Tag: retail sales

Monday Economic Report – March 17, 2014

Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:

Recent events around the world remind us that the global economic and political environment remains uncertain. Manufacturers have had to cope with weather-related softness over the past few months, worries about the geopolitical situation and slowing growth rates in some of our largest trading partners, specifically China. Despite these challenges, they continue to be mostly upbeat about future activity.

The latest NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers found that 86.1 percent of respondents were positive about their company’s outlook, up from 78.1 percent three months ago, with increased expectations for sales, exports, employment and capital spending. Still, smaller manufacturers were less positive, particularly in their investment plans. The top challenges were the business climate and rising health care and insurance costs, with respondents noting the need for comprehensive tax reform and expressing concern about ever-increasing regulatory burdens.

Government regulations were also cited as the most important problem in the latest National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey of small business owners. It was one of two sentiment surveys released last week showing reduced confidence. NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index fell sharply, down from 94.1 in January to 91.4 in February. The percentage saying it was a good time to expand declined, with weak sales and earnings expectations. Likewise, preliminary March consumer confidence numbers from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters were also lower, perhaps reflecting concerns about job and income growth.

On the positive side, retail sales began to rebound in February, up 0.3 percent. While this was not enough to make up for the weather-induced declines of December and January, it did suggest there were possible “green shoots” on the consumer spending front, with Americans starting to return to the stores. For instance, the auto sector saw modest sales gains in February, a trend seen in other hard-hit sectors as well.

This week, much of the focus will be on the Federal Reserve Board, with a new monetary policy statement from the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) coming out on Wednesday. While hiring remains soft (as the latest job openings numbers show), the unemployment rate is likely to reach the 6.5 percent threshold in the next month or two. Therefore, the expectation is that the FOMC will change its forward guidance on short-term interest rates to omit mention of an unemployment rate target. Fortunately, pricing pressures remain minimal, allowing the Federal Reserve to continue to pursue highly accommodative policies, even as it continues to taper its long-term asset purchases. Look for the FOMC to reduce its purchases from $65 billion each month in long-term and mortgage-backed securities to $55 billion.

It will be a busy week for economic releases, including new data on industrial production and housing starts. Manufacturing output should rebound somewhat, even as bad weather dampened activity once again. Similar findings are expected in the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank manufacturing surveys. Meanwhile, housing starts should also pick up slightly, but new residential activity will remain subpar relative to a few months ago. Still, we remain upbeat about the housing market for 2014 as a whole. Other highlights this week include new measures for consumer prices, homebuilder confidence and leading indicators.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

nam industry week - mar2014

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Retail Spending Began to Rebound in February

The Census Bureau said that retail sales increased 0.3 percent in February. This was a partial rebound from the weather-induced declines of 0.3 percent and 0.6 percent in December and January, respectively. Retail sales peaked at an all-time high of $430.1 billion in November, but have fallen 0.7 percent since then. As a result, the year-over-year pace of retail spending has also decelerated in that time period, down from 4.0 percent in November to 1.5 percent in February.

The largest monthly gains in retail sales occurred in sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores (up 2.5 percent); nonstore retailers (up 1.2 percent); and health and personal care stores (up 1.2 percent) businesses. In the first two, these were bounce-backs from declines the month before.

The bigger story was the beginning of possible “green shoots” on the sales front in February for some retailers. For instance, motor vehicle sales were hard hit by poor weather conditions in both December and January (down 2.1 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively). In February, auto sales rose a very modest 0.3 percent, ending the downward streak. Similar shifts were seen for department stores (up 0.7 percent), clothing and accessories (up 0.4 percent), furniture and home furnishings (up 0.4 percent), and food service and drinking places (up 0.3 percent). This indicates that people have started to come back into these establishments – a positive development even if the increases have not fully offset the prior decreases.

Areas with continued weaknesses included miscellaneous store retailers (down 0.9 percent), general merchandise stores (down 0.3 percent), electronics and appliances (down 0.2 percent), and food and beverage stores (down 0.2 percent).

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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Monday Economic Report – February 18, 2014

Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:

A perfectly timed winter storm at the end of last week coincided with news that cold weather has had a negative impact on consumer spending and manufacturing output. Manufacturing production declined 0.8 percent in January, ending five straight months of expanding activity. Poor weather conditions closed some facilities and hampered shipments. Capacity utilization also decreased, down from 76.7 percent in December to 76.0 percent in January. That was the lowest utilization level since July. Yet, to the extent that weather contributed to the fall in manufacturing output, I would expect production to rebound in the coming months. After all, manufacturing production increased 3.0 percent in the second half of 2013, and manufacturers continue to be mostly upbeat about demand for 2014.

Nonetheless, we saw the effects of the weather in other indicators released last week as well. Retail sales fell 0.4 percent in January, extending December’s 0.1 percent decline. Reduced auto sales were a major factor in this decrease, with motor vehicle purchases down 1.8 percent in December and 2.1 percent in January. If you exclude autos from the analysis, retail spending was unchanged.

Although the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters consumer sentiment measure was unchanged in February, respondents’ view of the current economy has slipped since December. One might surmise that weather impacted labor markets and incomes, lessening current confidence. However, Americans seem more optimistic about the future, with the expectations component rising from 71.2 in January to 73.0 in February.

There were signs that the U.S. economy’s recent improvements continue to bear fruit. Small business leaders have become more confident, with the National Federation of Independent Business’s Small Business Optimism Index edging higher for the third straight month, and January’s data also show an increased willingness to add workers. The net percentage planning to hire in the next three months rose to its highest level since September 2007. Along those lines, the number of manufacturing job postings increased from 283,000 in November to 297,000 in December. We have seen job openings in the sector recover from weaknesses midyear in 2013. Nonetheless, manufacturing net hires eased in December, and there was notable softness in the larger economy, both for new hires and job openings.

This week, we will get new numbers for the housing market and the latest data on manufacturing activity from a number of sources, including surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks and Markit. The latter will report Flash Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) findings for the United States, China and the Eurozone. We will be looking for further evidence on the impact weather has had for manufacturers in the United States and for signs of improvement overseas. The Chinese PMI data had contracted in January’s report, but with output continuing to grow modestly. (For more information on worldwide trends, see the Global Manufacturing Economic Update, which was released on Friday.) Other highlights for the week include the latest data on consumer and producer prices, leading indicators and existing home sales.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

retail sales - feb2014

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Retail Spending Fell for the Second Straight Month in January

The Census Bureau reported that retail sales fell 0.4 percent in January, extending the 0.1 percent decline observed in December. A significant drop in auto sales over the past two months was a major factor, with spending on motor vehicles and parts down 1.8 percent and 2.1 percent in December and January, respectively. Indeed, if you were to exclude autos from the analysis, retail spending would have been unchanged in January.

As with so many other indicators of late, weather was likely a contributing factor. If people are not able to get to the stores to make purchases, the overall spending numbers are bound to reflect that. As a result, we have seen the year-over-year retail sales numbers decelerate, down from 4.0 percent in November to 3.5 percent in December to 2.6 percent in January.

The sector-by-sector breakdown for January was largely mixed, as you might expect given that it was flat for the broader (non-auto) market. There were increases in spending for building materials (up 1.4 percent), gasoline stations (up 1.1 percent), electronics and appliances (up 0.4 percent), and food and beverages (up 0.2 percent). But, these were essentially offset by declines for department stores (down 1.5 percent), sporting goods and hobbies (down 1.4 percent), clothing and accessories (down 0.9 percent), furniture and home furnishings (down 0.6 percent), health and personal care (down 0.6 percent), nonstore retailers (down 0.6 percent), and food services and drinking places (down 0.6 percent).

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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Monday Economic Report – January 21, 2014

Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:

Manufacturing production rose 2.6 percent in 2013, slowing from the 3.5 percent and 3.2 percent growth rate experienced in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Yet, the lower 2013 figure stemmed largely from weaknesses in the first half of the year, with manufacturing output rising an annualized 4.2 percent in the second half. As such, the sector ended the year on a strong note, with a pickup in demand and cautious optimism for 2014. Indeed, a number of other reports reached the same conclusion. Surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks and from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) both observed expanding levels of activity in their latest releases. Respondents to these surveys tended to be mostly upbeat about new orders, shipments, exports and hiring over the coming months—which is definitely good news.

Over the past couple years, the rebound in the housing sector has been one of the bright spots in the U.S. economy. Housing starts were lower in December, but it seems the November data were a bit of an outlier. Absent that soaring figure, new residential construction was generally higher to end 2013, particularly for single-family units. New single-family starts increased 7.6 percent year-over-year. Housing permits also eased slightly in December but increased 4.6 percent from the year before. The reduction in housing activity could have been due to severe winter storms, with somewhat higher borrowing costs as another possible contributing factor. The average 30-year mortgage rose from 4.29 percent in the week of November 27 to 4.48 percent in the week of December 26, according to Freddie Mac. Nonetheless, this still historically low rate helps to explain the generally upbeat assessment of home builders.

Meanwhile, the pace of retail sales slowed in December, with reduced auto sales dragging the overall figure lower. Still, motor vehicle sales increased 5.9 percent in 2013, making it one of the stronger components of consumer spending growth. Excluding autos, retail sales would have risen by 0.7 percent last month, suggesting broader strength than the headline figure implies. On a year-over-year basis, total retail spending increased 4.1 percent, a modest pace that marks the slowest since 2009.

The two measures of sentiment moved in opposite directions. Preliminary data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters on consumer confidence was surprisingly lower for the month, down from 82.5 in December to 80.4 in January. The December data has noted a recovery in perceptions about the economy after falling in the wake of the government shutdown, and the expectation had been for January’s data to extend those gains. With a reduction in sentiment instead, this suggests that the public remains somewhat anxious about economic conditions. At the same time, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) noted an increase in optimism for the second straight month. Underneath the main reading, however, the data were mixed, with more small business owners calling it a “good time to expand” but with sales and earnings remaining subpar.

In terms of news events, outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered a speech at the Brookings Institution that provided his take on the lessons learned from the financial crisis. This “exit interview”—as it has been widely dubbed—was mostly a valedictory address defending the Fed’s monetary actions to help stimulate growth in the economy. Coincidently, Bernanke gave it on the same day that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that core consumer inflation had risen by just 1.7 percent over the past year. A similar conclusion on producer prices had been released the day before, and in each case, the data suggested that pricing pressures were increasing within an acceptable range, at least for now, according to the Fed’s stated targets.

There will only be a handful of economic data releases this week. From the manufacturing perspective, the highlights will come on Thursday. Markit will provide “flash” estimates for its purchasing managers’ index (PMI) reports for the United States, the Eurozone, and China. In addition, the Kansas City Fed will discuss the latest results of its regional manufacturing survey. In each instance, the expectation will be for manufacturers to note continued growth, building on recent gains. Other data releases include updates on the leading economic index and existing home sales.  

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

manufacturing production - jan2014

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Retail Sales Growth Eased Somewhat in December, Pulled Lower by Weaker Monthly Auto Sales

The Census Bureau said that retail sales rose 0.2 percent in December, somewhat slower than the revised 0.4 percent pace observed in November. Retail spending increased 4.1 percent in 2013. While this suggests modest growth overall for consumer purchases, it also means that retail sales growth has decelerated from the rates observed in the prior three years, down from the year-over-year rates of 6.7 percent, 6.2 percent, and 5.2 percent in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively.

Sales of motor vehicles and parts were one of the larger drags to retail sales growth in December, down 1.8 percent. Still, automobile sales were up nearly 1 percent in the fourth quarter and 6 percent for the year, and they continue to be a bright spot in the overall economy.

Excluding autos from the analysis, retail sales would have risen 0.7 percent in December, up from 0.1 percent in November. This indicates a pickup in spending in the broader market – definitely a good sign. Indeed, the year-over-year rate for non-auto retail sales has accelerated from 2.7 percent in October to 3.7 percent in December. This broader category rose 1.2 percent in the fourth quarter.

Segments with higher retail spending in December included food and beverage stores (up 2.0 percent), clothing and accessories retailers (up 1.8 percent), gasoline stations (up 1.6 percent), nonstore retailers (up 1.4 percent), and health and personal care stores (up 0.6 percent), and food services and drinking places (up 0.5 percent).

In 2013, the fastest growth in retail sales was observed in the following: nonstore retailers (up 9.9 percent), motor vehicle and parts dealers (up 5.9 percent), clothing and accessory stores (up 5.2 percent), sporting goods and hobby stores (up 4.8 percent), health and personal care stores (up 4.7 percent), food services and drinking places (up 4.6 percent), furniture and home furnishings retailers (up 4.5 percent), and food and beverage stores (up 4.2 percent).

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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Monday Economic Report – December 16, 2013

Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:

In the most recent NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers, 78.1 percent of respondents were either somewhat or very positive about their own company’s outlook. This figure has edged higher each quarter in 2013—a feat made easier by the fact that we were grappling with the prospect of the fiscal cliff at this point last year. As we move into 2014, manufacturing leaders anticipate mostly modest growth in a number of indicators, with an average sales increase of 3.0 percent expected over the next 12 months. While this estimate remains well below the 4.7 percent annual increase predicted in the first quarter of 2012, the good news is that the underlying data are consistent with a pickup in activity in the first half of next year.

However, manufacturers continue to worry about the effects of rising health insurance costs, a perceived unfavorable business climate and persistent uncertainties stemming from the government. On the topic of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more than three-quarters of manufacturers have had their insurance costs increase by at least 5 percent for 2014, with an average increase of 8.76 percent. This was true even after many firms took steps to lower premium increases by raising employee copays (58.6 percent), reducing coverage (27.7 percent) and/or changing insurance providers (17.6 percent). Moreover, rising health insurance costs and uncertainties surrounding the ACA have forced one-third of manufacturers to reduce their outlook for next year, and a sizable percentage had reduced employment or stopped hiring (23.1 percent) and/or reduced or slowed down their business investment (20.2 percent). Beyond this, the NAM estimates the ACA will cost manufacturers at least $22.2 billion over the next three years to cover new fees, taxes, surcharges and administrative compliance costs required by the law.

Unfortunately, the NAM/IndustryWeek survey also suggested that many manufacturers remain hesitant about adding new workers. Over the next 12 months, employment is expected to grow by just 0.9 percent, with more than half of respondents saying they do not plan to change their employee levels in the next year. Despite this finding, there is some evidence that manufacturing employment has begun to improve, mirroring the recent uptick in new orders and output. The most recent jobs numbers suggest that the sector added an average of 16,500 workers from August to November, which would be progress from employment losses from March to July. Likewise, we learned last week that manufacturing job openings rose to their highest level in 16 months. While the pace of job postings and overall hiring remain lower than we might prefer, these numbers provide some encouragement—at least for now.

Other economic indicators released last week were also somewhat reassuring. Retail sales were up 0.7 percent in November, or 4.7 percent year-over-year. In addition, a survey of business economists found that they expect real GDP to accelerate to 2.8 percent in 2014, up from the 2.1 percent anticipated in 2013. For manufacturers, they predict that industrial production will expand from 2.4 percent in 2013 to 3.1 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) reported that small business optimism edged higher in November, rebounding slightly after drops in September and October due to the government shutdown. While sales and earnings figures remained weak, the NFIB data did provide some signs of progress, including more small business owners saying it was a good time to expand.

Much of the focus this week will be on the Federal Reserve, which will have its final monetary policy meeting of the year. There is some speculation that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will announce its long-awaited plans to start tapering its purchases of long-term and mortgage-backed securities. I suspect that the FOMC will instead push this decision back to either the January 28–29 or March 18–19 meeting. Improvements in the macroeconomy should serve as an incentive to begin to scale back its asset purchases, but very low current inflationary pressures give the FOMC the leeway to stand pat if it wants to wait and see more evidence of growth before acting. Either way, financial markets have once again begun pricing in a possible taper, with the average yield on 10-year Treasury notes rising from a recent low of 2.51 percent on October 23 to a close of 2.87 percent on Friday.

This morning, we will get the latest data on industrial production for November, and Markit will announce Flash PMI data for the United States, China and the Eurozone. The expectation is these reports will reflect a decent increase in output, mirroring the acceleration in other data. We will also get new surveys from the Kansas City, New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks this week, providing further evidence about the current state of the manufacturing sector regionally. On Friday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will give us another revision to third-quarter real GDP, which was estimated to have grown by 3.6 percent in its most recent release. In addition, other highlights this week include new data on consumer prices, housing starts, leading indicators, productivity and state employment.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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Retail Sales Grew Strongly in October and November

The Census Bureau said that retail sales rose 0.7 percent in November. This extended the gains of October, which were revised up from the earlier estimate of 0.4 percent to a 0.6 percent increase. On a year-over-year basis, retail spending has picked up over the past two months, up from 3.5 percent in September to 4.1 percent in October to 4.7 percent in November. Still, this represents some deceleration from the 6.0 percent pace observed in June.

Motor vehicle sales were once again one of the bright spots, up 1.8 percent for the month and 10.2 percent over the past year. Growth in auto spending has rebounded from some weaknesses in the July to September timeframe, which is a definite positive.

The auto sector’s healthy increases skewed overall retail sales higher, but the broader market also reflected decent gains. Excluding autos, retail sales would have risen by 0.4 percent in November, with 3.5 percent year-over-year increases. Indeed, the broader segments beyond motor vehicles have also seen an acceleration in spending, with the annual pace in November up from 2.8 percent in both September and October. The year-over-year rate of non-auto retail spending peaked at 4.5 percent in June.

Other segments with higher retail spending in October included nonstore retailers (up 2.2 percent), building materials (up 1.8 percent), food services and drinking places (up 1.3 percent), furniture and home furnishings (up 1.2 percent), and electronics and appliances (up 1.1 percent). Among those with declining sales were miscellaneous store retailers (down 1.3 percent) and gasoline stations (down 1.1 percent). The drop in gasoline station sales stemmed from lower prices for its product, with the cost of West Texas intermediate crude falling from an average of $100.54 per barrel in October to $93.86 a barrel in November.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

retail sales

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Monday Economic Report – December 2, 2013

Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:

The data released last week were mostly positive regarding improvements in the economy. For instance, manufacturing activity has largely picked up since the summer, an acceleration that is welcome after softness over the past year or so. Reports from the Chicago, Dallas and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks support this, with stronger paces for new orders and production in each region. This is especially true when you look at the mostly positive assessments of future sales and output, with large percentages of survey respondents anticipating rising activity levels. The good news extends to better—although still modest at best—hiring plans. The pickup in the manufacturing sector has also been one of the positive factors helping the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) expand for four straight months, an encouraging sign for the economy for the coming months.

Yet, even among these promising reports, there were signs of continuing softness for the sector. In the Dallas Federal Reserve survey, respondents were more upbeat about their own company’s outlook than they were about the larger macroeconomy. In fact, the index for perceptions about the economy as a whole declined from 3.6 to 1.9, with 65.0 percent of respondents not expecting macroeconomic conditions to improve over the next six months. In addition, the data on new durable goods orders found broad-based softness in the sector in contrast to the various sentiment surveys. Declines in October sales went beyond the decrease in aircraft orders. Moreover, while new durable goods orders have risen 5.3 percent since October 2012, year-to-date growth in durable goods orders—excluding the highly volatile transportation sector—has increased just 0.9 percent.

Similarly, the latest housing market data were also somewhat mixed. New housing permits in October soared to more than 1 million annualized units for the first time since April. To the extent that permits serve as a proxy for future residential construction activity, this was an encouraging development. Yet, the ascent in the permitting data came entirely from multifamily units, with single-family home permits essentially stalled. Higher mortgage rates have been a factor in dampening current demand for new construction; however, the average 30-year mortgage rate of 4.29 percent last week was better than early September’s 4.57 percent. Meanwhile, new housing starts data were delayed until the December 18 release due to the government shutdown, somewhat hampering our ability to analyze the housing market beyond permits.

By now, the holiday shopping season is in high gear. We will need to wait for final numbers on whether retail spending increased over last year, although the National Retail Federation reported mixed results despite deep discounting over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We also need to closely look at consumer confidence, particularly in determining how willing Americans will be to open their wallets. The two measures of consumer sentiment released last week moved in opposite directions, providing a bit of confusion regarding current attitudes. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence data fell again in November, with respondents suggesting reduced buying intentions. October’s budget impasse was not helpful, but overall sentiment has been lower since June. In contrast, the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters surprised many with a better-than-expected final reading of its consumer sentiment index, improving from the preliminary report released just two weeks prior. Despite the recent gain, however, this report remains below the six-year high achieved in the summer.

This week will be a very busy one on the economic front. Later this morning, we will learn more about the strength of the pickup in manufacturing activity in the Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers’ Index, and on Wednesday, new international trade figures will show whether improving economies in many of our major trading partners will increase our exports. In addition, the bigger headlines will come on Thursday and Friday with a revision to third-quarter real GDP and the jobs report for November. Other highlights will be the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book and new releases on construction spending, factory orders, personal income and vehicle sales.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

midwest manufacturing index - dec2013

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University of Michigan: Consumer Confidence Improved in November from Preliminary Estimates

Beating expectations, consumer confidence from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters improved in November from what was observed a couple weeks ago. Preliminary data, which was released on November 8, had suggested a continued decline in the Consumer Sentiment Survey. The Conference Board observed a similar decrease in perceptions, with the government shutdown cited as a large factor in reducing overall confidence. Weakened views about future income and labor markets were also noted.

With that in mind, the final report from the University of Michigan was higher than consensus forecasts, with the index up from 73.2 in October to 75.1 in November. (The earlier estimate for November was 72.0.) This suggests that Americans have become slightly more positive about the economy more recently, something that we might have anticipated now that we are beyond the budgetary impasse.

If you are going to have a surprise on consumer sentiment, I would imagine that this one was well-timed for those in the retail sector, with holiday shopping now shifting into high gear. Even with the better data, overall consumer confidence remains lower than it was in July (85.1), which was a six-year high.

An improvement in the expected outlook helped lift the overall index higher, resulting in the increased data point from the preliminary data to the final figure. The forward-looking component of the index rose from 62.5 to 66.8 (versus 62.3 in the earlier estimate). At the same time, the index for current economic conditions edged slightly lower, down from 89.9 to 88.0 (versus 87.2 in the previous release).

The preliminary data for December consumer confidence from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters will come out on Friday, December 6. Given the better-than-forecast release for November, we should expect further improvements in sentiment in that report, even if it takes us several months before we reach to return to the levels observed in July again.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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