Following three consecutive weekly gains, stocks closed down last week. Despite another drop in interest rates, news that a Chinese delegation involved in trade negotiations would be returning home earlier than expected worried investors and sent stocks spiraling downward. An attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia prompted a surge in crude oil prices, which had been falling over the past few weeks. By last week’s end, each of the benchmarks lost value, led by the small caps of the Russell 2000 and the large caps of the Dow, each of which dropped over 1.0%. It looks like volatility will be the operative word moving into the fall, as investors’ predilections will be driven by trade rhetoric between the United States and China.
LAST WEEK’S ECONOMIC HEADLINES
- The Federal Open Market Committee voted to reduce the federal funds rate range by 25 basis points to 1.75%-2.00%. The Committee has reduced the interest rate range by 50 basis points this year. There is some division within the Committee, however, as the vote at last week’s meeting was split 7 in favor of the rate reduction applied, 1 in favor of a 50 basis-point reduction, and 2 voting for no reduction. Nevertheless, the FOMC statement indicated that consumer spending was rising at a strong pace and job gains have been solid, but business spending and exports have weakened, while inflation continues to run below the Fed’s target rate of 2.00%. Whether the Committee adjusts rates again this year is up to conjecture. According to the latest published FOMC forecasts, of the 17 members of the Federal Reserve, 7 expect at least one more 25 basis-point cut, 5 would opt for no additional cuts, and 5 prefer to push rates back to 2.00%. It is also unclear to what degree pressure from President Trump to lower interest rates is impacting the Committee.
- Sales of existing homes advanced in August for the second consecutive month. Total existing home sales rose 1.3% in August after climbing 2.5% in July. Sales are up 2.6% from a year ago. The median existing home price in August was $278,200, down 0.9% from July’s median price of $280,800, but up 4.7% from August 2018 ($265,600). Total housing inventory at the end of August decreased to 1.86 million, down from 1.90 million existing homes available for sale in July and marking a 2.6% decrease from 1.91 million one year ago. Single-family home sales sat at an annual rate of 4.90 million in August, up from 4.84 million in July and up 2.9% from a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $280,700 in August 2019, up 4.7% from August 2018.
- New home construction geared up in August. Building permits increased 7.7% over July, housing starts advanced 12.3%, and new home completions increased 2.4%, with single-family home completions up 3.7%.
- For the week ended September 14, there were 208,000 claims for unemployment insurance, an increase of 2,000 from the previous week’s level, which was revised up by 2,000. According to the Department of Labor, the advance rate for insured unemployment claims remained at 1.2% for the week ended September 7. The advance number of those receiving unemployment insurance benefits during the week ended September 7 was 1,661,000, a decrease of 13,000 from the prior week’s level, which was revised up by 4,000.
EYE ON THE WEEK AHEAD
The third and final rendering of the gross domestic product for the second quarter is out this week. The second reading last month showed the economy grew at a rate of 2.0%. Also, out this week is the August report on personal income and outlays, the Fed’s preferred indicator of consumer spending and inflationary trends. In July, consumer spending (+0.6%) exceeded price growth of consumer goods and services (+0.2%).