Weekly Economic Update: May 20, 2019

The Markets (as of market close May 17, 2019)

Investors were heading for the hills early last week as stocks suffered their worst day on Monday following China’s announcement that it would impose an additional $60 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports. Stocks for several companies with direct ties to China were hit particularly hard. The markets rebounded, but not enough to overcome the poor start early in the week. Helping to ease investors’ concerns over trade tensions, the Trump administration indicated that it would delay a decision on whether to impose tariffs on auto and parts imports. Then, last Friday afternoon, the administration announced that it had reached an agreement with Canada and Mexico that would end U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Nevertheless, each of the benchmark indexes listed here lost value by last week’s end, led by the Russell 2000 and the Nasdaq. Year-to-date, the Nasdaq continues to lead the pack, ahead of its 2018.


  • Retail sales fell 0.2% in April, but are still 3.1% above April 2018. Food and beverage store sales rose 0.2% in April, and gas station sales jumped 1.8%. However, building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers saw sales drop 1.9% last month, electronics and appliance store sales fell 1.3%, and sales for motor vehicle and parts dealers decreased 1.1%. Nonstore (online) retail sales lost 0.2% in April, but are up 9.0% from April 2018.
  • According to the Federal Reserve, the manufacturing sector slowed considerably in April. Overall, industrial production fell 0.5% last month, as did manufacturing. Not surprisingly, capacity utilization, which estimates sustainable potential output, dropped 0.6 percentage point from its March rate.
  • New home sales should continue to gain traction in May if April’s report on housing starts is any indication. According to the Census Bureau, issued building permits increased by 0.6% in April, while housing starts jumped 5.7% over March’s total. Home completions lagged (down 1.4%), but that could be attributable to April’s inclement weather across much of the country.
  • According to the Department of Labor, there were 212,000 claims for unemployment insurance for the week ended May 11, a decrease of 16,000 from the previous week’s level. The advance rate for insured unemployment claims remained at 1.2% for the week ended May 4. The advance number of those receiving unemployment insurance benefits during the week ended May 4 was 1,660,000, a decrease of 28,000 from the prior week’s level, which was revised up by 4,000.


The housing sector is in the news this week with the April figures for sales of both new and existing homes on tap. New home sales have picked up the past few months, but sales of existing properties have dragged, primarily due to scant inventory and rising prices. At BWFA we continue to monitor the economy and trade related issues surrounding the markets for our clients.