Monthly Economic Update for August 2013

THE MONTH IN BRIEF
At the closing bell on July 31, the S&P 500 settled at 1,685.73 thanks to a 4.95% monthly gain – another triumph for a bull market that has overcome a host of challenges. This striking July advance came even as fundamental economic indicators sent mixed messages. The Federal Reserve said nothing definite about when it would taper QE3. Overseas, there were hints of a slightly better economic picture in Europe, contradictory signals out of China, and numerous stock market advances.1

DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH
July offered both encouraging and discouraging economic statistics. The Institute for Supply Management’s July PMIs seemed to show an economy gaining traction. ISM’s manufacturing PMI leapt to 55.4 compared to 50.9 in June, and its service sector PMI jumped to 56.0 from the previous 52.2. The Commerce Department said that consumer spending was up 0.5% in June, corresponding to the projections of economists surveyed by Reuters; consumer incomes rose another 0.3 on the heels of a 0.4% improvement in May. Unemployment declined to 7.4% in July, but the pace of hiring also declined. Non-farm payrolls expanded by 162,000 jobs (compared to 188,000 in June), with retail, bar and restaurant positions representing much of the additions. Durable goods orders had increased 4.2% in June, but they were flat with the volatile transportation category removed. As the quarter ended, the federal government issued its first estimate of Q2 GDP: 1.7%, indicative of the economy’s slow comeback.2,3,4,5,6

July also offered a mixed picture of consumer confidence. The Conference Board’s July poll came in at 80.3, 1.8 points lower than June’s reading and below the expectations of analysts surveyed by MarketWatch. The reading on the University of Michigan’s final July consumer sentiment index was better – 85.1, up a full point from June to its highest level since July 2007.6,7

Prices increased in June, but it seemed more an anomaly than a trend. The Consumer Price Index rose 0.5%, but a 6.3% leap in gas prices was a major factor; the core CPI was up just 0.2%, and annualized core inflation had increased just 1.6%, the smallest amount in two years. Wholesale prices jumped 0.8% in June, though the core Producer Price Index only advanced 0.2%. Retail sales were up 0.4% in June; there was a 1.8% gain in auto purchases and a 2.4% improvement in furniture sales.8,9,10

In early July, the Obama administration decided to postpone the Affordable Care Act’s employer health insurance mandate for a year. Businesses with 50 or more full-time employees won’t have to provide health insurance to workers until 2015; retail franchises and restaurant owners welcomed that decision. The move raised big-picture questions about whether all aspects of the ACA (such as the coming online health insurance exchanges) could be implemented on schedule. In mid-July, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke cited the need for a “highly accommodative monetary policy for the foreseeable future,” buoying financial markets. The central bank’s July 31 policy statement offered no hint as to when it would start to reduce its asset purchases, and it termed the current economic expansion “modest”, which seemed slightly less enthusiastic than its “moderate” assessment from June.11,12,13

 

GLOBAL ECONOMIC HEALTH
Two closely-watched China manufacturing PMIs offered different estimates of the performance of the world’s biggest economic engine. The HSBC PMI came in at just 47.7 for July. The “official” PMI from China’s National Bureau of Statistics (which, incidentally, surveys a greater percentage of state-owned enterprises) rose 0.2 for July, showing a bit of expansion at 50.3. Still, this was nothing special. Neither was India’s July Markit manufacturing PMI reading of 50.1; Markit manufacturing PMIs for South Korea, Vietnam, Australia and Taiwan were all under 50 last month, with Australia’s dropping 7.6 points. HSBC and Markit service sector PMIs tracking Asian economies also moved lower in July; India’s showed contraction for the first time in 21 months at 47.9, and those for Japan (50.6) and China (51.3) showed slower growth.14,15

As mounting evidence of a slowdown came from Asia, another question emerged in Europe. Was the Eurozone recession coming to a close? The EU manufacturing sector grew in July for the first time since 2010 – the Markit PMI hit 50.5, up from 48.7 in June. Germany’s manufacturing PMI reached a 5-month peak of 52.1, France’s hit a 17-month high of 49.1, and Italy’s reached a 26-month high of 49.7. July also saw the fewest eurozone job losses in 16 months, and the German economy saw a net job gain.14,15,16

WORLD MARKETS
Big gains were the order of the month, especially in Europe. The FTSE 100 climbed 6.53%, the DAX 3.98%, the CAC 40 6.79%, the RTSI 2.97% and the STOXX 600 5.11%. In the Asia Pacific region, some losses crept in among the gains: the Sensex slipped 0.26% and the Nikkei 225 0.07%, but that was overshadowed by advances for the KOSPI (2.72%), the KSE 100 (10.98%), the Hang Seng (5.19), the Shanghai Composite (0.74%) and the Asia Dow (1.17%). On our side of the pond, the TSX Composite rose 2.95%, the MERVAL 12.82% and the Bovespa 1.64%.The Global Dow advanced 5.87% in July, the MSCI World Index 5.19% and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index 0.77%.1,17i COmposite : the TSX Composite (-2.30%), the  gan’

COMMODITIES MARKETS

The price of NYMEX crude soared 9.15% in July. That put oil at $105.03 a barrel at the end of the month. Natural gas prices, on the other hand, descended 3.25%. Gold settled at $1,313.00 at month’s end, the culmination of a 7.46% monthly ascent. Silver went +1.45%, platinum +6.77% and copper +2.40%. As for crops, coffee lost 1.37%, but cocoa rose 4.74%, wheat 2.71% and sugar 2.48%. The U.S. Dollar Index lost 1.76% for the month.18,19

 

REAL ESTATE
On August 1, Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey had the average rate on a 30-year fixed home loan at 4.39%, up from 4.29% on July 3 and 3.81% on May 30.20

 

Existing home sales fell 1.2% in June, with tightening inventory being a factor; still, the National Association of Realtors reported a 13.5% yearly improvement in the median sale price. The May S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index recorded a 12.2% overall yearly rise in home prices across 20 cities. New home sales were up 8.3% in June, with a 38.1% year-over-year increase in the sales pace (the best on record since 1992).6,21

Not all the news was so impressive. Pending home sales dipped 0.4% for June, partly reflecting the shrinking inventory of existing properties on the market. As for building permits and housing starts, they both fell in June: building permits sagged 7.5% from May but were up 16.1% annually, while starts dipped 9.9% but were still up 10.4% in 12 months.6,22

The 0.58% rise in conventional mortgage rates across two months was mirrored by other types of home loans. Average rates for 15-year FRMs went from 2.98% to 3.43%; average rates for 5/1-year ARMs and 1-year ARMs were but 2.66% and 2.54% on May 30, yet respectively 3.18% and 2.64% by August 1.20

LOOKING BACK…LOOKING FORWARD
To broadly recap,  July ended with the DJIA settling at 15,499.54, the NASDAQ at 3,626.37, the S&P 500 at 1,685.73 and the Russell 2000 at 1,045.26 (it rose 6.93% for the month). Fear ebbed: the CBOE VIX fell 20.23% for the month, settling at 13.45 on July 31.1