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No matter how you choose to slice-and-dice the recent retail sales numbers, the core data for the past couple of months have been disappointing. Our favorite measure--total sales less autos, gasoline, food and building materials--rose by just 0.1% month-to- month in May but then reversed this minimal gain in June.
Retail sales have lost steam over the past couple of months, even if you look through the headline gyrations triggered by swings in auto sales and gasoline prices.
Whichever way you choose to slice the numbers, retail sales growth has slowed this year. Ex-gasoline, ex-autos, core, whatever, sales growth in year-over-year terms is notably weaker now than at the end of last year. It is equally, true, however, that after-tax incomes have risen at a robust pace--up 3.8% in the year to May, exactly the same pace as in the year to May 2014--so consumers in aggregate have plenty of cash to spend. So, what's holding people back at the mall? Why aren't they spending more?
Higher gasoline prices will lift today's headline October CPI, which should rise by 0.3%. Unfavorable rounding could easily push it to 0.4%, though, and year-over-year headline inflation should rise to 1.6% or 1.7%, from 1.5% in September and just 0.2% a year ago.
The expectations components of both the Michigan and Conference Board measures of consumers' confidence have risen sharply since gasoline prices rolled over.
So far, the surge in retail spending promised by the plunge in gasoline prices has not materialized. The latest Redbook chain store sales numbers dipped below the gently rising trend last week, perhaps because of severe weather, but the point is that the holiday season burst of spending has not been maintained.
The surge in gasoline prices triggered by refinery outages after Hurricane Harvey came much too late to push up the August PPI, but gas prices had risen before the storm so the headline PPI will be stronger than the core.
If we are right in our view that the lag between shifts in gasoline prices and the response from consumers is about six months--longer than markets seem to think--then the next few months should see spending surge.
Retail sales ex-autos have undershot consensus forecasts in eight of the 11 reports released so far this year, prompting interest rate doves to argue that consumers have not spent their windfall from falling gas prices. But this ignores the impact of falling prices--for gasoline, electronics, furniture, and clothing--on the sales numbers, which are presented in nominal terms.
The headline April CPI, due today, will be boosted slightly by rising gasoline prices.
You might remember that the December retail sales report surprised significantly to the downside, thanks to the impact of falling gasoline prices. The data are reported in nominal dollars, not volumes, so falling prices depress the numbers.
Take at look at the chart below, which shows core retail sales on a month-to-month and year-over-year basis. What's most striking about the chart is not the latest data, showing robust 0.8% gains in core sales--we exclude autos, gasoline and food--in both October and November, but the solidity of the trend since the winter.
We have argued for some time that market disappointment over the recent sluggishness of consumption has been misplaced. In our view, investors have placed too little weight on the impact of the severe winter, and have been too hasty in looking for the impact of the drop in gasoline sales.
Fed Chair Powell's semi-annual Monetary Policy Testimony today will likely re-affirm that policymakers still think "gradual" rate hikes are appropriate and that the risks to the economy remain "roughly balanced".
We aren't going to pretend for a minute that the manufacturing sector is anything other than weak, but the 0.5% drop in output in August--the worst month since January 2014--hugely overstates the extent of industry's struggles. All the decline was due to a 6.4% plunge in auto output, but a glance at the recent path of production in this sector makes it very clear that its short-term swings aren't to be taken seriously. Auto production fell by 4.5% in June, rocketed by 10.6% in July, and then dropped sharply in August.
The plunge in gas prices since their peak last summer likely will exert modest downward pressure on core inflation by the end of this year, via reduced costs of production and distribution, but it probably is too soon to start looking for these effects now.
Today brings a raft of January data on both economic activity and prices, but we expect the headline numbers in each report to be distorted by the impact of severe weather or the plunge in oil prices.
Banxico's tightening cycle has totalled 400 basis points, lifting rates to 7.0%. Since late 2015, Banxico has followed the Fed closely, but other external factors also have guided many of its decisions.
Housing rents account for some 41% of the core CPI and 18% of the core PCE, making them hugely important determinants of the core inflation rate.
Friday's detailed October CPI report in Germany confirmed that inflation pressures are steadily rising. Inflation rose to 0.8% year-over-year in October, from 0.7% in September, lifted mostly by a continuing increase in energy prices.
The September core CPI was held down by prescription drug prices, which fell by 0.6%, and vehicle prices, which fell by 0.4%.
When the dust settles after today's wave of data, we expect to have learned that core retail sales continued to rise in June, core inflation nudged back up to its cycle high, and manufacturing output rebounded after an auto-led drop in May. None of these reports will be enough to push the Fed into early action, but they will add to the picture of a reasonably solid domestic economy ahead of the U.K. Brexit referendum.
The Fed's unanimous vote for a 25bp rate hike was overshadowed by the bump up in the dotplot for next year, with three hikes now expected, rather than the two anticipated in the September forecast. Chair Yellen argued the uptick in the rate forecasts was "tiny", but acknowledged that some participants moved their forecasts partly on the basis that fiscal policy is likely to be eased by the new Congress.
The story of U.S. retail sales since last summer is mostly a story about the impact of the hurricanes, Harvey in particular.
The combination of unexpectedly strong auto sales and rising gas prices should generate strong-looking headline retail sales numbers for October. We have no idea what to expect for November, with two-thirds of the month coming after the election, but the final pre- election sales report will look good.
We are not concerned by the slowdown in retail sales over the past few months.
Oil prices have risen by about $20 per barrel since last fall.
After five straight undershoots to consensus, with the core CPI averaging monthly gains of just 0.05%, investors are asking hard questions about the Fed's belief -- and ours -- that core inflation is headed towards 2% in the not-too-distant future.
Friday's inflation data in Brazil confirmed that the ripples from the truckers' strike in May were still being felt at the start of the third quarter.
Consumption remains an important source of economic growth in LatAm.
Mexico's trade balance shrank slightly last year, to USD11B, from USD13B in 2016. The main driver was a big swing in the non- energy balance, to a record USD8.0B surplus, following a USD0.4B deficit in 2016.
The delay in the processing of personal income tax refunds this year appears not to have had any adverse impact on retail sales, so far. Indeed, the Redbook chainstore sales survey suggests that sales have accelerated over the past few weeks.
As recently as late 2008, the share of employee compensation in GDP was slightly higher than the average for the previous 20 years. But it would be wrong to argue, therefore, that the squeeze on labor is a phenomenon only of the past few years. It's certainly true that labor's share dropped precipitously from 2009 through 2011, and has risen only marginally since then.
Three of the big LatAm economies-- Brazil, Colombia and Chile--released October inflation last week; the data are still showing the pass-through effects of currency depreciation during the first half of the year into prices, though, at different degrees. LatAm currencies have been hit by the weakness in commodity prices and negative sentiment towards EM generally.
The recent softening in the ISM employment indexes failed to make itself felt in the June payroll numbers, which sailed on serenely even as tariff-induced chaos intensified at the industry and company level.
The closer we look at the startling surge in imports in the fourth quarter, the more convinced we become that it was due in large part to a burst of inventory replacement following the late summer hurricanes.
Two key reports today, on January consumer prices and durable goods orders, have the power to move markets substantially. We think both will undershoot market expectations, though we would be deeply reluctant to read too much into either report; both are distorted by temporary factors.
Inventories subtracted 1.3 percentage points from headline GDP growth in the second quarter and were by far the biggest constraint on the economy. This was the fifth straight drag from inventories, but it was more than twice the average hit over the previous year.
We pointed out in yesterday's Monitor that Fed Chair Yellen appears to be putting a good deal of faith in the idea that the recent upturn in core inflation is temporary. She argued that "some" of the increase reflects "unusually high readings in categories that tend to be quite volatile without very much significance for inflation over time".
If, like us, you have been cheered by the upturn in mortgage applications since November, you don't need to worry about the apparent drop in activity in the past couple of weeks. The numbers don't look great: The MBA's index capturing the number of applications for new mortgages to finance house purchase has dropped from a peak of 237.7 in the third week of January--ignoring September's spike, which was triggered by a regulatory change--to 213.3 last week.
According to Brazil's mid-August inflation reading, which is a preview of the IPCA index, overall inflation pressures are easing. But some price stickiness remains, due to inertia and temporary shocks, despite the severity of the recession and the rapid deterioration of the labour market in recent months.
The Fed will raise rates by 25bp today, but we expect no change in the median expectation-the dotplot-for two rate hikes both next year and in 2018. We fully appreciate that fiscal easing on the scale proposed by President-elect Trump, or indeed anything like it, very likely would propel inflation to a pace requiring much bigger increases in rates.
As we reach our Sunday afternoon deadline, no deal has been reached to re-open the federal government.
Mexico's inflation nudged up to a fresh 16-year high in August, but the details of the report confirmed that underlying pressures are easing, in line with our core view.
The CBO reckons that the April budget surplus jumped to about $179B, some $72B more than in the same month last year. This looks great, but alas all the apparent improvement reflects calendar distortions on the spending side of the accounts.
We expected a modest correction in the number of job openings in July, following the surge over the previous few months, but instead yesterday's JOLTS report revealed that openings jumped by a mind-boggling 8.1% to a new record high. In the three months to July, the number of openings soared at a 35% annualized rate. As a result, the Beveridge Curve, which compares the number of openings to the unemployment rate, is now further than ever from normalizing after shifting out decisively in 2010.
Inflation pressures in Brazil are now well- contained, with the headline rate falling to a decade low in July. We think inflation is now close to bottoming out, but the current benign rate strengthens our base case forecast for a 100bp rate cut at the next policy meeting, in September.
Inflation in Mexico edged higher in the second half, but we expect both the headline and core rates to continue falling, allowing Banxico to keep interest rates on hold.
The Fed surprised no-one by raising rates 25bp yesterday and leaving in place the median forecast for three hikes next year and two next year.
Yesterday's first estimate of full-year 2016 GDP in Mexico indicates that growth gathered momentum over the second half of last year. But risks are now tilted to the downside, following the U.S. election. GDP rose 0.6% quarter-on-quarter in Q4, after a 1.0% increase in Q3. Growth was much slower in the firs t half, as shown in our char t below.
Data released on Wednesday confirmed that the Brazilian economy was relatively resilient in Q1. Leading indicators suggest that it will do well in Q2 and Q3, but downside risks are rising.
Inflation is under control in most LatAm economies, and we expect headline rates to remain close to current levels in the very near term.
The first of this week's two July inflation reports, the PPI, will be released today. With energy prices dipping slightly between the June and July survey dates, the headline should undercut the 0.2% increase we expect for the core by a tenth or so.
Within the next few month, and perhaps as soon as next month, the gap between the headline NFIB and ISM manufacturing indexes, shown in our first chart, will close for the first time since late 2008.
Chair Yellen broke no new ground in her Testimony yesterday, repeating her long-standing view that the tightening labor market requires the Fed to continue normalizing policy at a gradual pace.
We can be reasonably sure that the headline May retail sales number will look quite strong, thanks to the surge in auto sales reported by the manufacturers last week. Sales of cars and light trucks soared past industry analysts' expectations to a nine-year high, rising 7.5% from their April level.
Today's rate hike will be accompanied by a new round of Fed forecasts, which will have to reflect the faster growth and lower unemployment than expected back in September.
December's retail sales numbers are the most important of the year for retailers, but they don't necessarily tell us anything about the future prospects for consumers' spending or the broad economy. The December 2016 numbers, however, might be different, because they capture consumers' behavior in the first full month after the election.
Whatever happened to consumers' sentiment in March, the level of University of Michigan's index will be very high, relative to its long-term average.
Outside the battered energy sector, the most consistently disconcerting economic numbers last year, in the eyes of the markets, were the monthly retail sales data. Non-auto sales undershot consensus forecasts in nine of the 12 months in 2015, with a median shortfall of 0.3%.
The acceleration in real consumption over the past year reflects the upturn in real after-tax income growth. This, in turn, is mostly a story of falling gasoline prices, which have depressed the PCE deflator. Gross nominal incomes before tax rose 4.2% year-over-year in the three months to September, exactly matching the pace in the three months to September 2014. But real income growth, after tax, accelerated to 3.3% from 2.5% over the same period, as our first chart shows.
The headline CPI inflation rate almost certainly dipped below zero in September, barring a startling and deeply improbable surge in the core. We look for a 0.4% month-to-month headline drop, driven by an 11% plunge in gasoline prices, pushing the year-over-year rate to -0.3%. This is of no real economic significance, not least because hugely unfavorable base effects mean the year-over-year rate almost certainly will rise sharply over the next few months, reaching about 1¾% as soon as January.
A modest dip in gasoline prices will hold down the October CPI, due today, but investors' attention will be on the core, after five undershoots to consensus in the past six months.
The headline May retail sales numbers were flattered by a 2.4% leap in the wildly volatile building materials component and a price-driven 2.0% surge in gasoline sales.
June's headline CPI, due this morning, will be boosted by the rebound in gasoline prices, but market focus will be on the core, in the wake of the startling, broad-based jump in the core PPI, reported Wednesday. Core PPI consumer goods prices jumped by 0.7% in June, with big incr eases in the pharmaceuticals, trucks and cigarette components, among others. The year-over-year rate of increase rose to 3.0%, up from 2.1% at the turn of the year and the biggest gain since August 2012. Then, the trend was downwards.
Let's be clear: The July retail sales numbers do not mean the consumer is rolling over, and the PPI numbers do not mean that disinflation pressure is intensifying. We argued in the Monitor last Friday, ahead of the sales data, that the 4.2% surge in second quarter consumption--likely to be revised up slightly--could not last, and the relative sluggishness of the July core retail sales numbers is part of the necessary correction. Headline sales were depressed by falling gasoline prices, which subtracted 0.2%.
Retail sales account for some 30% of GDP--more than all business investment and government spending combined--so the monthly numbers directly capture more of the economy than any other indicator. Translating the monthly sales numbers into real GDP growth is not straightforward, though, because the sales numbers are nominal. Sales have been hugely depressed over the past year by the plunging price of gasoline and, to a lesser extent, declines in prices of imported consumer goods.
The bad economic news in Brazil is unstoppable. The mid-month CPI index rose 1.3% month-to-month in February, as education, housing, and transport prices increased. School tuition fees jumped 6% month-to-month in February, reflecting their annual adjustment, and transport costs rose by 2% due to an increase in regulated gasoline prices.
Banxico's likely will deliver the widely-anticipated rate hike this Thursday. Policymakers' recent actions suggests that investors should expect a 50bp increase, in line with TIIE pric ing and the market consensus. The balance of risks to inflation has deteriorated markedly on the back of the "gasolinazo", a sharp increase in regulated gasoline prices imposed to raise money and attract foreign investment.
We have argued for some time that investors began much too soon to look for stronger consumption in the wake of the drop in gasoline prices. Typically, turning points in gas prices trigger turning points in the rate of growth of retail sales with a lag of six or seven months.
The elevated September ISM non-manufacturing index reported yesterday--it dipped to 56.9 but remains very high by historical standards--again served to underscore the depth of the bifurcation in the economy. The services sector, boosted by the collapse in gasoline prices and the strong dollar, is massively outperforming the woebegone manufacturing sector.
It's probably too soon to start looking for second round effects from the drop in gasoline prices in the core CPI. History suggests quite strongly that sharp declines in energy prices feed into the core by depressing the costs of production, distribution and service delivery, but the lags are quite long, a year or more.
We have argued for some time that the plunge in gasoline prices will constrain core inflation over the course of this year, by reducing production and distribution costs for a broad array of goods.
Gasoline prices dropped sharply last month, but the 4½% seasonally adjusted fall we expect to see in the December CPI report today was rather smaller than the 9% collapse in December 2014, so the year-over-year rate of change of gas prices will rise, to -20% from -24% in November. This means headline inflation will rise too, though the extent of the increase also depends on what happens to the core rate.
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