This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 15 December 2023

By: Taro Chellaram /Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report/Dec 21, 2023

This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 15 December 2023

Macroeconomic data released this week reveal that gradually easing price pressures are promoting consumer resilience, while high financing costs continue to bite producers. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose just 0.1% in November, amounting to a 3.1% year-to-year upswing. The headline print was muted by a downdraft in gasoline prices and ongoing moderation in food costs. In contrast, firmer services prices continue to prop up core inflation. A 0.3% monthly uptick in core prices translated to a 4.0% annual gain in November, unchanged from October’s rate.

Despite core CPI seemingly stuck at double the Fed’s inflation target, there are encouraging signs of more progress to come. A recent streak of softer prints brought the three-month annualized core rate to 3.4% through November, suggesting that disinflation has more room to run in the coming months. Gradually cooling labor costs should also help to keep a lid on services inflation, while stalling wholesale prices reduce the risk of price reacceleration. That said, price pressures have not completely abated. This week, we also received the latest NFIB Small Business Economic Trends Survey. In November, the net share of small businesses expecting to raise prices in the coming months reached its highest reading in one year (34%), consistent with a bump in plans to raise compensation.

Nevertheless, inflation expectations are adjusting lower. A survey from the New York Fed found that consumers anticipate a 3.4% annual increase in prices over the next year, the softest expectation since April 2021. A solid string of slower inflation readings also led FOMC members to take down their own forecasts, supporting their decision to hold rates steady for the third straight meeting in December. In the latest Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), the median FOMC participant expected core PCE inflation to print at 3.2% this year, down from 3.7% in the September SEP. These adjustments give a nod to ongoing progress on inflation, while acknowledging that price growth is likely to proceed above target. See Interest Rate Watch for more insight into how these developments affect our outlook for Federal Reserve policy.

Receding inflation appears to be bolstering consumer staying power. Retail sales rose 0.3% in November, outshining expectations of a slight decline. Based on our estimates, sales mounted a more impressive 0.9% increase on an inflation-adjusted basis, the fastest pace since last January. In addition to demonstrating enduring consumer resilience, November’s print also signals a solid holiday shopping season this year. Holiday sales are now on track to grow just under 5.0% on an annual basis. If realized, this spending pace would be a downshift from post-pandemic norms while still remaining above the longer-term average. Finally, a 0.9% real increase in control group sales in November set up GDP to advance a touch faster than we currently expect in Q4.

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