Markets & Finance

Vital Signs: Recession Fears Abate


On deck: April reports on leading indicators, producer prices, and existing home sales, plus March home prices and minutes from the Fed’s last meeting

Recession is still very much a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact. Some economists are even taking at least a half-step back from their previous beliefs that a downturn is all but inevitable. So far, most of the economic data outside of homebuilding and house prices have not met the recession forecasters’ downbeat expectations. Businesses are reining in their capital spending, but not dramatically. Employment losses have not matched the size of those in past recessions. And even consumer spending through April, at least outside of flagging auto sales, is holding up far better than expected.

The issue will not be settled by the week’s relatively skimpy round of economic reports. On Monday, the Conference Board will release its April composite index of leading indicators, those that tend to foreshadow the economy’s future path. So far, the index has clearly forecasted a recession. It has fallen in five of the last six months, and over the past year it is down 2%, a drop that in the past has almost always signaled recession. However, the Board’s index of coincident indicators, those that track the economy’s current path, do not yet offer a confirming signal. This index peaked in October of last year, but the decline to date has been a miniscule 0.2%.

Economists on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee, the official arbiter of recessions and recoveries, consider the depth, breadth, and duration of any downturn. So far, of the key indicators the group follows, only payroll employment and industrial production have posted a clear pattern of decline. However, April industrial output was adversely affected by strike-related losses in the auto industry, and overall job losses have not been especially deep. Moreover, real gross domestic product has not fallen in even one quarter, let alone two. Of course, that could change later this summer when the Bureau of Economic Analysis issues its annual revisions to GDP. Around turning points in the economy, it’s not unusual for small pluses in GDP growth to end up small minuses after these comprehensive revisions.

Other reports of interest this week will be Tuesday’s data on producer prices, which are expected to keep inflation concerns on the radars of both investors and Federal Reserve policymakers. Prices of energy and food are expected to push wholesale prices up again, but not by as much as in March, while the core index, which excludes energy and food, is expected to remain tame.

Inflation concerns will also be a highlight of the minutes of the Fed’s April 29-30 meeting, due on Wednesday, given the dissenting votes by two officials against the Fed’s decision to cut rates. And at the end of the week, the markets will be looking at Thursday’s index of home prices from the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight and Friday’s data on sales of existing homes for any sign housing is stabilizing. However, the forecasters don’t expect any improvement.

Here’s the weekly economic calendar from Action Economics.

Top Economic Reports

Reports

Date

Time

For

Median Estimate

Last Period

Composite Index of Leading Indicators

Monday, May 19

10:00 a.m.

April

-0.1%

0.1%

Producer Price Index

Tuesday, May 20

8:30 a.m.

April

0.5%

1.1%

Producer Price Index (excluding food and energy)

Tuesday, May 20

8:30 a.m.

April

0.2%

0.2%

Existing Home Sales (millions)

Friday, May 22

10:00 a.m.

April

4.885

4.930

Other Reports and Events

Reports

Date

Time

For

ICSC-UBS Store Sales

Tuesday, May 20

7:45 a.m.

May 11-17

Johnson Redbook Weekly Store Sales

Tuesday, May 20

8:55 a.m.

May 11-17

Mortgage Applications

Wednesday, May 21

7:00 a.m.

May 11-17

Federal Reserve Meeting Minutes

Wednesday, May 21

2:00 p.m.

Apr. 29-30

Initial Unemployment Claims

Thursday, May 22

8:30 a.m.

May 11-17

OFHEO Home Price Index

Thursday, May 22

10:00 a.m.

March, Q1

SPEECH: Fed Governor Kroszner

Thursday, May 22

9:15 a.m.

Earnings Calendar

Company

Report Date

Campbell Soup

Monday, May 19

Lowe's

Monday, May 19

Analog Devices

Tuesday, May 20

Autozone

Tuesday, May 20

Hewlett-Packard

Tuesday, May 20

Home Depot

Tuesday, May 20

Intuit

Tuesday, May 20

Medtronic

Tuesday, May 20

Staples

Tuesday, May 20

Target

Tuesday, May 20

Computer Sciences

Wednesday, May 21

Ltd Brands

Wednesday, May 21

NetApp

Wednesday, May 21

GameStop

Thursday, May 22

The Gap

Thursday, May 22

Patterson

Thursday, May 22


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