News & Events

Economic Advisor: December 20, 2017
December 20, 2017


Retail sales grew twice as much as predicted, while consumer prices also rose, and layoffs shrank.

Retail Sales

Strong holiday sales sparked a retail surge in November, with retail and food service sales for the month growing 0.8 percent to $492.7 billion, the Census Bureau reported last week. This outpaced market expectations of 0.4 percent.

A quick look at the key growth sectors for retail sales during November indicated that holiday sales and travel helped expand retail activity. Categories that saw solid growth include gas stations, which jumped up 2.8 percent; non-store retailers, such as e-commerce sites and market stands, which grew 2.5 percent; electronics and appliance stores, which were up 2.1 percent; furniture stores, which rose 1.2 percent; and building material and garden supply stores, which also notched up 1.2 percent.

“This has been an impressive start to the holiday season, perhaps the best in the last few years,” National Retail Foundation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz wrote in a public statement. “The combination of job and wage gains, modest inflation and a [healthy] balance sheet along with elevated consumer confidence has led to solid holiday spending by American households.”

Consumer Prices

In related news, the Consumer Price Index grew 0.4 percent in November, according to last week’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was right on track with market predictions of 0.4 percent growth. Total growth over the last 12 months of the all items index was 2.2 percent.

November’s growth was driven by the energy index, which grew 3.9 percent and accounted for roughly three-quarters of the all items price increase. The gasoline index shot up 7.3 percent. The food index was unchanged in November, with the index for food at home seeing a slight downturn of 0.1 percent.

The index for all items less the volatile food and energy categories — otherwise known as core inflation — rose 1.7 percent, which was a slight change of course from October’s 1.8 percent increase.

Initial Jobless Claims

First-time claims for unemployment benefits filed by the newly unemployed during the week ending December 9, dropped to 225,000, a fall of 11,000 claims from the prior week’s total of 236,000, according to last week’s report from the Employment and Training Administration. This beat forecasts of 235,000 jobless claims.

The four-week moving average, which is considered a more stable measure of jobless claims, fell to 234,750, a drop of 6,750 claims from the preceding week’s average of 241,500 claims.

This latest report marked the 145th straight week that initial claims have come in below the 300,000-claim level, which economists consider an indicator of a growing job market. The Administration added that it continues to experience hurricane-related reporting difficulties.

This week, we can expect:

  • Tuesday — Housing starts for November from the Census Bureau.
  • Wednesday — Existing homes sales for November from the National Association of Realtors.
  • Thursday — Initial jobless claims for last week from the Census Bureau; leading economic indicators for November from The Conference Board; third quarter GDP from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  • Friday — Personal incomes and spending for November from the Bureau of Economic Analysis; new home sales and durable goods orders for November from the Census Bureau; consumer sentiment for December from the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

Posted in Economic Advisor
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