Weekly Economic Update: March 4, 2019

The Markets (as of market close March 1, 2019)

The momentum stocks which have enjoyed positive returns since the beginning of the year waned some last week as investors took time to consider economic and trade developments. The tech-heavy Nasdaq gained the most, up almost 1.0%. At the other end of the spectrum was the Global Dow, which fell 0.15%. In between, the Dow and the Russell 2000 almost broke even, while the S&P 500 pushed ahead by about 0.4%. For the year, the major indexes listed here are still doing quite well. The Dow and S&P 500 are off to their best start to a year in over 30 years, while the Nasdaq has enjoyed 10 straight weeks of positive returns.


  • According to initial estimates, gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.6% in the fourth quarter of 2018. The third-quarter GDP increased 3.4%. Decelerations in private inventory investment, personal consumption expenditures, and federal, state, and local government spending pulled the GDP lower in the fourth quarter. On the plus side, exports and nonresidential (business) fixed investment increased from the third quarter. Imports, a negative in the calculation of GDP, fell in the fourth quarter, which helped push the GDP rate higher.
  • The personal income and outlays report are favored by the Federal Reserve as an inflation indicator. Due to the recent partial government shutdown, the current report combines estimates for income and outlays for December, but only income estimates for January. Consumer income rose 1.0% in December but fell 0.1% in January. Disposable, or after-tax, income dropped 0.2% in January after vaulting 1.1% in December. Wages and salaries climbed 0.5% in December and 0.3% in January. On the other hand, personal interest income advanced 0.6% in December but plummeted 1.3% in January. Dividend income rose 7.2% in December but fell 6.3% in January. Consumer spending decreased 0.5% in December. Consumers spent less on both goods and services in December. Within goods, recreational goods and vehicles was the leading contributor to the decrease. Within services, the largest contributor to the decrease was spending for household electricity and gas.
  • The latest report on new home construction from the Census Bureau is for December. Building permits were 0.3% higher over the last month of 2018 compared to November. However, single-family permits in December were 2.2% below the November figure. Home construction was also lagging in December. Housing starts for the month were 11.2% lower than November’s total. Single-family starts were 6.7% below November’s rate. Housing completions were 2.7% off in December, and single-family home completions were only 0.1% higher than in November.
  • For the week ended February 23, there were 225,000 new claims for unemployment insurance, an increase of 8,000 from the previous week’s level, which was revised up by 1,000. According to the Department of Labor, the advance rate for insured unemployment claims rose 0.1% to 1.3% for the week ended February 16. The advance number of those receiving unemployment insurance benefits during the week ended February 16 was 1,805,000, an increase of 79,000 from the prior week’s level, which was revised up by 1,000.


The employment figures for February are out this week. Over 300,000 new jobs were added in January, so a reduction is expected for February. Wage inflation has been tepid for the most part, rising a little over 3.0% in 2018. We remain optimistic about the economy, but the market has mostly moved on a positive expected outcome of the US China trade deal and a Federal Reserve that is not in raising interest rates until the data proves overwhelming.