The seemingly indefatigable U.S. consumer is finally starting to tire out. Retail sales fell 1.1% in December. Not only was the drop sharper than expected, but it came on top of downward revisions to November sales. Some pullback in retail spending seemed inevitable after sales had surged more than 30% above early 2020 levels and the pandemic-induced shift to goods in lieu of services unwound. Yet, the details of the report suggest the decline is more troubling than retail merely hitting an air pocket after demand for many items was pulled forward. Instead, the report hinted that consumers are retrenching more broadly. Grocery store sales were flat over the month despite higher food prices, while receipts at restaurants and bars were down 1.3% in real terms by our estimates in a sign consumers are cutting back on discretionary services in addition to goods. Control group sales, which feed into the BEA's calculation of GDP, declined 0.7% in December, the steepest drop in more than a year. Along with downward revisions to the two prior months, we have downwardly revised our estimate for Q4 consumer spending to an annualized rate of 2.7% from 3.4%.
Fading demand for goods has also started to take an undeniable toll on manufacturing. Manufacturing output plummeted 1.3% in December, and similar to retail sales, previous estimates of production were revised lower. Output of consumer durables and non-energy durables fell over the month, but the pain of higher interest rates and concerns about recession are spreading, with business equipment declining 2.0%. A survey of the manufacturing sector released this week pointed to further deterioration ahead. The Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed indices both remained in contractionary territory in January, with new orders again falling according to each survey.
While retail and manufacturing have only recently started to falter in the face of higher interest rates and increasingly stretched consumers, the housing market has been overwhelmed by these headwinds for a year now. Data this week showed that the sharpest leg of the sector's adjustment may be behind us, but residential real estate remains under severe pressure. Building permits continued to slide in December, led by a 6.5% drop for single-family units. Meanwhile, a rise in permits in the lumpier multifamily segment only partially reversed the prior months' declines. Multifamily permits are now down 27% over the past year, only marginally less depressed than the 39% decline in single-family permits. Sales of existing homes also continued to decline in December and ended the year at their slowest pace since 2010.
That said, a pullback in mortgage rates as the end of the Fed's tightening cycle comes into view is helping to breathe at least a little more life into housing demand. Purchase applications jumped 25% the week end Jan. 13, and mortgage rates have continued to slide with the 30-year fixed rate dipping to 6.15%, the lowest reading since September. Lower financing costs alongside some relief in material prices the past couple of months helped builder sentiment tick up for the first time in 13 months in January. A sustained improvement, however, is likely some ways off, as weaker household finances and still-elevated mortgage rates keep the environment for builders challenging.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 11 March 2022
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Mar 16, 2022
Russia\'s invasion of Ukraine continues to consume nearly all media attention and has created a level of volatility that is not yet reflected in the data released this week.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 20 May 2022
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / May 29, 2022
U.S. retail sales topped expectations in April, while industrial production also grew more rapidly than economists expected. Data on housing starts, home sales and homebuilder sentiment, however, showed tentative signs of cooling.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 20 September 2019
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Sep 21, 2019
The Federal Reserve reduced the fed funds rate 25 bps this week, continuing to cite economic weakness overseas and muted inflation pressures.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 10 March 2023
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Mar 14, 2023
Financial markets were looking for validation that January\'s unexpected strength was not a fluke and that the downward slide in economic momentum experienced late last year had stabilized.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 30 July 2021
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Aug 11, 2021
Despite a few misses on the headline numbers, economic data this week highlighted a theme of demand continuing to outstrip supply and ongoing slack in the labor market.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 18 November 2022
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.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 23 April 2021
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Apr 26, 2021
This week\'s lighter economic calendar allowed forecasters more time to assess the implications from the prior week\'s blowout retail sales report.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 04 September 2020
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Aug 29, 2020
Employers added jobs for the fourth consecutive month in August, bringing the total number of jobs recovered from the virus-related low to 10.5 million.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 11 June 2021
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / Jun 26, 2021
Okay, so I’ve gotten about half a dozen calls since Wednesday asking if I saw the May CPI numbers that came out this week.
This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 30 April 2021
Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report / May 18, 2021
The gain in output leaves the level of real GDP just a stone\'s throw below its pre-COVID Q4-2019 level (see chart).