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US Economics Week Ahead: Retail Sales & The Start of Earnings

January 8th, 2010 Michael McDonough

With employment out of the way—for now—onto earnings; Alcoa is scheduled to kick of the 4Q09 earnings season with its report on Monday.  Earnings might be stealing most of the show this week, but don’t count out economic data with the release of a critically important retail sales release on Thursday and a torrent of Fed speak prior to the blackout period for the Jan 26-27 FOMC meeting.  Speaking of the Fed the market will gain access to the Beige Book on Wednesday, which should continue to indicate marginal upticks in economic activity throughout the fed’s districts.  Other important releases include; Thursday’s jobless claims and business inventories; and Friday’s CPI, Empire State Manufacturing Survey, industrial production, and consumer sentiment releases.

Don’t ignore the fed speak.  It is my belief that as we move closer to a new fed tightening cycle the first indications of a shift in the Fed’s bias will come through subtle or maybe even not so subtle clues in fed officials numerous public speeches.  The next indicator will come in the form of the FOMC minutes, but that is another story for another day.  Given the weakness in last week’s employment report I still think we are a ways off from a new tightening cycle—November 2010—, but I am not the one making the decisions, so I recommend listening to Fed officials closely as we move closer to an inevitable move.

Other notable companies reporting earnings next week include Intel (INTC) and JP Morgan (JPM).  Next week will also see the opening of the Detroit Auto Show on Monday, where heavy focus is likely to be placed on small and hybrid vehicles.  Finally, I wanted to thank everyone who has recently emailed me regarding the usefulness of this piece.  Additionally, I invite anyone with any comments or recommendations on how to make the Economic First Look even more useful to please shoot me an email.

Here is the rest of this week’s US calendar:

Monday, Jan. 11

12:40 p.m. EST: Dennis Lockhart, the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President, will give a speech on the economy at the Rotary Club of Atlanta.

9:10 p.m. EST: James Bullard, the St Louis Federal Reserve Bank President, will speak in Shanghai.

Tuesday, Jan. 12

7:45 a.m. EST: ICSC-Goldman Store Sales (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Marginal): This weekly index tracks aggregate store sales across major US retailers, accounting for roughly 10% of total retail sales.  Last week’s number rose +1.5% compared to an increment of +0.4% a week prior.  This week’s release will cover the first full in January.

8:30 a.m. EST: November’s International Trade (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Moderate): I anticipate that November’s trade balance will widen slightly as likely imports rose at a faster pace than exports, due to higher energy import costs.  In October, export growth surprised to the upside leading to a marginal contraction in the trade balance. It is usually expected that both exports and imports rise during the start of an economic recovery, while the trade balance widens.  The current Bloomberg consensus forecast is for the trade balance to widen to -$35.0bn in November from -$32.9bn in October.

8:55 a.m. EST: Redbook (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Marginal): The Redbook is a weekly measurement of chain stores, discounters, and department store sales.  This indicator tends to be less significant than the ICSC-Goldman Store Sales in forecasting retail sales.  According to the Redbook store sales rose 1.6% last week on a yearly basis.

7:00 p.m. EST: Charles Plosser, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President, will give a speech on the economic outlook at the Entrepreneurs Forum of Greater Philadelphia.

Wednesday, Jan. 13

7:00 a.m. EST: MBA Mortgage Applications (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Marginal): This index, which tracks new mortgage applications tend to be a reasonable forward looking indicator for home sales, but issues including customers filling out numerous applications could skew the index.  Applications rose 0.5% last week after plummeting -22.8% a week prior.  Refinance applications fell -1.6%, while purchase applications rose 3.6%.  A wave of buyers, filling out multiple mortgage applications, that were looking to take advantage of the first time home buyer tax credit–originally set to expire on Nov. 30th–have already completed their transactions, and have recently reduced the demand for mortgages.    However, the recent extension of the first time home buyer tax credit should eventually bring a new set of buyers into the market, which could help support the purchase index over the coming months.

10:30 a.m. EST: EIA Petroleum Status Report (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Moderate): This report measures US domestic petroleum inventories.  Large unanticipated swings in this index could have a significant impact on energy prices.  Last week this report showed an increase of 1.3 million barrels versus a drop of -1.5 million barrels a week prior.

12:30 p.m. EST: Charles Evans, the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President, will speak at the Corridor Economic Forecast Luncheon.

2:00 p.m. EST: Beige Book (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Significant): In the Fed’s previous Beige Book all of its districts reported at least modest upticks in growth, and I anticipate this trend will continue in the current release.  The report covers the last week in November though the first week of January.  The Beige Book is used as an input at the FOMC’s monetary policy meetings, meaning it shouldn’t be ignored by investors.

2:00 p.m. EST: December’s Treasury Budget (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Moderate): December’s treasury budget will almost certainly show a record 15th consecutive month of deficits.  In November the monthly deficit totaled -$120.3 billion, bringing the government’s fiscal year to date total deficit up to -$296.7 billion.  December’s deficit may get some relief through TARP paybacks, but remain negative.  The current Bloomberg consensus forecast is for a deficit in December of -$92.0 billion.

Thursday, Jan. 14

8:30 a.m. EST: December’s Retail Sales (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Significant): After rising 1.3% in November, retails sales should experience its third consecutive month of growth in December.  This growth will likely be led by strong vehicle sales during the month, which rose to a pace of 11.2mn vehicles during the month from a pace of 10.9mn units in November.  Excluding the auto component, retail sales should show some growth, but at a more moderate rate.  Of course any surprise to the upside in this data would be welcomed by the market.  The current Bloomberg consensus forecast is for retail sales to rise 0.4% in December, with retail sales ex-auto rising a more moderate 0.2%.

8:30 a.m. EST: Jobless Claims (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Significant): Initial claims rose 1K last week to 434K, after falling 22K a week prior.  The four week moving average improved to 450,250 from 460,250.  This week’s strong seasonal adjustment factor—the strongest of the year in fact—could have some sway over the weekly report.  Improving initial jobless claims are indicative of fewer job losses in the BLS’s monthly employment report; however, the job situation will still get worse before it gets better.  The current Bloomberg consensus is for an initial jobless claims reading of 437K on Thursday.

8:30 a.m. EST: Import and Exports Prices (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Marginal): A decline in energy prices during the month and a modest appreciation in the US dollar will likely helped to bring down import prices in December.

9:00 a.m. EST: RBC CASH Index (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Marginal): The Royal Bank of Canada’s Consumer Attitudes and Spending by Household (CASH) Index is a monthly measure of consumer attitudes toward investing, the economic outlook, and personal finances.  This index does hold some importance in so much that it tends to demonstrate a pretty significant correlation with the consumer sentiment index being released on Friday.

10:00 a.m. EST: November’s Business Inventories (Risk: Positive, Market Reaction: Moderate): Marginal attention is typically placed on this release, but this month the business inventories report takes on added significance. Economists use this release to help gauge the impact of the inventory cycle on fourth quarter GDP growth.  What this means is economists will be using this data to confirm or alter their fourth quarter 2009 inventory projections, which could sway fourth quarter GDP projections.  Many economists—including myself—expect the inventory cycle will play a lead role in the current recovery.  It is important to note that the manufacturing and wholesale inventory components of the report have previously been released and rose +0.2% and +1.5%, respectively.  Therefore, the report’s retail inventory component—the only unknown figure— is the most important for investors to watch.  The current Bloomberg consensus forecast is for a rise in business inventories of 0.2%.

10:30 a.m. EST: EIA Natural Gas Report (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Moderate): This report highlights domestic natural gas inventories, which could have a significant impact on the energy sector.

4:30 p.m. EST: Fed Balance Sheet & Money Supply—Current Week’s Release (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Marginal): Since the Fed’s shift to quantitative easing, the balance sheet has become one method to measure to the Fed’s effectiveness.  The market will pay close attention to the reserve bank credit component, which measures factors supplying   providing reserves into the banking system.  The Fed’s balance sheet shrank marginally last week to US$2.216trn from US$2.219trn.  The fed’s balance sheet has slowly been shifting away from emergency lending facilities to Treasuries, agency debt, and mortgage-backed securities to help moderate long-term interest rates.

Friday, Jan. 15

8:30 a.m. EST: December’s Consumer Price Index (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Significant): Headline consumer prices likely rose in December, albeit at a slightly more moderate pace than the 0.4% rise in November.  A bit of warning, on a year over year basis headline CPI will likely rise at the fastest pace in over a year due to extraordinarily low energy prices realized in the fourth quarter of 2008, this pattern will likely continue over the next few months and then normalize as past energy prices play catch-up.  Core CPI should remain relatively subdued during the month.  The current Bloomberg consensus forecast is for a monthly rise in headline CPI of 0.1%, with Core CPI anticipated to rise at the same pace.

8:30 a.m. EST: January’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey (Risk: Negative, Market Reaction: Significant): This release will be investors first window into the fed’s regional factory sector reports for 2010.  Over the prior two months this survey has lost significant ground falling to 2.6 in December from 34.6 in October—a reading over 0 signifies expansion.  In December the Richmond fed’s release fell below 0 for the first time in 7 months; ironically, Richmond was the first of the fed’s districts to indicate a marginal recovery.  Nevertheless, I do not anticipate the NY fed’s survey will follow suit.  The current Bloomberg consensus forecast is for a survey result of 13.0, compared to 2.6 in December.  The new orders component remained positive in December, but barely, so I recommend keeping a close eye on December’s number.  Additionally, don’t forget to watch the prices paid and employment components of the release.

8:30 a.m. EST: December’s Industrial Production (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Significant): Extremely cold weather across the country should help boost utility output during the month, which should help bolster December’s industrial output.  Growth in the manufacturing component should be relatively restrained during the month as aggregate hours worked in manufacturing fell -0.4% during December.  The current Bloomberg consensus forecast is for an increment in industrial production of 0.6%, compared to 0.8% a month prior.  The same forecast anticipates capacity utilization to rise to 71.9% from 71.3% in November.

9:55 a.m. EST: Preliminary January Consumer Sentiment (Risk: Neutral, Market Reaction: Significant): I expect this index will be up marginally from its final reading of 72.5, on the back of early indications of improvements in the labor market, and incentives around the holiday season.  But, these positive factors will be playing a tug-of-war against negative factors including energy prices and what, despite improvements, is a weak labor market.  The current Bloomberg consensus forecast is for a reading of 74.0.

12:30 p.m. EST: Jeffrey Lacker, the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank President, will speak about the economic outlook to the Richmond Risk Management Association.

2:30 p.m. EST: Janet Yellen, the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President, will give a speech on “Economic Environment for Innovation” at the Innovation and Equity Conference in San Francisco, CA

Enjoy the weekend!

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