Will December’s Economic Momentum Survive The Month’s Final Updates?

The full profile of the U.S. economy for December is nearly complete, and so far the numbers continue to look mildly encouraging. It’s hardly a perfect report card, and we’re still waiting for some key numbers. But based on the data released so far, it appears that growth had the upper hand in the last month of 2011.

As the table below shows, 10 of the 14 economic reports for December that are available to date posted gains last month vs. November. Even better, 11 of the 14 were in the black on a year-over-year basis through December. Among the leading indicators, 6 or the 8 currently known reports for last last month are up vs. the year-earlier figures, suggesting that the expansion will roll on.
The next leading indicator update arrives this Thursday: the December reading on new orders for durable goods. In the previous update for November, new orders rose a tidy 3.7%, representing a gain of more than 12% from a year earlier. The consensus forecast for December’s report expects a lower but still positive 2.0% rise in December, according to Briefing.com. Thursday also brings word of the latest weekly initial jobless claims report, another crucial leading indicator. The burning question: Was last week’s sharp drop a statistical quirk? Or is it truly a sign of a stronger labor market? Stay tuned.
Meantime, next week’s scheduled update on consumer spending and income for December tops my list of potential trouble spots. The November numbers on this front looked weak, and more of the same for December could undermine the apparent revival in the labor market. For the moment, however, steady as she goes, but keep an eye out for statistical pirates.