The monthly data widely reported this week was mixed. New home sales hit an all-time low, just barely. Essentially for the last year they have trended sideways. Consumer sentiment about the present ticked higher, but expectations - a leading indicator - ticked lower. Another leading indicator, durable goods orders, increased 0.5% and was the third increase in a row. January's number was revised higher, to a 3.9% increase. The GDP for last quarter was revised slightly lower, to 5.6%.
One item that got little notice, but seems particularly noteworthy, was the report by Edmunds.com that
An early look at March auto sales indicates that sales are currently pacing at a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate, or SAAR, of 13.2 million, according to Edmunds.com, the premier resource for automotive information.This is only an estimate, of course, but if it close to correct, that will be the highest monthly sales since September 2008 ex-cash for clunkers. Even averaging March with February because of the Toyota issue would yield strong back-to-back sales of about 12 million SAAR, well above the 9 million SAAR low last year.
"The industry has been recharged by incentives offers from Toyota and other automakers," observed Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell. "There is a lot of money in the marketplace right now, and people are responding."
Update: The American Trucking Association reported that its
Truck Tonnage Index dipped 0.5 percent in February followed a revised 1.9 percent (previously reported 3.1 percent) January gain....The weekly indicators varied from warm to downright hot. The ICSC reported same store sales for last week were up +0.1% YoY and +3.7% YoY. In a similar vein, Shoppertrak reported sales up 0.3% for last week and 1.8% YoY.
Despite the sequential decrease, the ATA said the SA was up 2.6 percent year-over-year, marking the third straight year-over-year gain. The ATA added that for the first two months of 2010, SA tonnage was up 3.5 percent compared to the same timeframe a year ago.
The E.I.A. weekly report showed gasoline prices increasing again to $2.82 a gallon. Gasoline demand is running equal with last year in the reported text, but the accompanying graph shows it ahead of last year(?!?).
The BLS reported that last week's initial jobless claims totaled 442,000. The 4 week moving average was 453,750. As I said yesterday, the unadjusted number confirms that this time, there is no seasonal distortion detracting from the good number, and it strongly suggests that the continuing trend of initial claims is downward. (P.S.: Someone asked about the revision in reporting without which the number would have been 11,000 higher. It was right in the report. I saw it. I don't consider it material, and it doesn't change my opinion. Go look at the 4-week moving average).
Two reports were of particular note.
In the first, Railfax reported another strong week for rail traffic. All four elements of traffic - baseline, intermodal, cyclical, and total – are increasing, and increasing at a rate faster than last year. Three of the four continue to exceed last year, and baseline traffic now equals last year’s volume on a 4-week moving average basis. Additionally:
“Crushed Stone and Lumber are the two leading indicators of new construction (commercial and residential). Tracking these two economically sensitive commodities gives an up to the minute view of future construction.”For the first time, both of these are higher YoY, and are increasing as well.
In the second, the Daily Treasury Statement showed $140.1B in withholding taxes paid through March 24. For the same number of days in March 2009, $136.2B was paid. We are currently ahead +$3.9B or 3% for March to date. In a 4 week rolling average basis, we have also pulled ahead for the first time since late 2008: $150.0B vs. $147.0B, for a $3.0B or +2.0% gain YoY. Some but not all of this may reflect census hiring.
As I said yesterday, the signs are accumulating that this will be the month where we actually show job growth.