"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Korea? PIIGS? Bah! We Have Data!

The futures are up this morning (S&P +3.60/+0.31%, NASDAQ +4.00/+0.19%, Dow +29.00/+0.26% as of 7:59 AM ET). And why are they up? North Korea Crazy [1] is still crazy, and now we're sending the USS George Washington to "join exercises" in the Yellow Sea. (That's an aircraft carrier, if you're wondering.) The Irish government is still on the brink of collapse over whether or not to borrow all the euros [2]; they're getting ready to announce an austerity plan that will save some 15 billion euros over four years [3]. Everybody in Ireland seems to hate this plan.

Now, since we know nothing has changed substantially from yesterday, why are the futures up?

Because, silly, that was yesterday and today is another day. A day filled with economic measures to distract the domestic economy from the possibility that the Korean War (and we are still at war with North Korea) will heat back up, and from the possibility that Ireland could set off a cascading economic Götterdämmerung.

Right now we've got Durable Goods Orders, Personal Income and Outlays, and Jobless Claims to contend with.

Durable Goods Orders are huge. They are new orders placed with domestic manufacturers for delivery of factory hard goods. They represent production and economic growth, because they represent our nation's industrial capacity at work. Positive numbers make people happy. Negative numbers make The Bernank print more money [4]. And the projections aren't that good right now. In September, we saw a 3.3% growth in new orders. Right now, the Street is looking for a 0.1% decrease in new orders. That's not great, but it isn't terrible.

Personal Income and Outlays is, well, a series of measures looking at personal income. And personal outlays. (Whaddya want? It's self-defining!) Did the average wage earner make more or less money? Did that average wage earner spend more or less money? Oh, and did inflation (in the form of core personal consumption expenditures, aka PCE, which has been the Fed's measure of inflation since 2000[5]) go up or down? It's huge because, as I've said before, consumer spending drives GDP. And this measure? This measure is consumer spending.

September saw a 0.1% decrease in personal income, and a 0.2% increase in consumer spending. For October, the Street is looking for a 0.4% increase in personal income, and a 0.5% increase in consumer spending. Yes, they are expecting to see the rate you spend money at increase faster than the amount you earn.

Finally, for the moment, we have New Jobless Claims. For the week ending 11/13, we had 439k new claims. Now, for the week ending 11/20, we're looking for 435k new claims.

And how did the numbers shape up?

Well, the durable goods orders report can be read at http://www.census.gov/manufacturing/m3/adv/pdf/durgd.pdf, the personal income and outlays report at http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/pi/pinewsrelease.htm, and new jobless claims at http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/eta/ui/current.htm.

The durable goods orders were, in a word, bad. They were down, as expected. What wasn't expected was for them to be down 33 times more than expected (that's a 3.3% decrease, in other words). There was no joy in Mudville, as the poem goes. Mighty Casey has struck out.

Personal income and outlays came in simultaneously slightly better and slightly worse than expected. Personal income was up 0.5%, marginally beating expectations. consumer spending came in at 0.4%, marginally missing expectations. PCE was up 0.4% as well but, since the Street never attempts to predict that figure, it neither exceeded nor missed expectations.

New jobless claims came in better than expected. Rather than the anticipated 435k new claims, we're only looking at 407k. Good news there, as it continues a trend of decreasing jobless claims.

So, that's where we are as of right now. I'll be back in an hour with Consumer Sentiment and New Home Sales.

[1] Their new release "U Lookin' We Shootin'" is all over the international charts, with Pyongyang blaming the South for driving the peninsula to the brink of war through "reckless military action".
[2] Or, at least, 65 billion of them. Although no final figure has been agreed to.
[3] That's about 10 billion in spending cuts - mostly from unemployment benefits and state payrolls. Another 5 billion will come from property taxes and a dramatic increase in personal income tax. But not corporate income tax. That would be foolish.
[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTUY16CkS-k
[5] Possibly since it has been lagging behind CPI by about 1/3 since 1992, so it makes inflation measures look better. But I'm cynical.

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