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

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Friday, June 3, 2011

World News!

  • Greece has apparently agreed in principle to a new bail-out package.  Greece has agreed to another 6.4 billion euros in austerity measures and to (finally) start its 50 billion euro privatization program, and in return they will be granted some debt reduction and loans.  The total size is unknown, but it is reported that it should cover Greece's borrowing needs through 2012.  Now it just needs to be signed off on by the eurozone finance ministers, the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the Greek parliament.
The Hague
North Korea Crazy[1]
  • Robert King, the US envoy on human rights to North Korea, has said that his visit to North Korea was successful.  "They were willing to talk about human rights.  They were willing to look at some of the issues that we are raising with them."  He did not indicate whether talking about human rights included actually being willing to end trafficking of girls and women into China, ending forced labor and the torture of political prisoners, or granting freedom of speech and assembly to the populace.
  • Pakistan and the United States have agreed to resume cooperating.  "There will be joint operations.  These could be intelligence sharing," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua.
  • Following up on the governmental amnesty offer, Syrian troops bombarded Rastan, killing 15 people.  The Syrian government will most likely indicate that all 15 were members of "armed terror gangs", and is presumably maintaining "armed terror gang seeking unguided artillery shells" as a proprietary state secret.  The ability to fire artillery into a residential area and only kill the "armed terror gangs" is quire remarkable, after all.
United States
  • Moody's - the ratings agency Moody's, if you aren't sure which one I'm talking about - has announced that it will consider cutting the United States' sovereign debt credit rating if the White House and Congress do not make progress on talks to raise the debt limit.  Republicans have (of course) seized on the warning as proof of the need to make sharp spending cuts, while Democrats have (of course) seized on the warning as proof of the need to increase taxes.
  • The hacker group LulzSec hacked the Sony Pictures Entertainment servers and published the names, birth dates, address, emails, phone numbers and passwords of thousands of people who entered Sony contests.
  • Goldman Sachs is being investigated.  Again.  This time by the New York Attorney General, who is investigating them as part of a probe into the mortgage operations and securitization practices of seven banks.
  • The FBI has begun investigating the phishing scam that compromised hundreds of Gmail accounts.
  • Since the civil war in Yemen is still being reported as "violent protests", protesters shelled the home[2] of President Saleh, possibly in retaliation for Yemeni loyalist troops shelling the home[3] of Sheik Hamid al-Ahmar (the brother of the leader of the "violent protesters").  The Prime Minister is reported to have been wounded.
[1]  Who announced their new tribute album "Hackin' Yo'" by releasing a cover of Toby Keith's "I Wanna Talk About Me", the follow up Kim Jong-Il's blues-style remake of Billy Idol's "Neuromancer".
[2]  They're calling it a "compound", so it must be the residence of an Official Bad Guy.
[3]  Described as a "home", so it must be the residence of an Official Good Guy.

Commissioner's Statement on the Employment Situation News Release

The latest Commissioner's Statement on the Employment Situation (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/jec.pdf) was issued today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The text is below.

Advance copies of this statement are made available to the press under lock-up conditions with the explicit understanding that the data are embargoed until 8:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Statement of

Keith Hall
Bureau of Labor Statistics

Friday, June 3, 2011

In May, nonfarm payroll employment changed little (+54,000), following increases that averaged 220,000 in the prior 3 months. The unemployment rate was essentially unchanged, at 9.1 percent, in May. Employment in the private sector was up by 83,000, compared with an average monthly gain of 244,000 in the prior 3 months. Since a recent employment low in February 2010, the private sector has added 2.1 million jobs. After accounting for job losses in the public sector, total nonfarm payrolls grew by 1.8 million over the period.

Employment in professional and business services continued to increase in May (+44,000). Job gains occurred in accounting services and in computer systems design. Temporary help employment remained essentially unchanged. Health care added 17,000 jobs over the month, compared with an average of 24,000 jobs over the prior 12 months.

Employment growth continued in mining in May (+7,000). Since a recent low point in October 2009, mining employment has risen by 115,000, largely driven by gains in support activities for mining.

Manufacturing employment showed little change in May (-5,000). From a recent low point in December 2009 through April 2011, manufacturing added 243,000 jobs. In May, job losses in transportation equipment, paper, and printing offset gains in fabricated metals and machinery.

Local government employment decreased by 28,000 over the month and has declined by 446,000 since the peak in September 2008.

Average hourly earnings of all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 6 cents in May to $22.98. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have risen by 1.8 percent. From April 2010 to April 2011, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased by 3.1 percent.

Turning now to measures from our survey of households, the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 9.1 percent in May. There were 13.9 million persons unemployed, little different from the prior month. The number of those jobless for 27 weeks or more rose to 6.2 million in May and accounted for 4.0 percent of the civilian labor force. The labor force participation rate has held at 64.2 percent since January.

I would note that the severe weather, including tornadoes and flooding, in the Midwest and the South did not materially affect data collection for either the payroll or household survey. In addition, while there is no question that some workers in the devastated communities may have been at least temporarily displaced from their jobs, we found no clear impact of the disasters on the national employment and unemployment data for May. In order for these events to have affected payroll employment, people would have had to have been off work for an entire pay period and not paid for the time missed. In the household survey, people who missed work for weather-related events were counted as employed whether or not they were paid for the time off. There will be state and local area estimates available later in the month.

In summary, both nonfarm payroll employment and the unemployment rate were little changed in May.

News releases archives: http://www.bls.gov/schedule/archives/all_nr.htm
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Employment Situation

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for with baited breath, the balm bringing sweet surcease of sorrow to soothe the hurts of the market...
It's the Employment Situation report!  The Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly review of how many jobs were created in a month and what the current unemployment rate is.
If you recall from last month, the April figures were... mixed.  Nonfarm payroll employment crushed expectations, increasing by 244,000.  The official unemployment rate rose to 9.0% (missing expectations by 20 basis points), as we added about 200,000 people to the list of the people who are unemployed but looking for work (bringing the level to 13.7 million).  The average workweek remained steady at 34.3 hours, and average hourly earnings rose 0.1% (missing expectations) to a level of $22.95 per hour.
The number of long-term unemployed declined by 283,000 to 5.5 million, meaning they made up 43.4% of the unemployed.  Individuals employed part time for economic reasons increased to 8.6 million (up about 200,000), and the marginally attached individuals increased to 2.5 million (up about 100,000), putting the effective unemployment rate at 16.29%.
So, that was April.  For May, the Econoday-surveyed analysts are guardedly optimistic.  They're expecting to see 170,000 nonfarm jobs added, the unemployment rate decline to 8.9%, average hourly earnings increase 0.2%, and the average workweek remain steady at 34.3 hours.  Is that optimism justified?  Let's turn to The Employment Situation -- May 2011 report to find out.
And...  Oh.  Oh, my.
Before we go any further, a little mood music.
Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 54,000 in May, missing expectations by 116,000.  The unemployment rate increased to 9.1%[1], with 13.9 million people unemployed and looking for work.  The average workweek increased mildly to 34.4 hours, and average hourly earnings beat expectations by increasing 0.3% to $22.98.
The number of long-term unemployed[2] increased by 361,000 to 6.2 million people, meaning they now make up 44.6% of the total population of the unemployed.  The number of people employed part time for economic reasons[3] declined slightly to 8.5 million.  Individuals marginally attached to the labor force[4] fell to 2.2 million.  This puts the effective unemployment rate at 16.1%.
Sing it with the Man in Black:
"IF I could start again
"a million miles away
"I would keep myself
"I would find a way."
[1]  The BLS report tries to play that off as "essentially unchanged".
[2]  That's anyone unemployed for 27+ weeks who is still looking for work.
[3]  That is, people who would really like to have a permanent full time job with good benefits, but who can't find one and so are working part time in an effort to make ends meet.  Or, more formally, "individuals ... working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job".
[4]  People who are not in the labor force, want and are available for work, and have looked for a job in the past 12 months.  Despite being unemployed, they are not counted as unemployed because they had not looked for work in the past 4 weeks.  Often because they've given up hope.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

World News!

  • Bahrain has lifted its Saudi Arabia-supported (through money and troops) state of emergency, after 11 weeks and 20 deaths.  The state of emergency was originally implemented to suppress pro-democracy protesters demanding changes to the way the government works.  King Hamad al-Khalifa has promised a national dialogue on reform beginning next month, but has not indicated if that reform will eliminate arbitrary detention and torture of citizens or secret military tribunals.
  • Prime Minister Naoto Kan survived a no-confidence vote over his handling of the March 11 natural disasters and the current nuclear crisis, by offering to voluntarily step down once the worst of the crisis is past.  He is expected to step down sometime in the autumn.
  • Despite the defection of Shokri Ghanem, Libya will still send a representative to next week's OPEC meeting.
  • UN investigators, looking into allegations of war crimes and other crimes against humanity in Libya, have tarred both sides with the same brush.  The investigators have determined that "crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed by the government forces of Libya," and that "the commission received fewer reports of facts which would amount to the commission of international crimes by opposition forces;  however, did find some acts which would constitute war crimes".  Don't expect to see NATO airstrikes on rebel positions in Misrata as NATO fulfills its UN mandate, though.
  • At least 67 people - 27 Pakistani police and 40 insurgents - are dead in Dir following a Taliban-led attack on a checkpoint on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
  • If you want some light reading, the organization Human Rights Watch has published a report on the actions of the Syrian government titled "We've Never Seen Such Horror".
United States
  • Google announced that a phishing scam, apparently originating from Jinan, China, compromised the personal Gmail accounts of "hundreds of users including, among others, senior US government officials, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries (predominantly South Korea), military personnel and journalists".
  • In "I did not see that coming" news, at least four people are dead in western and central Massachusetts following hail, heavy rain, and two tornadoes.  Governor Deval Patrick has declared a state of emergency in the affected are
  • The Global Commission on Drug Policy has declared in a report that "the global war on drugs has failed with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."  It goes on to suggest "experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs... This recommendation applies especially to cannabis, but we also encourage other experiments in decriminalization and legal regulation."
  • US envoy John Brennan is en route to Yemen to help try to pressure President Saleh into accepting a deal that would have him voluntarily step down and leave the country.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

World News!

  • In "Ministry of Love" news, the state of Victoria is about to approve a new law that will allow police to levy fines of up to Aus$240 on people who use "offensive words or phrases" in public.
  • In "KLEINBOM Portable Explosives" news, small bombs detonated at IKEA stores in Ghent (Belgium), Lille (France) and Eindhoven (the Netherlands).  No serious injuries have been reported, and no motive has been determined.
  • Officials involved in the negotiations between Greece, the rest of the EU, and the IMF say that a second bailout for Greece is likely to be agreed on by the end of June, following a lot of political displays.  "Expect an aggravation of the stress relationships between all partners - international institutions, national governments and domestic players in Greece - between now and the European summit," said one of the officials.  "There will be public statements that will raise tensions.  The communication will get much worse before it gets better."  The officials expect the agreement to be a three year program worth 65 billion euros, that also gives a supervisory role over the privatization of Greek state assets.
  • Ambassadors of NATO's 28 member states unanimously agreed to extend NATO's attacks on Libya for another 90 days.
  • Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Libyan government stated that "Since March 19, and up to May 26, there have been 718 martyrs among civilians and 4,067 wounded - 433 of them seriously."  When pressed for details, including pictures or other evidence of mass civilian casualties - Mr. Ibrahim stated that the casualties were scattered across the country.
North Korea Crazy[1]
  • In "apparently a thousand adults aren't important" news, the (alleged) torture and murder of a 13-year-old boy by Syrian authorities has prompted Kevin Rudd, the Australian Foreign Minister, to announce "I believe it is high time that the Security Council now consider a formal referral of President Assad to the International Criminal Court."  The Syrian government has not yet stated whether they have taken the official position that the boy was an "armed terror gang".
  • President Bashar al-Assad has issued a decree of general amnesty "for all crimes committed before 31 May.  The pardon includes all those who belong to political movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood."  Syrians who are not part of the government expressed skepticism about the utility (and, indeed, the sincerity) of the offer.
United States
  • In "we're trying to find a way to justify staying involved in Libya now that we're past out 90 day limit" news, General Carter F. Ham told a news conference that "There is a very real concern for all the regional partners, and the United States shares this concern, about the proliferation of weapons from Libya to other places, including those under the control of al Qaeda and others."[2]
  • Once again, the House of Representatives has voted (318-97) against a bill to raise the US debt limit without limitations.
  • In further "Screaming Fist" news, the Pentagon is preparing a report that will allow the US to categorise cyber-attacks as acts of war.  "A response to a cyberincident or attack on the US would not necessarily be a cyber-response.  All appropriate options would be on the table....  We reserve the right to use all necessary means - diplomatic, informational, military, and economic - as appropriate and consistent with applicable international law, in order to defend our nation, our allies, our partners and our interests," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan.
[1]  Back on the charts with their cover of Billy Idol's "Neuromancer".
[2]  This  may just be my opinion, but it seems like invoking al Qaeda as an excuse to attack (excuse me, "militarily intervene in") another nation is less and less credible as a genuine national security issue and more and more like Godwin's Law.

ADP Employment Report

Now, a (hopeful) look at the positive side of employment data.
ADP is short for Automatic Data Processing, which claims (with some probable justification) to be "one of the world's largest providers of business outsourcing solutions".  Since they manage HR, payroll, and tax and benefits administration for multiple companies, they get a good look at hiring and firing trends of their clients, and this allows them to put together a pretty comprehensive picture of what the employment picture looks like.  Think of this report as a test run for Friday's Employment Situation, and you won't be far off.
Last month - April - was decent, but nothing to write home about.  ADP reported 179,000 new jobs, 77.09% of which came from the service-providing sector and 22.91% came from the goods-producing sector.  6.14% of the new jobs came from large businesses, 46.92% came from medium-size businesses, and the remaining 49.94% came from small businesses.
And how will May look?  According to the May 2011 ADP National Employment Report, nowhere near as good.  Nonfarm private business employment rose 38,000, with 126% of that coming from the service-producing sector.  The goods-producing sector lost 10,000 jobs.  Large business employment fell 19,000, while medium-size business employment increased 30,000 and small business employment rose 27,000.
So, yeah.  Friday's not looking good right now.

The Challenger Job Cut Report

It's Employment Situation season, and in celebration of that fact we'll be looking at employment data for the rest of the week.  Right out of the gate, we have the Challenger Job Cuts report.  This report comes to us courtesy of the outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, which gets hired by companies that are getting ready to lay people off to help the new non-employees find jobs.  As you might imagine, this gives them a lot of insight into current corporate layoff plans.
Bear in mind that the job cut figures they provide are layoffs announced during the month, not layoffs in the month.  So, if they show 30,000 job cuts in May, that doesn't mean all 30,000 will be cut in May.  It could be 10,000 in May, 8,000 in June and 12,000 in July.
April was mixed.  Employers announced plans to cut 36,490 jobs (a decline from March's 41,528), bringing the year to date layoff figures to 167,239.  They also reported that employers had announced plans to hire 59,648 new employees that month - not a spectacular as it could have been, as 50,000 of those jobs were from McDonalds[1].  29.4% of the planned job cuts were government and/or non-profit jobs.  The next largest number of planned layoffs came from the aerospace & defense industry, at 12.37%.  The top reasons for job cuts were cost-cutting (24.94%), business closing (24.73%), and restructuring (20.1%).
There are no analyst predictions for this, so on to the report itself.  Employers announced plans to cut 37,135 positions from their payrolls during May, which we can call practically unchanged from April (it's a 1.8% increase), bringing the year to date total to 204,374 (or about 79% of the January through May 2010 totals).  The government and non-profit sector continues to lead the layoff pack at 14,755 job cuts announced (39.7% of the total), and aerospace and defense continues to hold second place at 5778 planned job cuts (15.6% of the total).  The top reasons for job cuts continue to be cost-cutting (43%), business closing (33.8%), and restructuring (9.4%).
[1]  And let's be honest here, while McDonalds is a paying job it's lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.  Like good pay.  Or benefits.  Or retirement.  Or much in the way of advancement opportunities.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

World News!

  • In "well, it guess things could be worse" news, the central bank of Belarus has raised its main interest rate from 14% to 16% in an effort to fight inflation (which is projected to hit 39% by year end), and is also negotiating a $3 billion bailout with Moscow.
  • In "OMG!!! A/S/L??? how I mine for fish?!?!" news, Chinese prisoners are claiming that Chinese prisons have found a unique way to raise money:  gold farming.  Well, one prisoner is claiming that.  An official at the central office for labor camps in Heilongjiang denies this claim, pointing out "We do not have large numbers of computers.  And we do not allow our prisoners to have any contact with the outside world.  If they were playing these online games they could easily communicate with other people.  We would never allow that."[1]
  • In an effort to prevent some 2 trillion yuan worth of municipal debt defaults, Chinese regulators have unveiled a plan to have the Chinese government buy the bad debt, eat some of it, and shift some of it on to newly created companies.
  • China's Foreign Ministry says that the protests that have erupted in Inner Mongolia after two Mongolians were killed by an ethnic Chinese, are the result of foreigners stirring up trouble.  Which foreigners, or what the alleged foreigners hope to achieve, has not been announced.
  • Look for the price of a cup of coffee to go up over the year.  Due to a combination of storms in Colombia (which reduced the harvest by about 10%) and increasing global demand, the cost of arabica coffee will most likely remain in the range of $2 to $3 per pound for at least a year.  Starbucks has already responded by raising the price of bagged coffee by an average of 17%.
  • "Who didn't see this coming" news:  If you recall from last week, South African President Jacob Zuma was going to travel to Tripoli and try to negotiate Muammar Gaddafi into voluntarily stepping down and leaving Libya.  Well, he has done so.  President Zuma's office issued a statement stating that "Col. Gaddafi called for an end to the bombings to enable a Libyan dialogue.  He emphasized that he was not prepared to leave his country, despite the difficulties."
New Zealand
  • In 'just... ow" news, Steven McCormack survived being blown up "like a football" after falling on a compressed air hose that pierced his buttock and literally inflated him.  Mr. McCormack is currently hospitalized and doctors are surprised that a) his skin didn't rupture as the compressed air separated fat from muscle and b) he is still alive.
  • Senior EU finance officials are meeting today to consider options for a second bailout package for Greece, which faces a funding gap of over 60 billion euros for 2012 and 2013.  Some options include a debt rollover (in which existing bond holders voluntary agree to reinvest all of the maturing capital into new Greek debt) and either a partial or full restructuring of Greek debt[2]. 
  • Outgoing ECB Executive Board member Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell said that the ECB would be unwilling to accept either full or partial restructuring[2] of Greek debt, but declined to comment on whether or not the ECB would accept a debt rollover.
  • Ratko Mladic's appeal to not be extradited to The Hague on medical grounds has been rejected by Serbia's war crimes tribunal.  Doctors that examined him said he was well enough to travel, and he is likely to be extradited some time today.
South Africa
  • The emerging nations, largely headed by the non-Russia part of the BRICS, are still deciding whether to nominate their own candidate for head of the IMF.  Right now, Brazil is debating between Christine Lagarde and Agustin Carstens, and South Africa is considering naming its own candidate.
  • In "expect to see mass firings in 2013 news", Wal-Mart has been given the go-ahead to buy local retail chain Massmart on the condition that it not fire workers in the first two years of ownership, it give preference to re-hiring 500 staff that were laid off in 2010, and it have a program for developing local suppliers.
  • Syrian troops, supported by tanks and helicopters, have pursued "armed terrorist gangs" in Rastan and Talbisa by doing a door-to-door search of the two cities.  The "armed terror gangs", which strongly resemble and behave like ordinary civilians (up to and including not actually being armed or moving in gangs) have not been positively identified, but the Syrian government insists that the more than 1000 people killed by Syrian forces since March were both "armed"[3] and involved in "gangs of terror"[4].  In a nod to international concerns about human rights abuses, the tanks did not actually open fire.
United Kingdom
  • In "I am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter" news, Lord Taylor of Warwick, a former Conservative peer of the House of Lords, has been sentenced to 12 months in jail for falsely claiming £11,277 in parliamentary expenses.  He had pled not guilty on the grounds that he claimed that he was told by senior peers that it was normal practice to make false expense claims, and then argued that he should not face prison because, as a peer, his crimes were less serious than those of MPs[5] who committed similar crimes.  The court was unimpressed by the argument, calling his actions "a breach of a high degree of trust".
  • Oxfam International, whose website is currently offline, has released a report ("Growing a Better Future").  The report indicates that the cost of staple crops could increase by between 120% and 150% by 2030 as population growth accelerates and crop yield growth declines.
United Nations
  • According to an estimate by the International Energy Agency, worldwide CO2 emissions reached 30.6 gigatons in 2010, 5% above the previous record in 2008.  10 tons come from the OECD nations, China emitted 5.8 tons, and India emitted 1.5 tons.
United States:
  • In "amazing perks of the job" news, I think this headline sums it all up:  "FBI seizes Ferrari, takes joy ride, crashes and then refuses to pay".
  • Are you married?  Congratulations.  According to findings of the US Census, you are now part of a minority group among US households.  Only 48% of all American households are married couples, and only 20% are "traditional" families (married couple with one or more children).
  • Governor Pete Shumlin of Vermont has signed the nation's first single-payer health care system into law.  The law authorizes the creation of the Green Mountain Care Board, which will "first aim to rein in the rising cost of healthcare in the state - a rate that is 12 times faster than the state's economy.  The five-member board will be charged with creating a reimbursement system for doctors and hospitals, a benefits package and the method for financing the system."  It is anticipated that it may take up to five years to fully implement the plan.
  • In "broker and dictator fail" news, internal Goldman Sachs documents show that the firm invested more than $1.3 billion of Libya's sovereign-wealth fund[6] and lost 98% of the value of the investments in 2008.  Goldman then offered to recoup the losses for Libya, including one offer to sell $5 billion in preferred Goldman shares to the sovereign-wealth fund for $3.7 billion.
  • Army Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey has been nominated as the new Chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff.
  • Lockheed Martin's computer systems were accessed by hackers on May 21.  The defense contractor says the attack was detected quickly and that "no customer, program or employee personal data has been compromised".  No information about the source of the attack was released.
[1]  Which is a pretty compelling argument.  For once, China's human rights record is helping support their claims about their treatment of prisoners.
[2]  A process known as "defaulting" when corporations do it.
[3]  And probably "legged" as well.
[4]  Large groups of people, huddled together in terror, could be - through some perversion of English - called "terror gangs".  Or, at least, "terrified gangs".
{5]  Who are members of the House of Commons, and who do not have titles of nobility.
[6]  The investments were a basket of currently options and six stocks:  Citigroup, UniCredit SpA, Banco Santander, Allianz, Electricite de France, and Eni SpA.

S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index

This is, of course, a report that tracks the average change in house prices in a set of 10-city and 20-city metropolitan areas throughout the United States.  It's a lagging indicator, since it looks at data from two months in the past, so it isn't quite as spectacular as the new and existing home sales reports, but it's still watched.
In February, the 20-city index dropped 1.1% on a not-seasonally-adjusted basis (but only 0.2% if you look at the seasonally adjusted figures), giving us a rolling year-over-year decline of 2.6% (again, not seasonally adjusted).  There are no analysts expectations to consider, so let's go on to the March figures.
According to the S&P Indices Press Release (with the depressing title "National Home Prices Hit New Low In 2011 Q1 According to the S&P/Case-Schiller Home Price Indices"), home prices fell again in March, but not quite as fast or as far as they did in February.  Unless you look at the seasonally adjusted numbers.  The Composite-20 fell 0.8% on a not-seasonally-adjusted basis (or fell 0.2% seasonally adjusted), giving us a rolling 1-year decline of 3.6%,
If you're interested, the Minneapolis metropolitan area had the worst month, with a one month NSA decline of 3.7%.  Washington DC had the best month, with a NSA 1.1% gain.

Consumer Confidence

Consumer Confidence is upon us!  And what is Consumer Confidence you ask?[1]  It is a current to foreword-looking survey of what consumer households think about the economy.  It samples what people think about current and future economic conditions (employment, income, and so forth), and can be seen as a solid indicator of how likely consumers are to spend money.  And since private consumption is around a third of GDP, that makes this a huge leading indicator.
Last month, April Consumer Confidence beat expectations by a modest amount, hitting a level of 65.4 (the analysts were looking for a 65.0).  The present situation index rose to 37.5, and the expectations index rose to 82.6.  And for May, the Econoday-surveyed analysts are expecting further improvement, with the consumer confidence index rising to 66.5.
Of course, as we all know by now, expectations and reality are often parallel (not converging) lines.  So let's go to The Conference Board's press release to see see the actual results.  And the actual results are not good.  The Consumer Confidence Index declined 5.6 to a level of 60.8.  The Present Situation Index declined to a level of 39.3, and the Expectations index declined to a level of 75.2.
Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, had this to say:  "A more pessimistic outlook is the primary reason for this month’s decline in consumer confidence. Consumers are considerably more apprehensive about future business and labor market conditions as well as their income prospects. Inflation concerns, which had eased last month, have picked up once again. On the other hand, consumers’ assessment of current conditions declined only modestly, suggesting no significant pickup or deterioration in the pace of growth."
So, ouch.  Of course, this seems to explain why the Dow has cooled off a little after this morning's "Greek fire has not consumed Europe" rally.
[1]  Unless you already know.  Then you're not asking, and can probably safely skip the rest of this paragraph.