and future economic conditions ended the month at a mark of 98.5. Compared to the 100.7 final October reading, this was a disappointment. Still, the index was up 5.0 points year-over-year. Richard Curtin, the economist in charge of the consumer survey, noted that the index has hovered near “the highest levels since 2004” since January.1    HOME BUYING GETS A FALL BOOST Existing home sales rose 2.0% in October, surpassing the consensus 0.7% gain forecast by analysts polled by Investing.com. Elsewhere in its latest

YEARLY INFLATION BACK AT 2.0% Consumer costs ticked up just 0.1% in October, according to the Department of Labor. The marginal monthly gain left the annualized increase in the headline Consumer Price Index at 2.0%, down from 2.2% a month earlier. The core CPI has risen 1.8% in 12 months. Gasoline prices influenced the October headline number: they fell 2.4% in October after a 13.1% September leap.1   RETAIL SALES BEAT EXPECTATIONS Analysts surveyed by MarketWatch thought retail sales would be flat for October after their huge surge in September. That was not so. They surprised to the upside with a

CONSUMER SENTIMENT INDEX DECLINES The University of Michigan’s monthly gauge of U.S. household sentiment fell to 97.8 in its initial November edition; analysts polled by Bloomberg estimated it would tick up to 100.8. While the 2.9-point dip from its final October level was the largest drop in a year, the index remained near a 13-year peak. Sixty percent of the consumers surveyed felt that stocks would rise in 2018.1    Q3 Earnings: A LOOK AT THE SCORECARD As of Friday, 87% of S&P 500 companies had reported third-quarter earnings. An analysis from Zacks Investment Research reveals that 73% have topped

HIRING REBOUNDS, INDUSTRIES EXPAND According to the Department of Labor, October brought a net gain of 261,000 jobs. (Last month’s net loss of 33,000 was revised to a net gain of 18,000.) The headline unemployment rate ticked down to 4.1%, while the broader U-6 rate fell to 7.9% (down 1.3% in 12 months). Wages were up 2.4% year-over-year. The Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing manager indices alternately rose and fell in October. The readings were strong: 58.7 for the factory PMI (down 2.1 points), 60.1 for the service sector PMI (up 0.3 points).1,2 CONSUMER SPENDING, CONFIDENCE IMPRESS Personal spending rose

SEPTEMBER SAW SLIGHTLY MORE HOME BUYING Existing home sales advanced 0.7% last month, according to a National Association of Realtors report. This gain broke a 3-month streak of retreats. Single-family home sales rose 1.1%. Housing inventory increased 1.6% last month, but it was still 6.4% under year-ago levels.1 GROUNDBREAKING FALLS TO A 12-MONTH LOW Housing starts slumped 4.7% in September, the Census Bureau reported last week. Building permits also declined, decreasing 4.5%. Fall hurricanes may have slowed construction activity, but investment in homebuilding was also down 7.3% year-over-year during the second quarter.2 DOW SURGES ABOVE 23,000; GOLD DROPS Across last

RETAIL SALES, SENTIMENT NUMBERS IMPRESS Two economic indicators stood out last week. Retail purchases rose 1.6% during September as households and businesses replaced cars and trucks damaged in hurricanes. This was the best monthly advance recorded by the Department of Commerce since March 2015, and the gain was 1.0% even with auto buying removed. The University of Michigan’s initial October consumer sentiment index displayed a reading of 101.1, which was nearly a 14-year high. Economists polled by Briefing.com had forecast just a half-point improvement to 95.6.1,2 GAS PRICES DRIVE UP INFLATION A 13.1% spike in retail gasoline costs accounted for

HURRICANES HURT SEPTEMBER JOB NUMBERS For the first time in seven years, the economy went a month without payroll growth. The Department of Labor’s September employment report revealed the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma: it showed 33,000 fewer people working. Average hourly wages rose 0.5% to take the annualized gain to 2.9%, but this may have been an effect of the net loss of 105,000 lower-paying bar and restaurant jobs. In a statistical fluke, the headline jobless rate fell to 4.2%, and the U-6 rate, counting the underemployed, declined to 8.3%, even as slightly more Americans looked for work.1