HIRING, HOUSEHOLD SPENDING STRENGTHEN Net job growth surprised to the upside in May: companies added 223,000 more workers than they laid off or fired. At 3.8%, the unemployment rate is now where the Federal Reserve thought it would be at the end of 2018, and it is also at its lowest level since April 2000. Underemployment, as measured by the Department of Labor’s U-6 jobless rate, fell 0.2% in May to a 17-year-low of 7.6%. Year-over-year wage growth was measured at 2.7% in this latest labor market snapshot. In another sign of a strong economy, the Department of Commerce said

HOME SALES DECLINE Both new and existing home sales weakened in April, according to reports from the Census Bureau and National Association of Realtors. Resales were down 2.5%; new home buying, 1.5%. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun cited “the utter lack of available listings on the market” as the “root cause” of the retreat in resales. Existing home sales were down 1.4% year-over-year through April; on the other hand, the pace of new home buying improved 8.4% in the same 12 months. Zillow says that existing home values soared 8.7% in the year ending in April; that is the largest

OIL HITS A 4-YEAR PEAK The price of WTI crude settled at $71.36 on Thursday, hours after Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts forecast $90 oil by spring 2019 and a “risk of $100 a barrel” Brent crude next year. Thursday’s close was oil’s highest settlement since November 2014. Futures rallied 1.4% on the week after the Trump administration said that the U.S. would exit the Iran nuclear deal and reinstate sanctions against that OPEC member. That implies reduced global oil supply. As of Friday evening, no other OPEC country had committed to produce more oil in response. WTI crude

JOBLESS RATE HITS 18-YEAR LOW Unemployment fell to 3.9% in April, the Department of Labor said Friday – the smallest percentage seen since late 2000. Additionally, the U-6 underemployment rate declined to 7.8%, a 17-year low. Payrolls expanded with 164,000 net new jobs last month; the economy has created an average of 200,000 jobs a month so far in 2018, compared to 177,000 a month in 2017.1   PERSONAL SPENDING IMPROVES 0.4% The March gain reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis was the best since the 0.5% advance in December. Personal wages increased 0.3% for March, replicating the gain from

MAIN STREET SUSTAINS ITS OPTIMISM America’s two most respected consumer confidence indices just improved. The University of Michigan’s final April household sentiment gauge rose a full point from its initial reading to 98.8 last week, and the Conference Board’s index came in at a great 128.7 for April – 1.7 points higher than its March mark.1   HOW FAST DID THE ECONOMY GROW IN Q1? According to the Department of Commerce, the annualized pace of growth was 2.3%. That beat the 2.0% consensus forecast from MarketWatch. The Federal Reserve believes the economy will expand 2.7% this year.1,2 SPRING BRINGS THE HOME

CONSUMERS BOUGHT MORE IN MARCH According to a report from the Department of Commerce, retail sales jumped 0.6% last month. That was the biggest monthly gain recorded since November (and the first monthly advance of 2018). Sales of cars and trucks were up 2.0%, making March the best month for that category since September.1  CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITY INCREASES New Census Bureau data shows housing starts improved 1.9% in March; also, building permits rose 2.5%. In February, permits fell 4.1% and starts declined 3.3%.2     INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT RISES 0.5% This March gain reported by the Federal Reserve followed a (revised) 1.0% advance

CONSUMER SENTIMENT INDEX DESCENDS SLIGHTLY In its initial April edition, the University of Michigan’s survey of household sentiment saw its index decline to 97.8 from its final March reading of 101.4. The survey’s chief economist, Richard Curtin, believed that “uncertainty surrounding the evolving [U.S.] trade policy” affected the reading, but he added that “confidence still remains relatively high.”1   A SURPRISE RETREAT FOR THE HEADLINE CPI Economists polled by Briefing.com assumed the Consumer Price Index would rise 0.1% in March. Instead, it fell by that amount, largely due to a dip in gasoline costs. Core consumer inflation increased 0.2% and matched

HAS CONSUMER SPENDING MAINTAINED ITS PACE? A new Department of Commerce report states that consumer spending rose 0.2% in February as consumer incomes improved 0.4%. These numbers replicated January’s gains. Even so, the personal savings rate hit a 6-month peak of 3.4% in February, suggesting that spending may have leveled off in the first quarter. Newly revised data shows that the economy was very healthy in the fourth quarter. Real consumer spending (personal spending adjusted for inflation) increased 4.0% while Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.9% annual rate. (The previous Q4 GDP estimate was 2.5%.)1,2     STILL PLENTY OF

TRADE WAR POSSIBILITY WEIGHS ON STOCKS Last week, the U.S. imposed excise taxes on steel and aluminum imported from select countries and announced that up to $60 billion of Chinese imports would also soon face tariffs. These protectionist moves weakened bullish sentiment on Wall Street. The S&P 500 fell steadily Thursday and Friday and had its worst week since 2016, slipping 5.95% to 2,588.26; the Dow Industrials sank 5.67% on the week to 23,533.20. The Nasdaq Composite settled at 6,992.67, down 6.54% for the week.1,2   FED MAKES ITS FIRST INTEREST RATE MOVE OF 2018 After Federal Reserve officials voted to

PRICE GAINS EASE There was no half-percent spike in inflation in February. In contrast to January’s big jump, the headline Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% in the second month of 2018, with the core CPI following suit; the year-over-year CPI gain ticked slightly higher to 2.2%. The headline and core Producer Price Index also increased 0.2% last month; yearly wholesale inflation rose just 0.1% to 2.8%.1      THE CONSUMER IS CONFIDENT Displaying a preliminary March reading of 102.0, the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index reached a 14-year peak last week. Analysts polled by Reuters expected the gauge to decline

FEBRUARY SAW A HIRING SURGE Payroll growth was truly impressive last month. According to the latest Department of Labor report, employers added 313,000 net new jobs, including 61,000 in the construction industry; economists polled by Reuters projected a total February gain of 200,000. With the labor force participation rate reaching a 6-month high, the headline jobless rate stayed at 4.1% and the broader U-6 rate at 8.2%. Yearly wage growth declined to 2.6%.1  SERVICE BUSINESSES ARE THRIVING The Institute for Supply Management’s February snapshot of service industry growth was quite positive. ISM’s non-manufacturing purchasing manager index did wane slightly, losing

CB: PLENTY OF CONFIDENCE IN THE ECONOMY The Conference Board’s monthly consumer confidence index soared to 130.8 in February – the highest reading seen since November 2000. In January, the gauge was at 124.3. (In the middle of the Great Recession, the index hovered near 25.)1  SOLID READINGS ON SOME KEY INDICATORS Further fundamental economic data released last week looked strong. Personal incomes improved 0.4% in January, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis; that matched the December increase. Personal spending advanced 0.2% last month. The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing purchasing manager index reached 60.8 in February, up 1.7

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