Retail sales in May rose at a lesser rate than the crowd expected, but the year-over-year trend continues to advance at a 4%-plus pace, the Census Bureau reports. Spending ex-gasoline sales doesn’t alter the generally upbeat profile. The last two monthly changes, however, show a substantial deceleration in growth. Is this a sign of trouble for the all-important consumer-spending outlook? Maybe, but if it is we’ll see a more persuasive signal in the annual pace of retail sales in the months ahead. For now, it looks like nothing much has changed in terms of the trend.
The key takeaway in today’s release is that retail sales are up more than 4% on a year-over-year basis in each of the past three monthly reports. That’s the strongest three-month run since last year’s July-through-September period (based on averaging annual percent changes). The message is that moderate growth prevails. Today’s data doesn’t offer compelling evidence that positive momentum in the economy is accelerating, but it’s also hard to argue that the economy is slowing based on the latest figures in terms of annual changes.
As for today’s other release—jobless claims—the number of new filings for unemployment benefits ticked up 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 317,000 for the week through June 7. That’s the highest in three weeks, leaving the year-over-year change at a comparatively modest -5.9%. In sum, the latest numbers are a bit softer for claims as well. But it’s premature to say that the tide has turned in any meaningful way. Although a roughly 6% annual drop in claims is on the low side of what we’ve seen in recent history, it’s still within the range of healthy improvement for the labor market. Indeed, we’re still a long way from a genuinely dark sign for this leading indicator—a persistent rise on a year-over-year basis.
If you’re looking for something to worry about at the moment, oil is once again on the short list. The price of crude is sharply higher today, thanks to new violence in Iraq, Opec’s second-biggest producer. The situation is still fluid, as they say, and so it’s too early to know if the events on the ground will turn into a new phase of trouble for global economy. Some analysts are already fearing the worst, although the case for optimism isn’t quite dead yet. As CNN reports:
The upsurge in violence will keep a lid on exports from the north, but some experts say overall shipments from Iraq could rise further this year, driven by new production coming on stream in the south.
“Despite violence in the north, Iraqi exports based entirely on production from the southern fields are likely to hit a record 2.8 million [barrels per day] by the end of 2014,” noted Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa director at Eurasia Group.
In any case, it’s wise to keep a close eye on events in Iraq… again. If oil prices continue to rise, it may be time to reassess the outlook for macro and markets.