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After two-quarters of contraction, many still do not accept that the US economy is in a recession. Federal Reserve officials have pushed against it, as has Treasury Secretary Yellen. The nearly 530k rise in July nonfarm rolls, more than twice the median forecast in Bloomberg’s survey, and a new cyclical low in unemployment (3.5%) lent credibility to their arguments. If Q3 data point to a growing economy, additional support will likely be found.
While the interest rate-sensitive housing sector may still feel the squeeze, we note that activity is at historically strong levels. Housing starts are expected to have fallen for the third consecutive month in July. That would be the longest decline since the last four months of 2018. However, around 1.5 mln annualized pace, starts are still elevated. Permits, which are leading indicators, are holding up even better. They peaked at the end of last year a little below 1.9 mln and may have fallen to around 1.65 mln in July. Since the Great Financial Crisis, they were above 1.5 mln only once (October 2019), before the surge began in mid-2020.
Existing home sales have come off a bit more. They are expected to have fallen for the sixth consecutive month in July. It is the worst streak since 2013. Indeed, they are likely to fall below the 5 mln annualized mark for the first time since January 2019. Elevated mortgage rates are the highest since 2008 and have squeezed buyers while rising inventories have sparked some anecdotes about price cuts. The number of houses for sale rose for the first time in three years, around three months at the current pace of sales. Below five months of inventory is regarded as tight by realtors. Of interest, first-time buyers accounted for almost a third of the sales in June. Cash sales accounted for a quarter of all transactions in June. Houses were on the market for an average of two weeks last month, the shortest for more than a decade. Recall that new home sales are recorded on contract signings, while the existing home sales are counted on closes.
While the housing market is softening, consumption and output appear to have begun Q3 on solid footing. Retail sales, which account for around 40% of consumption, are expected to have edged by 0.1%-0.2% after a 1.0% rise in June. The drop in gasoline prices will likely be seen here and weigh on the retail sales, which are reported in nominal terms. Core retail sales, which excludes auto, gasoline, building materials, and food services, are expected to have risen 0.6% after 0.8% in June. More people working and earning a little bit more (on average), i.e., the income effect should help underpin consumption.
Manufacturers added 30k people to their payrolls in July, the most in three months and matching last year’s average pace. The US has added more manufacturing jobs through July than it did in the same period a year ago (273k vs. 161k). Manufacturing output has disappointed. It fell by 0.5% in both May and June. The decline in vehicle and parts output may have been partially reversed in July amid a recovery in auto sales. Higher commodity prices encouraged mining output in May and June (1.2% and 1.7%, respectively). It may have slowed as commodity prices fell in July. The scorching summer and demand for air conditioning likely boosted utility output, which had fallen in June (-1.4%).
On a year-over-year basis, industrial output often contracts into a recession but not always before the start of the recession. Through June, it has risen by almost 4.2%. The capacity utilization rate is expected to have above 80.0% for the fourth consecutive month. That would match the last cyclical peak in 2018, the longest since the Great Financial Crisis. Utilization rates fall sharply during a recession. In two of the last three recessions, capacity usage fell before the downturn was dated. In the Financial Crisis, the peak coincided with the start of the recession.
The US also reports the capital flow data for June (TIC on August 15). While a favorite of reporters and analysts, it is not a market mover. Through May, net long-term foreign capital inflows have been a little more than $465 bln., which is about an 8.5% increase from a year ago. Finally, the Empire State Survey August 15) and the Philadelphia Fed surveys (August 18), the first look into August aside for the weekly jobs claims and mortgage applications. The market appears to put more weight on some components of the Philly survey.
Three economic releases from Japan will draw attention. Japan reports its first estimate of Q2 GDP to kick off the week. The world’s third-largest economy contracted at an annualized rate of 0.5% in Q1 but is expected to have rebounded to 2.7% in Q2. That translates into a 0.7% quarterly expansion (seasonally adjusted) after shrinking by 0.1% in Q1. Consumption and business investment rebounded. Inventories were likely unwound. After rising 0.5% in Q1, the median forecast in Bloomberg’s survey looks for a 0.3% decline. The GDP deflator has been negative for the past five quarters. It was at -0.5% in Q1, but economists (Bloomberg survey) project a decline to -0.8%.
Despite the GDP deflator still showing deflation’s grip, the July CPI (August 19) is likely to show inflation continues to rise above the BOJ’s target. It targets the CPI, excluding fresh food, at 2.0%. It stood at 2.2% in June and is likely to have ticked up a little in July. The Tokyo CPI has already been reported. The core measure rose to 2.3% from 2.1%. Tokyo’s headline rate increased to 2.5% from 2.3%, and the measure excluding food and energy crept up to 1.2% from 1.0%.
July trade figures will be reported on August 17. Japan is experiencing a massive terms-of-trade shock. In the first half of this year, Japan reported a JPY7.94 trillion (~$59 bln) deficit. In H1 21, it had a trade surplus of about JPY810 bln (~$6 bln). The problem is not with merchandise exports. In June, they were up almost a fifth from last year, when they were by nearly 50% over 2020. Imports have surged with food and energy prices. Merchandise imports had risen 46% above the year-ago level in June, and that is after an increase by a third from June 2020.
The UK and Canada report July retail sales and CPI. The UK also publishes its latest employment report, while Canada updates housing starts and portfolio flows. The data poses headline risk, but the macroeconomic backdrop is unlikely to change significantly. The Bank of England warns that the economy will enter a protracted recession that will carry into 2024. The Bloomberg survey found that the median forecast assessed a 45% probability of a recession over the next 12 months. UK’s labor market is fairly strong, and the unemployment rate is at 3.8%, having bottomed at 3.7% in March, the lowest level since 1974. Inflation is rising, and the base effect underscores the upside risk. Last July, CPI was unchanged on the month.
While wage growth may be strong, it is insufficient to cover the rising cost of living and this squeezing consumption. June was the first month since October 2021 that retail sales, excluding gasoline, rose. However, UK retail sales, reported in volume terms, have fallen an average of 0.5% a month over the past 12 months. If there is going to be relief for the UK household, it will have to come from the new government. The Bank of England has one objective. Bring down inflation. The swaps market has discounted almost an 85% chance of another 50 bp increase to 2.25% at the September 15 meeting. It sees a year-end rate of around 2.80%, implying nearly 75 bp hikes in Q4.
Canada’s labor market improvement is stalling, and it looks like the economy is too. The monthly GDP downshifted from 0.7-0.8% in February and March to 0.3% in April and flat in May. Retail sales have been strong, flattered by rising prices. Through May, they have increased by an average of 1.5% a month. The average in the first five months of 2021 was 0.6. Canadian inflation accelerated to 8.1% in June and may have slowed in July for the first time since June 2021. Underlying core measures are expected to have stayed firm. Last month, the Bank of Canada surprised the market with a 100 bp hike in the overnight lending rate to 2.50%. The swaps market briefly took the possibility of a 75 bp hike at the September 7 meeting very seriously but now has slightly better than a 40% chance.
In Australia, the labor market is in focus. It added 60k full-time positions on average a month in Q2 after a 50.5k average in Q1. The pace is likely to moderate. The participation rate of 66.8% set in June was a record high. The unemployment rate of 3.5% was also a record low. There are some signs that the overall economy may be losing some momentum. Still, with CPI accelerating from 5.1% in Q1 to 6.1% in Q2, the Reserve Bank of Australia is tightening policy. After delivering the first hike in May of 25 bp, it lifted the cash target rate in 50 bp clips in June through August. Speculation of another 50 bp hike at the September 6 meeting is seen as slightly better than even money.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand meets on August 17. It will most likely deliver the seventh hike in the cycle that began last October. After three quarter-point moves, it delivered three 50 bp hikes. The cash target rate now stands at 2.50%. With Q2 inflation rising faster than expected (7.3% year-over-year), unemployment low (3.3% in Q2; record low set last December at 3.2%), more forceful action is possible. However, the swaps market judges it unlikely and has about a 90% chance of a 50 bp hike reflected in current prices. The New Zealand dollar is strong, at its best level in two months, but maybe too strong. Although it closed firmly ahead for the weekend, it looks stretched from a technical perspective, perhaps signaling a “buy the rumor, sell the fact” type of activity.
Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank, meets on August 18. A few hours after Norway reports Q2 GDP, Norges Bank makes its rate announcement. Typically, it prefers to adjust policy when it updates its economic assessment, similar in this regard to the European Central Bank. However, last week’s CPI shock heightens the risk it breaks from the pattern. Headline CPI jumped 1.3% in July, lifting the year-over-year rate to 6.8%. The median forecast (Bloomberg’s survey) was for an unchanged 6.3% pace. The underlying rate, which excludes energy and adjusts for tax changes, surged by 1.5%, nearly twice as much as expected. As a result, the year-over-year change was boosted to 4.5% from 3.6%.
The deposit rate stands at 1.25%. Norges Bank began the tightening cycle last September but has raised it by a cumulative 125 bp. However, among the high-income countries in Europe, only the UK’s policy rate is higher. Sweden’s inflation is higher at 8.5% (July from 8.7% in June), and its policy rate is 50 bp less than Norway. Since June 16, the day after the FOMC meeting that results in the first 75 bp rate hike, the Norwegian krone has been the strongest major currency, gaining 3.9% against the US dollar and 6.8% against the euro. Look for the dollar to correct higher, even if a 50 bp hike is delivered.
Editor’s Note: The summary bullets for this article were chosen by Seeking Alpha editors.
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