What I’m Watching Thgis Week – 7 December 2015

The Markets (as of market close December 4, 2015)

The first week of December proved quite volatile, with some of the major indexes listed here rallying on Friday to close ahead of the week before. Some of the upward movement from investors may have come in response to another good jobs report and the fact that the economy is stable enough to warrant a likely interest rate increase when the Fed meets later this month. The S&P 500, Dow, and Nasdaq registered marginal gains week-on-week, while the Russell 2000 and the Global Dow lost value. With additional stimulus measures announced by the European Central Bank, it will be interesting to see the effect they have on European stocks in the coming weeks.

The price of gold (COMEX) rebounded after several weeks of trending downward, selling at $1,085.80 by late Friday afternoon compared to $1,056.10 a week earlier. Crude oil (WTI) prices fell, selling at $40.14 per barrel by week’s end. The national average retail regular gasoline price decreased to $2.059 per gallon on November 30, 2015, $0.035 below the previous week’s price of $2.094 per gallon, and $0.719 below a year ago.

Market/Index 2014 Close Prior Week As of 12/4 Weekly Change YTD Change
DJIA 17823.07 17798.49 17847.63 0.28% 0.14%
Nasdaq 4736.05 5127.52 5142.27 0.29% 8.58%
S&P 500 2058.90 2090.11 2091.69 0.08% 1.59%
Russell 2000 1204.70 1202.38 1183.40 -1.58% -1.77%
Global Dow 2501.66 2400.37 2381.23 -0.80% -4.81%
Fed. Funds 0.25% 0.25% 0.25% 0% 0%
10-year Treasuries 2.17% 2.22% 2.27% 5 bps 10 bps

Chart reflects price changes, not total return. Because it does not include dividends or splits, it should not be used to benchmark performance of specific investments.

Last Week’s Headlines

  • The employment situation improved again in November, clearing the way for the Fed to possibly increase interest rates at its next meeting in a few weeks. According to the latest figures from Bureau of Labor Statistics, total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 211,000 in November, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.0%, and the number of unemployed persons, at 7.9 million, was essentially unchanged. Over the past 12 months, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons are down by 0.8% and 1.1 million, respectively. In November, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by $0.04 to $25.25, following a $0.09 gain in October. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.3%.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a quarterly report on productivity and labor costs, which is essentially a measure of the output of goods and services per hour worked. According to the latest report, nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased at a 2.2% annual rate during the third quarter of 2015, as output increased 1.8% and hours worked decreased 0.3%. The decline in hours worked was the first since 2009. From the third quarter 2014 to the third quarter 2015, productivity increased 0.6%, reflecting increases in output and hours worked of 2.5% and 1.9%, respectively. However, the third quarter rate is down from the second quarter productivity rate of 3.5%. Also of significance, inflation-adjusted hourly wages in the nonfarm business sector grew 4.0% in the third quarter. An important indicator used by the Fed in determining economic activity, upward trends in productivity for the second and third quarters may lend support for an interest rate hike.
  • Once again, sagging oil prices and a strong dollar have led to a widening of the trade deficit in October. The latest Census Bureau report indicates that the goods and services deficit was $43.9 billion in October, up $1.4 billion from $42.5 billion in September, revised. October exports were $184.1 billion (a three-year low), $2.7 billion less than September exports. October imports were $228.0 billion, $1.3 billion less than September imports. The demand for U.S.-made goods continues to decline, primarily due to the strength of the dollar abroad. Compared to the first 10 months of 2014, the U.S. trade deficit has increased by 5.3% over the same 10-month period in 2015.
  • According to the latest report from the National Association of Realtors®, pending home sales were relatively unchanged in October. The Pending Home Sales Index, which projects home sales based on contract signings, registered 107.7 in October–0.2% ahead of September but 3.9% above October 2014. There is evidence of a slowdown in home sales, which may be attributable to a lack of available homes on the market and rising asking prices.
  • Construction has been a consistently performing economic sector, and the latest report from the Census Bureau further supports that trend. For October, construction spending was estimated at an annual rate of $1,107.4 billion–1.0% above the revised September estimate of $1,096.6 billion. The October figure is 13% above October 2014. Compared to the prior month, October saw increases in residential construction (1.0%), nonresidential construction (0.6%), and public construction (1.4%).
  • Two organizations have reported a slowdown in manufacturing. The Institute for Supply Management® (ISM®) Manufacturing Index fell below 50%, coming in at 48.9% for November–the first time manufacturing contracted since November 2012. A reading at or above 50% indicates growth. The index decreased 1.5 percentage points from the October reading of 50.1%. New orders dropped 4 percentage points to 48.6% and production also saw a dip, registering 49.2%–3.7 percentage points below October’s reading. Only 5 of the 18 industries covered by the index reported growth in November.
  • Similar to the ISM report, the Markit U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index™ (PMI™) noted that U.S. manufacturers reported slower rates of growth in November, with business conditions improving at the slowest pace since October 2013. This was highlighted by a fall in the final seasonally adjusted index from 54.1 in October to 52.8 during November. Softness in new orders and contraction of export orders have contributed to the manufacturing slowdown. This report, coupled with the ISM information, reveals definite sluggishness in the manufacturing sector, a fact that may influence the Fed at its meeting later this month.
  • ISM also produces a monthly Non-Manufacturing Index based on a survey of firms covering services, construction, mining, agriculture, forestry, and fishing and hunting. November’s Non-Manufacturing Index came in at 55.9%–3.2 percentage points lower than October’s index reading. Since any reading above 50% indicates growth, the non-manufacturing sector continued to grow in November, but at a slower pace than prior months. Of the 18 non-manufacturing industries covered, 12 reported growth, including real estate rental and leasing, retail trade, health care and social assistance, and accommodation and food services. Industries reporting contraction include mining, entertainment and recreation, wholesale trade, and utilities.
  • Factory orders in October were solid, according to the Census Bureau report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders. New orders for manufactured goods in October, up following two consecutive monthly decreases, increased $6.8 billion, or 1.5%, to $473.9 billion following a 0.8% decease in September. New orders for manufactured durable goods (expected to last at least three years) increased $6.8 billion, or 2.9%, to $238.8 billion after a 0.8% September decrease. Considering that the non-manufacturing sector generally has been in decline, this encouraging report may offset the negative reports from the manufacturing sector.
  • In the week ended November 28, there were 269,000 initial claims for unemployment insurance, an increase of 9,000 from the prior week’s level. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was unchanged at 1.6% for the week ended November 21, while the advance number for continuing unemployment insurance claims was 2,161,000, an increase of 6,000 from the previous week’s revised level.

Eye on the Week Ahead

With traders back at their desks and the end of 2015 on the horizon, reports from this week’s retail battlefields will be of special interest for what they suggest about how the U.S. economy might fare through the end of the year.