The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis published several economic reports today that collectively offer a mixed bag of macroeconomic news. The updates on new orders for durable goods, personal income and spending, and weekly jobless claims are usually dispatched on separate days. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, all three were released this morning, leaving an unusually hefty dose of statistics to review. Here’s a brief tour of some of the noteworthy data points:
New orders for durable goods dropped a hefty 3.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis in October vs. the previous month. The drop reverses September’s revised 5.0% rise, the Census Bureau reports. It’s too soon to say if October’s retreat for new orders is a sign of things to come, but it’s troubling nonetheless. Indeed, we haven’t seen such a deep fall in durable goods orders since the 8% tumble in January 2009, when the financial crisis and recession were raging. The setback was widespread. Even after ignoring the volatile aircraft sector, or removing the government’s defense-related orders, October was still a losing month for durable goods orders. The only good news is that new orders are still up sharply vs. a year ago, rising more than 10% last month vs. October 2009. And let’s remember, too, that this is a volatile series. It’s also a crucial leading indicator, and so for the moment there’s a new reason to wonder about the staying power of the economic recovery. One month is hardly definitive proof of anything, but any excuse to worry will do these days.
Personal Income & Spending
The trend was more encouraging for income and spending last month. Disposable personal income (DPI) rose by a seasonally adjusted 0.4% in October, more than repairing September’s modest 0.1% decline, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. DPI has increased every month this year except for September’s mild setback. Meanwhile, consumer spending marched upward last month as well. Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) advanced in October by a respectable 0.4% over September. That’s the fourth consecutive monthly rise. The increase in consumption was especially strong in the cyclically sensitive area of durable goods purchases, which gained 1.9% in October—the best month since March’s 3.5% jump.
Initial Jobless Claims
We saved the best for last. New filings for jobless benefits dropped by a robust 34,000 last week, the Labor Department advises. That pushed new weekly unemployment applications down to 407,000—the lowest since July 2008. Is the long-awaited drop in jobless claims finally here? If so, that bodes well for stronger job growth, or so history suggests. Of course, there’s always reason to doubt any one report. The obvious suspect for skewing the data is the Thanksgiving holiday. Did the newly unemployed delay filing last week because of Turkey day? We’ll know soon enough. But even if last week’s drop is misleading, there’s no denying the improvement in this series over the past few months. If the lower levels of jobless claims holds in the weeks ahead, it’s a strong sign of improving momentum in the labor market.
In fact, the update on private wages for October in the spending and income report suggests that the job market is on the mend. Or at least wage growth is. Private wages rose 0.6% last month, the fourth-straight monthly increase. On a year-over-year basis, the trend looks even stronger, as the chart below shows. Falling applications for jobless benefits and rising wages is a potent combination, assuming it lasts. It has so far.