Economic data this week covered the consumer, industrial space and housing market, and continue to suggest the U.S. economy is only gradually losing momentum. We still view a recession is more likely than not by the end of the year, but there is no denying the underlying resiliency evident in the data.
For starters, consumers continue to spend. Retail sales rose 0.4% in April, and the control group measure, which excludes volatile categories, posted its second-largest gain in seven months. This measure feeds directly into the BEA's calculation of PCE in the GDP accounts and suggests consumer spending started the quarter on the right foot. But details were a bit mixed under the hood with only seven of the 13 retailer categories reporting a rise in April sales. Auto sales surprised to the downside, as previously released data on wholesale auto sales suggested a surge in April sales. As the following chart shows, in adjusting sales for inflation, the trend in sales has broadly moved sideways in recent months.
Like retail, auto sales played a role in manufacturing activity as well. Motor vehicle and parts production surged more in April alone than it did over the course of the past 12 months. Autos accounted for more than half of the 1% gain in April manufacturing. Excluding autos, manufacturing still rose by the most in four months and helped lift industrial production (IP). But after factoring in downward revisions to the prior two months, the level of IP was more or less in line with what was expected, which is to say essentially flat. IP is now roughly consistent with where it stood six months ago, signaling some stabilization in production after a weak start to the year.
Housing data also demonstrate some recent stabilization. Builder sentiment reached a 10-month high in May, according to the NAHB index, as buyer demand recovers and incentives are reigned in. Increased confidence is translating to activity. Total housing starts rose 2.2% to a 1.4 million-unit pace in April, with both single-family and multifamily starts advancing at a solid pace. Single-family construction now appears to be on the rebound, driven largely by a jump in construction in the West. Permits also notched a solid gain for single-family structures, though multifamily permits notched their second-straight decline and are on the slowest pace since July 2021. The pullback in multifamily permits comes as the apartment market begins to cool with a flood of new supply set to be delivered.
Existing home sales dipped 3.4% to a seasonally adjusted pace of 4.28 million in April, dropping for the second month in a row (chart). Low inventory and high mortgage rates continue to constrain the resale market. The drop in resales was broad-based as single-family homes, condos and co-ops all posted declines on the month. Existing sales weakened across nearly every region, with much of the weakness concentrated in the West. Despite the dip in the headline number, the sector may be stabilizing, as resales in April are now 7.0% above their recent low in January
Meanwhile, despite incoming data demonstrating an underlying resilience in economic growth, the Leading Economic Index (LEI) continues to show clear signs of recession. April marks the 10th straight month in which the six-month average change in the Leading Economic Index has been below a key recession threshold. We ultimately still expect the U.S. economy to slip into a mild recession before year-end as tighter policy weighs on activity and firms' ability to hire.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Dec 26, 2020
Vaccines are here, but they are not yet widely available in a way that can stem the spread of a disease that grows by 200K a day.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Jul 25, 2020
Initial jobless claims rose to just over 1.4 million for the week ending July 18. Continuing claims fell to about 16.2 million. Initial claims edging higher suggests that the resurgence of COVID-19 may be taking a toll on the labor market recovery.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Nov 21, 2022
The resiliency of the U.S. consumer was also on display, as total retail sales increased a stronger-than-expected 1.3% in October, boosted, in part, by a 1.3% jump in motor vehicles & parts and a 4.1% rise at gasoline stations.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Jun 08, 2021
The CDC\'s relaxation of its mask mandate occurred mid-May, and as data for that month begins rolling in this week, it is evident there is no lack of demand. Supplies, on the other hand, are a worsening problem.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Aug 22, 2020
Downstream involves the refining and processing of oil and natural gas into fuels, chemicals, and plastics. All three sectors are well-represented in Houston.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Jan 18, 2020
Mild weather helped housing starts surge 16.9% in December to a 1.61 million-unit pace, the highest in 13 years. Manufacturing surveys from the New York Fed and Philadelphia Fed both rose more than expected in December.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Jan 18, 2022
As you may have already seen, inflation is running almost as hot as the stock of our favorite bank. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 7.0% year-over-year in December, the fastest increase in nearly 40 years.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Jun 20, 2022
After last week\'s stronger-than-expected CPI, less surprising was the 75 point rate increase put forth by the Fed.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Jul 13, 2020
The ISM non-manufacturing index jumped 11.7 points to 57.1, reflecting the broadening re-opening of the economy.
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Jan 25, 2020
Fears of an escalating coronavirus outbreak reached the United States this week, as a Washington state man became the first confirmed domestic case and the international total reached more than 800.