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

PERSONAL SPENDING BARELY IMPROVES Consumer spending increased by only a seasonally adjusted 0.1% in August, while consumer incomes rose 0.2%. Those gains precisely matched the projections of economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal. Factoring in inflation, household spending actually retreated 0.1% during August. Hurricane Harvey may be partly to blame for these numbers.1 ROUNDING UP REAL ESTATE INDICATORS Census Bureau data shows new home buying down 3.4% in August; this dip comes on the heels of a (revised) 5.5% fall in July. Pending home sales, as measured by a National Association of Realtors index, slipped 2.6% in August after

FEDERAL RESERVE: UNWINDING WILL BE GRADUAL Last Wednesday, the country’s central bank detailed how it would shrink its mammoth balance sheet. During the fourth quarter, the Fed will unload $10 billion of maturing bonds per month; in each subsequent quarter, the monthly runoff will increase by $10 billion until reaching a limit of $50 billion. Fed chair Janet Yellen said that this schedule is set in stone, barring a “sufficiently great” economic threat. The Fed made no interest rate move last week, but 12 of 16 Fed officials do project a hike before 2017 ends.1   HOME SALES RETREAT AGAIN

EQUIFAX BREACH MAY IMPACT 44% of AMERICANS Thursday evening, credit reporting agency Equifax disclosed that hackers had raided its databases this spring, accessing the personal information of up to 143 million people. Equifax believes that about 209,000 credit card numbers may have been collected in the process, plus numerous Social Security and driver’s license numbers. Consumers can visit equifaxsecurity2017.com to see if they may have been affected by the breach. Equifax is offering a free year of identity theft insurance and credit monitoring for those at risk.1 SERVICE SECTOR EXPANDS FASTER At an August reading of 55.3, the Institute for

SUMMER SLOWDOWN HITS HOUSING MARKET Low inventory and high prices are taking a toll on existing home sales. They declined 1.3% in July, according to the National Association of Realtors, making a second straight monthly retreat. In the past 12 months, the number of existing homes on the market has shrunk 9.0%, while the median sale price has risen 6.2% to $258,300. While resales were up 2.1% year-over-year, the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate reached a 2017 low in July. Census Bureau data showed new home sales falling 9.4% last month.1,2 GASOLINE FUTURES RISE, BUT OIL FUTURES FALL On the

RETAIL SALES RISE IMPRESSIVELY In July, they were up 0.6% – the largest monthly increase seen so far in 2017. This gain suggests the economy has gathered momentum in the third quarter. Core retail sales (which do not include food, construction, gas, and auto buying) advanced 0.6% for July as well. The Department of Commerce also revised some spring numbers: retail purchases improved 0.3% in June and were flat a month earlier.1 AN UPTURN FOR CONSUMER SENTIMENT The University of Michigan’s monthly gauge of how U.S. households view current and future economic conditions rose 4.5 points in its preliminary August

TAME INFLATION PERSISTS Can the Federal Reserve justify another interest rate hike in the second half of 2017? Given weak inflation pressure, maybe not. The central bank has set a 2% yearly inflation target, but the Consumer Price Index rose only 0.1% in July, resulting in a 1.7% year-over-year gain. Core consumer prices rose 0.1% for a fourth consecutive month in July, so annualized core inflation was also at 1.7%. The Producer Price Index fell 0.1% last month; analysts polled by Briefing.com expected a 0.2% rise.1,2 ANALYSIS: EARNINGS GROW AT a 10% PACE More than 90% of companies in the

THE MONTH IN BRIEF The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 2.54% in July as earnings announcements and fundamental indicators provided a lift for the blue chips and other stock market indices. Hiring and manufacturing data was particularly reassuring. Annualized inflation declined once more. Oil, gold, and other marquee commodities advanced and so did many Asia-Pacific stock benchmarks. In the real estate market, home buyers coped with slim supply and high median prices as mortgage rates crept up. Wall Street had another calm month and that suited the bulls.1    DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH Monthly job growth again topped the 200,000 mark.

LATEST JOBS REPORT BRINGS GOOD NEWS U.S. payrolls swelled with 209,000 net new workers in July, according to the Department of Labor. That beat the 183,000 estimate by analysts surveyed by Reuters. About 53,000 of the hires were at restaurants and bars, with another 49,000 in the professional and business services category. While yearly wage growth remained at 2.5%, the headline jobless rate ticked back down to 4.3%. The U-6 rate (which includes the underemployed) stayed at 8.6%.1 A MEAGER GAIN IN CONSUMER SPENDING The 0.1% June advance reported by the Department of Commerce matched the (low) expectations of economists