Links for 05-25-2013
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Import prices rose for the second consecutive month in December and the 1.1 percent increase was the largest monthly advance since May. The price index for overall imports also increased for the fifth straight year in 2006, advancing 2.5 percent after more substantial increases of 8.0 percent and 6.7 percent in 2005 and 2004, respectively.
A 4.8 percent increase in petroleum prices was the largest contributor to the overall December rise. Petroleum prices resumed their upward trend after declining 21.5 percent for the three-month period ended in November. The index rose 6.2 percent overall in 2006, the fifth consecutive year the index advanced, but the smallest annual increase over that period.
Nonpetroleum prices increased 0.4 percent in December after a 0.9 percent advance the previous month. Prices for nonpetroleum imports rose 1.7 percent over the past 12 months after advancing 2.4 percent and 3.7 percent in 2005 and 2004, respectively. The December increase in nonpetroleum prices was driven by a 1.5 percent rise in nonpetroleum industrial supplies and materials prices. That advance in turn was led by higher prices for natural gas, up for the second consecutive month, metals and chemicals prices. The price index for nonpetroleum industrial supplies and materials increased 4.5 percent over the past year.
The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for December, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $369.9 billion, an increase of 0.9 percent (±0.7%) from the previous month and up 5.4 percent (±0.7%) from December 2005. Total sales for the 12 months of 2006 were up 6.0 percent (±0.5%) from 2005. Total sales for the October through December 2006 period were up 4.9 percent (±0.5%) from the same period a year ago. The October to November 2006 percent change was revised from +1.0 percent (± 0.8%) to +0.6 percent (± 0.2%).
Retail sales increased a revised 0.6% in October and 0.7% excluding autos. This is down from the initial estimate of a 1% gain in overall sales and a 0.9% ex-auto gain.
So, while the Census data says retail sales increased at a high rate in November, all other surveys say sales of various retail sales components decreased. There is an important difference in methodology in the other reports because they are seasonally adjusted. However, using the old Sesame Street game "One of these things is not like the other one" we come to the conclusion the Census will probably lower their numbers for November.
Industry sales at stores open more than a year rose 3.1 percent in December, making the holiday season this year the slowest in two years, the International Council of Shopping Centers said. Federated Department Stores' sales rose less than analysts anticipated, and Gap lowered its profit forecast by 18 percent after sales declined.
Slower growth threatens holiday-season profits, which account for almost a third of the industry's annual earnings. Retailers discounted flat-screen televisions, while cold-weather clothes went unsold during the warmest December in a decade.
The slowdown is also an indication that the global economy might not be able to count on the spendthrift U.S. consumer as much as it has in the past.
"The numbers are going to be less robust than everyone hoped for," said Patricia Edwards, who manages assets at Wentworth, Hauser & Violich in Seattle. "Promotions were high and earnings are going to be difficult across the board."
Sales for the two months of November and December increased 2.8 percent. In 2005, sales for the two months had risen 3.6 percent, while sales for December alone had gained 3.5 percent.
"It's at best a moderate gain," said Michael Niemira, chief economist of the International Council of Shopping Centers. "We have certainly seen a slower pace of spending at the end of the year. That's what we're likely to see in 2007."
• Retailers Post Disappointing Sales For December on Heavy Discounts (WSJ)
• Warm weather and gift cards pinch December sales (Marketwatch)
• U.S. Retailers' December Sales Slow on Price Cutting (Bloomberg)
• Time to Take Down the Decorations, Earnings Forecasts (Holiday Sales Tracker)
• Shopping Bags Half Empty
• Retailers Post Disappointing December Sales (AP)
• Wal-Mart Expects Continued Paltry Gains (WSJ)
Chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
fell sharply in electronic trading before the opening bell after it warned that quarterly revenue would fall short of analysts' estimates.
In addition, German software maker SAP
posted earnings that fell shy of forecasts and South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. <005930.KS> signaled a tough first quarter on weak demand for flat panel display screens.
U.S. economic growth will moderate in the first half of this year and manufacturing will likely play its part in that slowdown, according to a quarterly survey of manufacturing executives released on Thursday.
The Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI Survey on the Business Outlook showed a slowing in the first half. But strong balance sheets and liquidity will help businesses weather a profit slowdown during the year.
The survey index fell to 54 from 64 in the Sept. 2006 survey, the lowest since a reading of 52 was recorded in March 2002 and breaking a streak of 16 consecutive quarters above 60.
In the week ending Jan. 6, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 299,000, a decrease of 26,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 325,000. The 4-week moving average was 314,750, a decrease of 1,750 from the previous week's revised average of 316,500.
On the inflation front, core inflation—as measured by the 12-month change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures excluding food and energy—increased from 1.3 percent in the summer of 2003 to a recent high of 2.4 percent in October. In part, core inflation has been elevated because businesses have raised their prices in response to earlier increases in energy costs. High levels of resource utilization also have added more generally to inflationary pressures.
By my standards, inflation has been too high. I prefer to see it between 1 and 2 percent. The most recent news on inflation has been good, with the 12-month change in core PCE coming down from 2.4 percent in October to 2.2 percent in November. Looking ahead, core inflation likely will ease somewhat further. The deceleration in economic growth reduces somewhat the risk of sustained pressures from resource constraints. And the recent period of lower oil prices clearly is a positive factor.
Although the recent news has been favorable, risks to the inflation outlook remain. Additional cost shocks at this time would be unwelcome, or we could be wrong about reduced pressures from resource constraints. Long periods of high resource utilization are often associated with rising costs and prices. And today, as I mentioned, the unemployment rate is at the low end of the estimates for the natural rate. Growth in compensation per hour over the past year was not much higher than it was in 2004 and 2005. This measure includes benefits as well as wages and salaries. But unit labor costs have accelerated because of changes in productivity. Although the underlying trend is still solid, productivity growth over the past several quarters has moderated from exceptionally strong rates. And down the road, tight labor markets could generate some larger gains in compensation. However, profit margins are relatively high, so some further increases in labor costs could be absorbed by businesses in the form of lower margins.
Another risk to the inflation outlook would be if the recent positive news on inflation turns out to be transitory. Disappointing numbers on actual inflation rates could cause inflation expectations to run too high. If firms and workers expect inflation to be high, they will want to compensate by raising prices and wages or building in plans for automatic increases. In this way, high inflation expectations can lead to persistently high actual inflation.
So the summary on inflation is that the recent price data have been consistent with some easing in core inflation. The key going forward is whether that trend can be sustained and how quickly inflation will move back to the range that is commensurate with price stability. And we need to continue to be vigilant in monitoring the risks to the inflation outlook.
New Year's Day may have come and gone, but dealmakers would be wise to restock their champagne cellars right away. The high levels of merger-and-acquisition activity that characterized 2006 will likely continue, even grow, through the first half of this year, according to the Association for Corporate Growth. And the main drivers of the deals — private equity firms — will continue to be big players, the member association predicts.
Nearly half of the 1,230 private equity professionals, investment bankers, corporate development professionals, lawyers, and accountants who responded to an ACG and Thomson Financial survey in December said they expect merger activity will increase in the next six months. Forty-one expect M&A activity to stay level, while only 9 percent say the pace will slow down.
At a combined total value of $1.6 trillion, last year's M&A action in the United States came close to topping the $1.7 trillion record for values of U.S. transactions set in 2000. And globally, 2006's worldwide M&A value — worth $3.8 trillion — beat 2000's numbers and was 38 percent higher than 2005's total, according to Thomson Financial. Overall, it was "a banner year" for mid-market and mega deals, says Elliott Williams, president of Mirus Capital Advisors and the Boston chapter of ACG.
The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, through the Department of Commerce, announced today that total November exports of $124.8 billion and imports of $183.0 billion resulted in a goods and services deficit of $58.2 billion, $0.6 billion less than the $58.8 billion in October, revised. November exports were $1.1 billion more than October exports of $123.7 billion. November imports were $0.5 billion more than October imports of $182.5 billion.
In November, the goods deficit decreased $0.3 billion from October to $64.7 billion, and the services surplus increased $0.2 billion to $6.5 billion. Exports of goods increased $0.6 billion to $89.1 billion, and imports of goods increased $0.3 billion to $153.8 billion. Exports of services increased $0.5 billion to $35.7 billion, and imports of services increased $0.3 billion to $29.2 billion.
In November, the goods and services deficit was down $5.8 billion from November 2005. Exports were up $14.8 billion, or 13.4 percent, and imports were up $9.0 billion, or 5.2 percent.
Oil prices have almost quadrupled since the beginning of 2002. For an oil-importing country like the U.S., this has substantially increased the cost of petroleum imports. International trade data suggest that this increase has exacerbated the deterioration of the U.S. trade deficit, especially since the second half of 2004. One factor can explain this evolution: The real volume of U.S. petroleum imports has remained essentially constant. One explanation for why the demand for petroleum imports has not declined in response to higher prices comes from a model in which firms are fairly limited in their ability to adjust their use of energy sources, such as oil, in the short term.
The Conference Board's index of chief executive confidence rose to 50 in the fourth quarter from 44 the previous three months, the independent New York research group reported yesterday. The third quarter reading marked the first time the index dropped below 50, which reflects more negative than positive responses, since the final three months of 2001.
Growth picked up last quarter as lower gasoline prices, unseasonably warm weather, and rising incomes drove consumer demand, helping temper concerns that a faltering housing market would spread to other areas of the economy. The index of the outlook for the next six months rose to 50 last quarter from 43, suggesting business leaders foresee continued expansion.
Late payments on credit card bills climbed in the summer to their highest point in a year, suggesting that some consumers are feeling financially squeezed.
The American Bankers Association, in its quarterly survey of consumer loans, reported today that the percentage of credit card payments 30 or more days past due increased to 4.57 percent in the July-to-September quarter of last year.
That was up from 4.41 percent in the second quarter and was the highest since the third quarter of 2005, when the delinquency rate stood at 4.74 percent.
Real wages for most workers, after rising for the first few years of the 2000s, have fallen lately, and despite 14 percent higher productivity, a typical worker’s real weekly earnings are down 3 percent over this expansion. Median family income is down about $1,500 since 2000, and more than 5 million people have been added to the poverty rolls.Wages and salaries today account for the smallest percentage of our gross domestic product on record, while corporate profits are at their highest level since the 1960s.
The productivity gains in the go-go decades that followed World War II were broadly shared, and the result was a dramatic, sustained increase in the quality of life for most Americans. Nowadays workers have to be more productive just to maintain their economic status quo. Productivity gains are no longer broadly shared. They’re barely shared at all.Now, back to job growth. While the superficial BLS stats show the quantity of jobs created, behind that data a darker picture lurks—the quality of salary and benefit levels. What counts is not just the number of jobs created but how well those jobs provide a middle-class standard of living. (There’s a lot we can do about all this—and future posts will highlight elements of a populist economic agenda spearheaded by EPI that we in the progressive movement can rally behind in coming months.)
Statistics on the long-term unemployed tell an equally worrisome story. Despite the sunny job statistics that most of us are familiar with, the share of the labor force experiencing unemployment for a half year or more—the standard definition of long-term unemployment—has in fact grown dramatically over the last generation. Indeed, compared with the late 1960s, the share of workers who experience long-term unemployment during the peak of the business cycle has more than tripled.Short-term upticks won’t solve these long-term problems, and they won’t go very far to help working families dig out of debt and pay their mortgages on time. As Bonddad reported in December:
The Mortgage Bankers Association, in its quarterly snapshot of the mortgage market released Wednesday, reported that the percentage of mortgage payments that were 30 or more days past due for all loans tracked jumped to 4.67 percent in the July-to-September quarter.A recent Center for American Progress report showed the nation’s middle class is in worse shape than ever. Some of the report’s findings:
That marked a sharp rise from the second quarter’s delinquency rate of 4.39 percent and was the worst showing since the final quarter of last year, when delinquent payments climbed to a 2-1/2-year high in the aftermath of the devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes.
Among the total electorate, 39 percent of voters said the economy was an extremely important issue for them in this election. These voters broke solidly for the Democrats—voting for a Democratic candidate in House races by a margin of 59 percent to 39 percent.Or, as economist Paul Krugman says:
The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor.It’s been the pattern of the Bush administration to cherry-pick a few good stats to plump up its failed economic policies. But short-term data seldom work to describe long-term trends—and certainly don’t describe working families’ day-to-day reality of trying to pay the bills.
Uncertainty about where we stand in the housing cycle remains considerable. In part, that is because this housing downturn has differed from some of those in the past in important ways. It was not triggered by a restrictive monetary policy and high interest rates; indeed, relatively low intermediate and long-term interest rates are helping to support the stabilization of this sector. But the current contraction in housing did follow an unusually large run-up in sales and construction and, even more so, in prices relative to the returns on other financial and real assets. Our uncertainty about what pushed home prices and sales to those elevated levels raises questions about how the market will adjust now that expectations of the rate of house price appreciation are being trimmed. And changes in the organization of the construction industry, with activity more concentrated in the hands of large, publicly traded corporations, may also affect the dynamics of prices and activity in response to the inventory overhang.
In my own judgment, housing starts may be not very far from their trough, but the risks around this outlook still are largely to the downside. Although house prices nationally have decelerated noticeably and appear to have fallen in some markets, they are still high relative to rents and interest rates. Building permits decreased substantially again in November, and inventories of unsold homes have only started to edge lower. We also do not know whether the possible stabilization that seems to be taking hold would be immune to a rise in longer-term interest rates should term premiums increase or the federal funds rate fail to follow the downward path currently built into market expectations. Even if starts stabilize at close to current levels, those levels are sufficiently low that overall construction activity would remain a negative for the growth of economic activity in the first half of this year.
While the downturn in housing was steepening during the third and fourth quarters, domestic producers of cars and light trucks slashed output in an effort to reduce their elevated inventories, particularly of light trucks (minivans, SUVs, and pickups). In October, light motor vehicles were assembled at the slowest pace in more than eight years. However, production rebounded in the final two months of the year, and, with inventories having come down from their highs last summer, available monthly schedules suggest that vehicle manufacturers anticipate maintaining the pace of assemblies during the first quarter at about the average rate in November and December. Thus, with sales reasonably well maintained through December, the drag from this sector's inventory correction should be ending.
So, despite the recent favorable price data, I believe it is still too early to relax our concerns about whether the run-up in price pressures in the spring and summer of last year is truly unwinding and whether it is unwinding rapidly enough to forestall a pickup in inflation expectations. Even with the opening of some slack in the manufacturing sector and in homebuilding, labor markets generally seem to have stayed fairly tight, with the unemployment rate at only 4-1/2 percent. Although recent data indicate that labor costs were not rising as rapidly in 2006 as first estimated, labor compensation does appear to have increased more quickly over 2006 than over 2005. Last year's increase in compensation also appears to have outpaced overall consumer price inflation. That development in and of itself does not necessarily indicate an increase in inflationary pressures, especially if it represents a process in which real compensation begins to catch up with the rapid increases in labor productivity earlier this decade. What would be problematic would be a pickup in the growth of nominal hourly labor compensation that was passed through to prices over the next several quarters, or one that was not matched, over a sustained period, by a comparable pickup in the growth of productivity. Eventually, the resulting faster growth of unit labor costs would pose a serious threat to price stability.
Core inflation is still higher than it was just a year ago, and, as I noted, some of the very recent decline may result from one-time changes in relative prices rather than an easing in underlying inflation pressures. A very gradual decline in the trend rate of inflation continues to be the most likely outcome, but that path is still by no means assured, and in my judgment such a decline remains critically important to the sustained prosperity of the U.S. economy.
In sum, conditions appear to be in place for a good year for the U.S. economy, one marked by growth that is moderate and sustainable and by inflation that will be lower than last year's. The economy appears to be weathering the downturn in housing with limited collateral effects, and inflation appears to be easing with the aid of lower energy prices, well-anchored inflation expectations, and competitive labor and product markets. I am a central banker to my core, so I know that somewhere, somehow, something will go wrong, but you will have to rely on the new president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta to explain to you next January just what happened and what the implications are for 2008.
Oil prices rose Monday, supported by reports that OPEC oil ministers have begun talks on another potential cut and worries about energy shortages in parts of Europe as the fallout of a dispute between Russia and Belarus.
The rebound came after last week's plunge amid a warmer-than-normal winter in the U.S. Northeast, a key region for heating oil demand.
Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Belarus had ordered a halt to deliveries of Russian oil that goes via its territory to Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
The head of the Russian state pipeline operator Transneft, Semyon Vainshtok accused Belarus of siphoning off Russian oil destined for Europe since Saturday, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
Investors' repositioning for the new year collided with interest rate fears to kick off 2007 with trepidation and anxiety running through the financial markets, with the notable exception of tech and biotech stocks.
Friday's stronger-than-expected jobs number forces the markets to wrap their arms around the idea that a recession is unlikely, and that is a relief. But they also need to embrace that the Federal Reserve is not opening the door to rate cuts anytime soon, and that is disappointing to many investors.
The minutes from December's FOMC meeting, released Wednesday were, in sum, hawkish in that the Fed maintained a bias toward tightening amid concern about inflation. That wasn't a big surprise, but an early morning rally reversed when traders realized the central bank was not discussing a move to a more neutral policy stance.
Friday's stronger-than-expected 167,000 non-farm payrolls report was a surprise, given payroll processor ADP's earlier employment forecast of 40,000 jobs lost in the month. To cut rates, the Fed would need to see some softening in the labor market to mark a true slowdown in the economy.
All meeting participants remained concerned about the outlook for inflation. Although readings on core inflation had improved modestly since the spring, nearly all participants viewed core inflation as uncomfortably high and stressed the importance of further moderation. Participants expected core inflation to edge lower over time, in part as the pass-through of higher prices for energy and other commodities ran its course and as the moderate growth in aggregate demand likely led to a modest easing of pressures on resources. Some participants also highlighted the impact that movements in the prices of individual components of the price index, such as owners' equivalent rent and medical costs, could have on near-term readings on core inflation. More generally, participants stressed there was considerable uncertainty as to the probable pace and extent of the moderation in core inflation and that the risks around this desired downward path remained to the upside. Moreover, participants expressed concern that a failure of inflation to moderate as expected could entail significant costs if an upward drift in inflation expectations ensued.