Home   Logon   Mobile Site   Research and Commentary   About Us   Call 1.800.621.1675 or Email Us       Follow Us: 

Search by Ticker, Keyword or CUSIP       
 
 

Blog Home
   Brian Wesbury
Chief Economist
 
Click for Bio
Follow Brian on Twitter Follow Brian on LinkedIn View Videos on YouTube
   Bob Stein
Deputy Chief Economist
Click for Bio
Follow Bob on Twitter Follow Bob on LinkedIn View Videos on YouTube
 
  High Frequency Data Tracker 2/3/2023
Posted Under: High Frequency Data Tracker
Supporting Image for Blog Post

 

We live in unprecedented times. Since the COVID pandemic, the economy has been deeply influenced by a massive increase in government spending, COVID-related shutdowns, and a huge increase in the money supply.  In all our years of economic forecasting, the task of identifying where we are and where we are heading has never been so difficult.  Now more than ever, it is important to follow real-time data on the economy. The charts in the High Frequency Data Tracker follow data that are published either weekly or daily, providing a check on the health of the US economy. 

Click here to view the report

Posted on Friday, February 3, 2023 @ 3:33 PM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly
  The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index Increased to 55.2 in January
Posted Under: Data Watch • Employment • GDP • Inflation • ISM Non-Manufacturing • COVID-19
Supporting Image for Blog Post

 

Implications:  The ISM Services index surprised sharply to the upside for January, rebounding from contraction territory (below 50) in December by posting the largest monthly increase (besides the COVID reopening month) since records began in 1997.  The rise was driven by new orders and business activity, which both surged to 60.4.  Meanwhile, the categories for employment and supplier deliveries both rose to 50.0, signaling no change in jobs or production bottlenecks.  Respondent comments in January were largely positive, citing strong demand and a cautiously optimistic growth outlook for 2023.  Finally, the prices paid index ticked down to a still very elevated 67.8.  While that is well below its peak from early 2022 – make no mistake – inflation is still a major problem in the service sector, with fifteen out of eighteen industries reporting paying higher prices.  We expect the service sector to keep inflation trending well above the Fed’s 2.0% target for some time.  Comparing the two January ISM reports, it’s clear that businesses and consumers are shifting resources away from goods and toward the service sector.  While the service sector does not appear to be there yet, we believe the US economy will enter a recession in 2023.  A handful of reports like industrial production, retail sales, and M2 suggest we could be already there, although today’s reports muddy that picture.  We continue to think equity investors should be cautious.  One thing we are certain about; there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Eventually, the bill for the massive artificial stimulus in 2020-21 will come due.  

Click here for a PDF version

Posted on Friday, February 3, 2023 @ 12:54 PM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly
  Nonfarm Payrolls Increased 517,000 in January
Posted Under: Data Watch • Employment • Government • Fed Reserve • Interest Rates • COVID-19
Supporting Image for Blog Post

 

Implications:  If you weren’t confused by the economy already, today’s jobs data should have twisted your thinking into knots. In spite of the fact that retail sales have fallen for two months in a row, and the markets have seemingly priced in a “soft landing,” nonfarm payrolls rose 517,000 in January (plus 71,000 for prior months), easily beating the consensus expected 188,000.  Meanwhile, the unemployment rate ticked down to 3.4%, tying the lowest level since the early 1950s.  If you believe tight labor markets cause inflation (we don’t, but the Fed does) this is a reason to keep tightening monetary policy.  Don’t expect the Fed to swallow its pride and go back to raising rates by 50 basis points in March, but investors should expect the Fed to raise rates by more than the futures market now expects and keep rates at higher levels for longer.  The most impressive indicator for January was total hours worked, which surged 1.2%, more than offsetting modest declines in November and December.  Yes, average hourly earnings rose a moderate 0.3% for the month, but the two sectors with the greatest payroll gains were leisure & hospitality and education & health services, which tend to have below-average earnings.  An alternative measure of jobs (household employment) that includes small-business start-ups, increased 894,000 in January.  But this incorporates new estimates of the US population and that change alone accounted for 810,000 of the gain in civilian employment.  Add in the fact that the labor market is often a lagging indicator and it may be even more so now because this is the first time in more than twenty years that businesses face heightened recession risk due to tighter monetary policy (rather than mark-to-market rules or COVID lockdowns).  Industrial production and retail sales are getting weaker, not stronger.  As a result, we think many companies are getting out over their skis, continuing to hire in anticipation of business activity that, when it doesn’t materialize, will eventually force them to cut payrolls substantially.  Mixed with a monetary policy that is now likely to get and remain tighter than the market anticipates, we continue to think equity investors should be cautious.  COVID policies were unprecedented – so, we shouldn’t be surprised that the data are very volatile.

Click here for a PDF version

Posted on Friday, February 3, 2023 @ 12:36 PM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly
  Nonfarm Productivity Increased at a 3.0% Annual Rate in Q4
Posted Under: Autos • Data Watch • Employment • Productivity
Supporting Image for Blog Post

 

Implications:  Nonfarm productivity rose in the fourth quarter, increasing at a 3% annualized rate, as output rose at a quicker pace than hours worked, leading to more output per hour. Still, productivity is down 1.5% from a year ago, and for the calendar year of 2022, was down 1.3% versus 2021, the largest annual decline since 1974.  Even though inflation is still high, “real” (inflation-adjusted) compensation per hour grew at a 1.0% annualized rate in Q4, the first positive reading of the year.  However, inflation still remains a key headwind for workers’ purchasing power as “real” compensation is down 3.8% from a year ago. This will be an ongoing issue in the coming quarters, as inflation stays stubbornly elevated.  On the manufacturing front, productivity declined at a 1.5% annualized rate as both output and hours fell, but output fell at a faster pace. This, along with other manufacturing data we have received over the past few months, shows that manufacturing has slowed and is likely in a recession already. Expect hours and output to continue to weaken in the quarters ahead. In other news this morning, on the employment front, initial jobless claims fell 3,000 last week to 183,000. Meanwhile, continuing claims for regular benefits fell 11,000 to 1.655 million. These numbers point to continued gains in jobs in tomorrow’s employment report.  We’re estimating a nonfarm payroll gain of 185,000 with the unemployment rate increasing to 3.6%. Also earlier this week, cars and light trucks were sold at a 15.7 million annual rate in January, up 17.7% from December and 4.1% from a year ago. Don’t get too excited about this increase, though. Fleet sales to corporate purchases (think car rental companies) were the reason for the surge in January but are very unlikely to be repeated in the months ahead.

Click here for a PDF version

Posted on Thursday, February 2, 2023 @ 11:08 AM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly
  Slowing, Not Stopping
Posted Under: Government • Inflation • Markets • Fed Reserve • Interest Rates • Bonds • Stocks
Supporting Image for Blog Post

 

The Fed downshifted to a smaller rate hike to start 2023, but the job is far from done. As expected, the Fed raised rates by 25 basis points (bp) today, slowing from the 50bp hike in December, and the 75bp hikes at the four meetings before that. However, the Fed continued to reiterate that ongoing tightening is warranted and repeated the view that the risk to doing too little is greater than the risk of doing too much.

While we have to wait for March to get updated forecasts from the Fed (the dot plots), there were a number of changes to the Fed statement and Powell had plenty to talk about during his press conference.  

If you only saw today’s statement announcing the Fed’s move, the primary takeaway would be a shift toward a more dovish tone. Instead of focusing on the factors causing inflation to stay elevated, the Fed introduced new text that inflation pressures have started to ease.  And gone is commentary about the ongoing Russian/Ukraine conflict contributing to inflationary pressures, which is now replaced with a note that the conflict is keeping global uncertainty elevated.  Finally, with the size of today’s rate hike down to 25bp, text was changed to shift the attention from the pace of hikes to the extent of future hikes.    In other words, the Fed’s focus is now on finding the finish line.

Then the press conference started.  Chair Powell started dovish stating that it is “gratifying” to see disinflation starting to show in the data, and acknowledging that softening in wage pressures is a positive sign for future inflation, but he then tempered those remarks by reinforcing his belief that there is more work to be done. What has the Fed concerned is that non-housing service inflation remains unusually high.  Until this metric turns, the Fed will not feel comfortable claiming victory and backing off. 

Nick Timiraos – the Wall Street Journal’s Fed reporter who many watch as an unofficial mouthpiece for Powell and Co. – asked the question that many have been thinking. Can the Fed  simply pause at the current level of rates and watch to see how that flows through to inflation prints in the months ahead? Powell responded by saying the Fed thinks the greatest risk – and the most difficult situation for the Fed to manage – is in not doing enough and seeing inflation reaccelerate.  If the Fed overshoots on tightening and inflation comes down faster and further than anticipated, the Fed has far more tools available to ease policy.  Victory over inflation is priority #1. 

It’s good the Fed has prioritized the fight against inflation, but the necessary path to get there will likely bring volatility to the financial markets.  While markets have rallied to start the year, we expect the party to end once they realize how much the economy will slow due to the decline in the M2 measure of the money supply since early last year. That economic medicine, while bitter, is part of the price we pay for the policy mistakes in 2020-21.  And we are still amazed at how little attention the Fed and journalists give the money supply.        

Brian S. Wesbury – Chief Economist

Robert Stein, CFA – Deputy Chief Economist 

Click here for a PDF version

Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2023 @ 3:53 PM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly
  The ISM Manufacturing Index Declined to 47.4 in January
Posted Under: Data Watch • Employment • GDP • Housing • Inflation • ISM
Supporting Image for Blog Post

 

Implications:   The US manufacturing sector fell further into contraction territory in December with only two of eighteen industries reporting growth.  Respondent comments in January showed customers pulling back on purchases of manufactured goods as well as improvements in the supply-chain issues that have plagued the factory sector over the past few years.  Given that consumers have been shifting their preferences away from goods and back toward services, it wasn’t surprising to see the new orders index decline for a third consecutive month in January.  However, worries about the future have now caused factories to slow down the pace of production, with that index declining further in January. However, there was some good news in today’s report. Though the employment index also declined modestly in January, it remained in expansion territory. Surprisingly, panelist sentiment shifted sharply in January with a majority saying they are looking to hire rather than reduce headcount.  Part of this may be the recent weakening in the US dollar which could be spurring a rebound in export orders. Meanwhile, data on supply-chain pressures continue to look reassuring.  For example, though the supplier deliveries index rose slightly to 45.6 in January, that was still the second lowest reading since 2009!  When this index is below 50, it means deliveries are speeding up.  Finally, though the prices index in today’s report rose for the first time in ten months it still remains in contraction territory. While lower prices for some goods will help moderate overall inflation, we expect the services sector will now be the main driver going forward, keeping inflation well above the Fed’s 2% target. In labor market news this morning, the ADP employment report showed a gain of 106,000 private-sector jobs in January, well below the consensus estimate of 180,000.  After plugging today's numbers into our model, we expect Friday’s employment report to show a nonfarm payroll gain of 185,000.  We also got data on construction, which showed that spending declined 0.4% in December, with large declines in residential and manufacturing projects more than offsetting gains in roads. In other recent news, national average home prices continued to trend downward in November, with the Case-Shiller index declining 0.3% and the FHFA index, which tracks homes financed by conforming mortgages, slipping 0.1%.  Although both indexes are still up about 8% from a year ago, they are also both down from the June 2022 peak, with the Case-Shiller down 2.5% and the FHFA down 1%.  Expect further home price declines until at least late this year.  In the past three months, prices are down the most in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Francisco.  

Click here for a PDF version

Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2023 @ 12:02 PM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly
  Debt Limit Drama
Posted Under: Government • Markets • Monday Morning Outlook • Spending • Taxes • Bonds • Stocks

The US federal budget is on an unsustainable path…but not for the reasons that most people think.

Yes, the national debt is $31 trillion, well higher than annual GDP, and only going higher.  Yes, the budget deficit last year was more than a $1 trillion for the third year in a row.  None of this is good.

But the real root of the fiscal problem, and our biggest concern, isn’t the debt or the deficits, it’s government overspending.  If the government had an enormous debt, but spent little, the private sector could produce the country’s way out of the debt problem.  And if the US had little debt, we could still have economic problems from too much government spending.  Ultimately, the government funds itself by borrowing or taxing the wealth produced by private industry.  If spending were high and borrowing low, taxes would have to be prohibitively high.  The bottom line is that excessive spending leads to economic ills.

According to the CBO, spending on entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care programs will rise from 10.7% of GDP to 15.1% in the next thirty years.  Meanwhile, the net interest on the national debt will almost certainly be higher than it was last year, unless and until we bring the deficit down and slow the growth in debt.

This is why the debt limit debate now going on in Washington, DC is so important.  Don’t fall for the false narrative that one group of politicians wants to push the country into default.  Nor, should anyone want to abolish the debt ceiling altogether.  If there is a way to shine some light on overspending, why shouldn’t it be used?  If debt ceiling politics can focus attention on fiscal issues, it’s done its job.

What we expect is a last-minute budget deal that includes either caps on discretionary spending for future years, some sort of commission or committee that can make proposals to reform entitlements (with expedited procedural rules so the proposals get a congressional vote), or both, as part of a bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling.

But let’s go down the highly unlikely path that the debt limit isn’t raised.  The Treasury Department would still have enough cash flow to pay all securitized debt as it came due, as well as entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  It’s true that other programs and agencies would have to take substantial cuts to make sure those higher priority payments get made; and yes, the Biden Administration will not enjoy making that choice.  But it’s still a choice that they alone get to make.

Ultimately, investors and voters need to realize that not every national debt is the same, even if they’re the same amount.  The US had a debt problem after the Revolutionary War, which was a small price to pay for starting an independent country.  We had a debt problem after World War II, but that was a price we paid to win a crucial war.   Our current debt problem is not like those.  In too many cases, politicians spend to win favor with constituents.  It’s not wrong to use the debt ceiling as a way to focus attention on this problem and the endemic overspending that it creates. That’s a habit this debt limit debate needs to break.   

Brian S. Wesbury – Chief Economist

Robert Stein, CFA – Deputy Chief Economist

Click here for a PDF version

Posted on Monday, January 30, 2023 @ 11:23 AM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly
  High Frequency Data Tracker 1/27/2023
Posted Under: High Frequency Data Tracker
Supporting Image for Blog Post

 

We live in unprecedented times. Since the COVID pandemic, the economy has been deeply influenced by a massive increase in government spending, COVID-related shutdowns, and a huge increase in the money supply.  In all our years of economic forecasting, the task of identifying where we are and where we are heading has never been so difficult.  Now more than ever, it is important to follow real-time data on the economy. The charts in the High Frequency Data Tracker follow data that are published either weekly or daily, providing a check on the health of the US economy. 

Click here to view the report

Posted on Friday, January 27, 2023 @ 3:24 PM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly
  Personal Income Rose 0.2% in December
Posted Under: Data Watch • Government • Inflation • PIC • Fed Reserve • Interest Rates • Spending
Supporting Image for Blog Post

 

Implications:  Incomes rose while spending fell in December, as consumers continue to fight an inflation that has eaten into their spending power.  Consumer spending declined 0.2% for the month, while prices rose 0.1%, which means “real” spending (which adjusts for inflation) declined 0.3%.  Before diving into the details on the income and spending side, today’s PCE price data are sure to get attention given that it’s the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, and one of the last key pieces for data to be released before the Fed’s meeting next week.  PCE prices rose 0.1% in December and are up 5.0% from a year ago, while core prices, which exclude food and energy, rose 0.3% for the month and are up 4.4% from a year ago.  The Fed will welcome the slowing of overall inflation on a twelve-month basis (which was as high as 7.0% back in June), but it is far too early to revise plans for rate hikes.  Core prices dipped on a twelve-month basis back in July before bouncing back above 5.0% over the following months.  And while goods prices are moderating (up 4.6% from a year ago in December versus 10.6% back in June), services prices continue to accelerate with little sign of easing.  Services prices were up 5.2% in 2022 versus a 4.8% gain in 2021.  Speaking of services, consumer spending in December was led by a 0.5% increase in spending on services, while spending on goods fell 1.6%.  This divergence between services and goods is a trend we are seeing across economic releases, and one we expect will continue.  Consider for a moment that from February 2020 to December of that year, due to massive government stimulus and lockdowns, spending on goods rose by more than $300 billion, while spending on services fell by over $500 billion.  This government-induced shift caused a massive reallocation of resources: employees, consumer dollars, and investment.  Now, as we return to more “normal” spending patterns, the goods side of the economy will be trending slower while services continue to heal.  Spending in December was supported by a 0.2% increase in incomes, led by private sector wages and salaries which rose 0.3% and are up 5.4% in the past year.  The ongoing transition to paychecks – and away from stimulus checks and government transfers – is critical for sustained economic prosperity, but will be tested as the Fed’s ongoing tightening likely pushes the economy into recession.  That painful process is part of the rehab necessary to mend the broken economic bones that were hidden by the morphine of stimulus.   

Click here for a PDF version

Posted on Friday, January 27, 2023 @ 11:29 AM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly
  New Single-Family Home Sales Increased 2.3% in December
Posted Under: Data Watch • Government • Home Sales • Housing • Inflation • ISM • Fed Reserve • Interest Rates
Supporting Image for Blog Post

 

Implications:   New home sales fell 26.6% in the twelve months ending in December 2022, the largest calendar-year drop since the 2008 housing bust.  However, the recent trend in sales has been modestly positive, with activity rising for the third consecutive month in December and signaling that sales activity may have hit a temporary bottom.  The main issue this year has been declining affordability, with potential buyers getting squeezed by both higher prices and rapidly rising mortgage rates.  Assuming a 20% down payment, the change in mortgage rates and home prices since December 2021 amount to a 59% increase in monthly payments on a new 30-year mortgage for the median new home.  No wonder sales have slowed down!  With 30-year mortgage rates currently sitting near 6.5%, financing costs remain a headwind.  However, it’s important to note that mortgage rates have recently fallen roughly 100 basis points from the peak.  Given that new home sales are a timelier indicator of the housing market, because they are calculated when contracts are signed, it’s not surprising we are seeing signs of life in today’s report while sales of existing homes (which are counted when contracts are closed) continue to struggle.  Another piece of good news is that while a lack of inventory has contributed to price gains in the past couple of years, inventories have made substantial gains versus a couple of year ago.  The months’ supply of new homes (how long it would take to sell the current inventory at today’s sales pace) is now 9.0, up significantly from 3.3 early in the pandemic.  Most importantly, the supply of completed single-family homes has begun to rise quite rapidly as builders finish more units and rising cancellation rates on purchases leave potential buyers with more options. Though not a recipe for a significant rebound, the combination of moderating mortgage rates and more inventories should continue to put a floor under sales activity.  One problem with assessing housing activity is that the Federal Reserve held interest rates artificially low for more than a decade.  With rates now in a more normal range, the sticker shock on mortgage rates for potential buyers is very real.  However, we have had strong housing markets with rates at current levels in the past, and homebuyers will eventually adjust, possibly by looking at lower priced homes.  In manufacturing news this morning, the Kansas City Fed index, a measure of factory sentiment in that region, rose to a still weak -1 in January from -4 in December.  Look for further weakness in the national ISM Manufacturing index reported next week.

Click here for a PDF version

Posted on Thursday, January 26, 2023 @ 12:22 PM • Post Link Share: 
Print this post Printer Friendly

These posts were prepared by First Trust Advisors L.P., and reflect the current opinion of the authors. They are based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Opinions and forward looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security.
 
The information presented is not intended to constitute an investment recommendation for, or advice to, any specific person. By providing this information, First Trust is not undertaking to give advice in any fiduciary capacity within the meaning of ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code or any other regulatory framework. Financial professionals are responsible for evaluating investment risks independently and for exercising independent judgment in determining whether investments are appropriate for their clients.
First Trust Portfolios L.P.  Member SIPC and FINRA. (Form CRS)   •  First Trust Advisors L.P. (Form CRS)
Home |  Important Legal Information |  Privacy Policy |  California Privacy Policy |  Business Continuity Plan |  FINRA BrokerCheck
Copyright © 2023 All rights reserved.