Quarterly Economic Perspective
China's slowing economy sent global markets reeling this summer. Already at its slowest pace in 25 years, China is struggling to reach its target growth rate of 7% for the year. Adding to concerns about the weakening of the world's second largest economy is the Chinese government's repeated intervention in an attempt to halt a massive sell-off and stabilize its securities market. Interest rates were cut and bank reserve ratios were lowered, allowing for more money to be available to borrow for investment. However, Chinese banks are facing increasing economic risks due to the increasing number of bad loans, further dampening the Chinese economy.
The U.S. economy is progressing, but not at a pace sufficient to warrant raising interest rates, according to the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). After its September meeting, the FOMC indicated that, while there were improvements in some economic sectors such as labor and the housing market, other areas have lagged, including business and exports. With inflation still running below the Fed's target rate of 2.0% and the economic uncertainties in China, the FOMC stressed continued patience, yet indicated its expectation that interest rates will be raised sometime this year.
Still revising its second quarter figures, the Bureau of Economic Analysis noted that the real gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of the goods and services produced by the nation's economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production, is stronger at an annualized rate of 3.9%. This is up from the prior estimate of 3.7%. The upward revision was attributed to increases in personal consumption expenditures and nonresidential fixed investment.
Showing signs of economic improvement, the third quarter saw an increase in consumers' income and spending. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that in August consumer spending increased $52.5 billion, or 0.3%; disposable personal income increased $47.1 billion, or 0.4%; and wages and salaries increased $35.6 billion. The rise in personal consumption compared to the first quarter has spurred GDP growth in the second quarter.
Durable goods orders, or new orders placed with domestic manufacturers for future sales, fell 2.0% in August following a 1.9% increase in July, according to the Commerce Department. However, excluding transportation, new orders decreased less than $0.1 billion, virtually unchanged from a month earlier.
Possibly reflecting the stock market slow-down in September, the University of Michigan's Consumer Survey came in at 87.2 to close the third quarter, its weakest reading since October 2014.
Inflationary trends continued on a rather benign track through the quarter, still well below the Federal Reserve's 2% annual target. Consumer prices fell 0.1% in August, primarily caused by a sharp decline in gasoline prices. Producer prices moved down 0.8% for the 12 months ended in August, the seventh straight 12-month decline. Generally, annual core inflation as of August 31 hovered around 1.83%, not having reached the Fed's preferred 2% target rate since June 2012.
The housing sector remained a favorably trending sector in the third quarter. According to the National Association of Realtors®, total existing home sales in August enjoyed a 6.2% growth rate in year-on-year sales, maintaining a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.31 million. The median existing-home price for all housing types remained at $228,700. New home sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 552,000 in August--5.7% above the July rate of 522,000 and 21.6% above the August 2014 estimate of 454,000, according to the Census Bureau.
More people are working and fewer are filing for unemployment insurance. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the number of job openings again rose to a series high of 5.8 million on the last business day of July. The number of hires and separations edged down to 5.0 million and 4.7 million, respectively. The unemployment rate for August stood at 5.1% compared to 6.1% in August 2014. Continuing claims for unemployment insurance in the early part of September came in at 2.24 million compared to 2.46 million a year earlier.
Eye on the Month Ahead
The encouraging start to the third quarter in the securities market proved to be short-lived as September saw stock values tumble. China's economic slowdown continues to dampen investors' enthusiasm. Will concern over the world's second-largest economy impact the Federal Reserve's decision to begin raising interest rates in an attempt to normalize monetary policy in the United States?
Data sources: Economic: Based on data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment, inflation); U.S. Department of Commerce (GDP, corporate profits, retail sales, housing); S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index (home prices); Institute for Supply Management (manufacturing/services). Performance: Based on data reported in WSJ Market Data Center (indexes); U.S. Treasury (Treasury yields); U.S. Energy Information Administration/Bloomberg.com Market Data (oil spot price, WTI Cushing, OK); www.goldprice.org (spot gold/silver); Oanda/FX Street (currency exchange rates). All information is based on sources deemed reliable, but no warranty or guarantee is made as to its accuracy or completeness. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed herein constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any securities, and should not be relied on as financial advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful.
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Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015.
Senior Wealth Advisor