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Economic Highlights

December 21: Fiscal Cliff Concerns Overshadow Economic Data

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The House of Representatives didn’t vote on Speaker Boehner’s so-called ‘Plan B’ Thursday evening thinking that averting the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ was futile since the world was coming to an end the following day anyway. I am waiting for a fresh update from the Mayans, but we seem to have made it through the apocalypse.

It’s great that we all made it, but this means we need to have a plan for avoiding the ‘Fiscal Cliff’. I suspect that instead of being happy to be alive, investors will be spooked today that our leaders didn’t think of a fall-back ‘Cliff’ plan.

While this morning’s strong economic data may not be enough to divert attention from the elephant in the room, but they nevertheless show the economy’s resilience. All the data came in better than expected. The gains in income, consumer spending and business spending all came in better than expected.

The November Personal Income & Outlays report shows that income was up +0.6% versus expectations of +0.4% growth, while the prior month’s ‘unchanged’ or 0% reading was revised higher to a gain of +0.1%. Personal Consumption Expenditures or spending increased as expected at a rate of +0.4%, while the prior month’s -0.2% decline was revised higher to a decline -0.1%. The savings rate increased to 3.6% of disposable income from 3.4% in October.

The November Durable Goods report was also positive, with the headline gain of +0.7% coming in better than the expected +0.5% gain. Significantly, the prior month’s ‘unchanged’ or 0% reading was revised higher to a gain of +1.1%. Non-defense capital goods orders excluding transportation, which is considered a proxy for capital spending in the economy, also increased at a better than expected +1.6% pace, while the prior  month’s growth rate was revised higher to +1.9% from +1.5%. Corporate spending had been softening lately after staying fairly strong earlier in the economic recovery, but today’s durable goods report shows that it may not be that bad.

Hard to envision the trend remaining in place if the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ issue doesn’t get addressed, but these are nevertheless good numbers. Perhaps it’s for all the good to get a sea of red in the market today, along the lines of the failed TARP vote a few years back, to help the political leadership on the issue at hand.

In corporate news, we got better than expected results from Nike (NKE) after the close on Thursday, while Walgreen’s (WAG) came up short of expectations this morning. Research In Motion (RIMM) posted good quarterly numbers, but provided a sub-par outlook.

 

 

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