10 December 2018

December 2018 | Monthly Economic Update

Posted in Monthly Economic Update

In this month’s recap: equities rise with a little help from the Fed, oil dives, and most key domestic indicators look quite strong.
December 2018 | Monthly Economic Update

THE MONTH IN BRIEF

For most of November, the stock market was plagued by the same skepticism evident in October: the sense that corporate profits were declining and economic growth was slowing. Then Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell threw investors a line: he delivered a speech late in the month that soothed some of the considerable anxiety in the equity markets. Helped by Powell’s comments, the S and P 500 gained 1.79% on the month. While analysts sensed the bull market was in its late phase, consumers remained confident, enthusiastic participants in an apparently thriving economy. In a surprise, home sales picked up. Oil fell. The United Kingdom scheduled a critical parliamentary vote on the Brexit; China and the U.S. returned to the negotiating table regarding tariffs.1

DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH

Speaking to the Economic Club of New York on November 28, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell delivered a rather dovish message: if interest rates were not quite where they should be, given the robust economy, they were at least close. In his view, rates were “just below the broad range of estimates of the level that would be neutral for the economy – that is, neither speeding up nor slowing down growth.” This was what Wall Street wanted to hear. The Dow Industrials rocketed north 618 points on the day. Just a month earlier, Powell had sounded distinctly hawkish, commenting that rates were a “long way from neutral.”2,3

A trio of reports affirmed that the economy was indeed in good condition. Even after nine years of recovery from the Great Recession, the pace of hiring was still noteworthy: the Department of Labor’s October jobs report said that 250,000 net new jobs were created in the tenth month of the year. Annualized wage growth was at 3.1%, the best in ten years; headline unemployment was at 3.7%, and U-6 unemployment (unemployed and the marginally employed), at 7.4%. According to a Census Bureau report, the pace of retail sales improved 0.8% in October, quite a change from the 0.1% retreat a month before. Finally, as the month ended, the Department of Commerce announced a 0.6% rise in personal spending in October along with a 0.5% improvement for personal incomes.4,5

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