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Monthly Economic Update: November 2014


Wall Street had a dramatic October, as investors grew anxious about the big Es: Ebola, Europe and easing (specifically, the end of QE3). Ultimately, stocks climbed higher with help from another big E: earnings. The S&P 500 advanced 2.32% for the month, pushing into record territory again. Many Asia Pacific stock indices posted solid gains; many European indices racked up October losses. It was a rough month for gold, silver, oil and many crop futures. Domestic indicators were mostly positive and made the U.S. look like a bright spot in the global economy. Sales picked up slightly in the housing market, and the stock market seemed to take the wrap-up of the Federal Reserve’s historic stimulus program in stride. (1)

Domestic Economic Health

The initial Q3 GDP reading suggested that the economy was now on solid footing. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported 3.5% expansion in Q3; that and the 4.6% growth of Q2 represented the best six months for the economy in more than a decade. Consumer spending was the question mark: it grew just 1.8% in Q3, and it actually retreated 0.2% in September, a month which also brought a 0.3% decline in retail sales. Some of the Q3 personal spending slowdown could be attributed to limited wage growth; personal incomes had grown by an unspectacular 2.0% in 12 months. (2,3)

Consumer confidence, on the other hand, kept improving. The Conference Board’s October index hit 94.5, and the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment gauge had a final October reading of 86.9. (2,3)

Thanks to 248,000 new hires, the U.S. jobless rate fell to 5.9% in September. America hadn’t seen such low unemployment since July 2008. The U-6 rate (unemployed + underemployed) dipped to a 71-month low of 11.8%. (4)

September saw no real pickup in consumer prices – just another 0.1% gain in both the headline and core Consumer Price Index. The annualized advance for both was just 1.7%. (Food prices, however, had risen 3.0% in 12 months.) Producer prices dipped 0.1% in September after being unchanged for August. (2,5)

Speaking of production, September brought a 1.0% gain in factory output, although hard goods orders tailed off 1.3%. The 59.0 reading on the Institute for Supply Management’s October manufacturing PMI defied the forecast of analysts polled by MarketWatch, who had predicted a 0.1% decline from September to a mark of 56.5. (ISM’s non-manufacturing PMI fell a whole percentage point in September to 58.6.). (2,6)