A Mixed Bag Of Economic News For October

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, the government released three major economic reports today: income & spending, initial jobless claims, and new orders for durable goods. Overall, the numbers show an economy that continues to struggle. There’s just enough growth in the latest data points to keep the debate open about what happens next, but the macro trend still looks precarious no matter how you spin the numbers.

The strongest number is disposable personal income (DPI), which rose 0.3% in October—its highest monthly increase since March. The engine here is the stronger growth in private sector wages over the last two months. That’s certainly good news, but more of the same is needed in the months ahead to reverse the slowing growth in the year-over-year change. There’s still a relatively wide divergence between the growth rates of income and spending, as the chart below shows. Even worse, both series are slowing vs. their respective year-earlier figures. The downshift is especially severe for DPI. Today’s news on income takes the worries down a notch, but it remains to be seen if the revival can withstand the blowback from the deepening euro crisis and the budget wrangling in Washington.

Alas, there’s no assistance today with initial jobless claims, which rose a slight 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 393,000. That’s not horrible, but we’re at a critical juncture (again) with new claims. The burning question: Is the recent downtrend signaling better times ahead for the labor market? Today’s report doesn’t tell us much one way or the other.

The charitable view is that weekly claims numbers leave room for optimism, but the year-over-year change in the unadjusted series of new filings for unemployment benefits is looking worrisome as the trend drifts higher.

Another problem is the latest dip in new orders for durable goods, which slipped 0.7% in October on a seasonally adjusted basis—the second monthly decline in a row. The broader trend appears to be grinding lower as well.

Keep in mind too that October’s reports don’t fully reflect the deeper troubles in Europe or the stalemate in Washington over budget cuts, both of which took a turn for the worse in November. If the economic numbers for October are a mixed bag, it’s hard to see how November’s updates will fare any better and offer clarity on the side of growth. Instead, it seems as though we’re in for a rough stretch of economic news as the year winds down.