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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Summary for Week ending January 27th

by Calculated Risk on 1/28/2012 08:12:00 AM

The key story last week was that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) noted that “economic conditions … are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through late 2014.” This was a change from mid-2013.

In addition the FOMC released their inaugural forecasts of the appropriate path for the Fed Funds rate, and most participants expect rates to be low for a long long time. The FOMC also set a long run inflation target of 2 percent (this was understood, but now it is official).

The January Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) showed the FOMC is projecting inflation will remain below target through 2014, whereas the unemployment rate will remain too high for years. This suggest that further action is likely, and Fed Chairman Bernanke seemed to pave the way for QE3 with his comments at the press briefing. My view is QE3 could be announced as early as the next FOMC meeting in March, or perhaps at one of the two day meetings in April or June.

In general the economic data released last week was disappointing. The advance report showed that real GDP only increased at a 2.8% annual rate in Q4. Much of the increase was related to changes in private inventories, and PCE only increased at a 2.0% annual rate. New home sales also disappointed, with sales falling to 307 thousand annual rate in December.

There was some mild good news: two regional Fed manufacturing surveys (Richmond and Kansas City) showed faster expansion in January, and consumer sentiment increased again.

Overall this is consistent with sluggish growth.

Here is a summary in graphs:

Real GDP increased 2.8% annual rate in Q4

The BEA reported that "Real gross domestic product ... increased at an annual rate of 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011"

GDP ForecastClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the quarterly GDP growth (at an annual rate) for the last 30 years. The dashed line is the current growth rate. Growth in Q4 at 2.8% annualized was below trend growth (around 3%) - and very weak for a recovery - but the best since Q2 2010.

PCE increased at a 2.0 percent annual rate. GDP was boosted significantly by the "change in private inventories" that added 1.94 percentage points. That was somewhat offset by a decline in government spending (subtracted 0.93 percentage points).

Another key story is that residential investment is now adding to GDP. Since RI is historically the best leading indicator for the economy, this suggests further growth in 2012 (although still sluggish).

New Home Sales declined in December to 307,000 Annual Rate

New Home SalesThe Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 307 thousand. This was down from a revised 314 thousand in November (revised down from 315 thousand).

This graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate.

New Home Sales, InventoryStarting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke down inventory into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. This graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973.

The inventory of completed homes for sale was at 61,000 units in December. The combined total of completed and under construction is at the lowest level since this series started.

New home sales have averaged only 300 thousand SAAR over the 20 months since the expiration of the tax credit ... mostly moving sideways at a very low level.

All New Home Sales graphs

ATA Trucking Index increased sharply in December

ATA Trucking"The American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index jumped 6.8% in December after rising 0.3% in November 2011. The latest gain put the SA index at 124.5 (2000=100) in December, up from the November level of 116.6."

Here is a long term graph that shows ATA's For-Hire Truck Tonnage index.

The dashed line is the current level of the index. This index stalled early in 2011, but increased sharply at the end of the year.
All current Transportation Graphs

State Unemployment Rates "slightly lower" in December

State UnemploymentThis graph shows the current unemployment rate for each state (red), and the max during the recession (blue). Every state has some blue - indicating no state is currently at the maximum during the recession.

The states are ranked by the highest current unemployment rate. Only four states and the District of Columbia still have double digit unemployment rates. This is the fewest since early 2009. At the end of 2009, 18 states and D.C. had double digit unemployment rates.
All current employment graphs

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 377,000

The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since January 2000.

The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims decreased this week to 377,500.

The 4-week moving average remains below 400,000.

Weekly claims have been bouncing around lately - January is a period with large seasonal adjustments and that can lead to some large swings - but the 4-week average of weekly claims have been mostly trending down.
All current Employment Graphs

Consumer Sentiment increased in January

Consumer SentimentThe final January Reuters / University of Michigan consumer sentiment index increased to 75.0, up from the preliminary reading of 74.0, and up from the December reading of 69.9.

Sentiment is still fairly weak, although above the consensus forecast of 74.0.

Other Economic Stories ...
FOMC Statement: Rates likely exceptionally low through late 2014
FOMC: Sets 2% Inflation Target, January Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) and Press Briefing
Analysis: Bernanke paves the way for QE3
Pending Home Sales Decline in December
• From the Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Picks Up the Pace in January; Expectations Upbeat
• Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Rebounded in January
DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven declined 0.9% in November