Job losses are increasing, but that hasn’t stopped Americans from spending and unfortunately that pretty much sums up American culture. Retail sales increased 1 percent in the month of January despite a sharp increased in jobless claims (Instant Insight on Retail Sales). Consumers took advantage of sharp January discounts and the bankruptcy of Circuit City.
This pace of spending cannot be sustained and skepticism towards future spending has driven the EUR/USD below 1.28. According to our technical analyst at FX360, intraday EUR/USD support is at 1.2785.
Also, here is why retail sales is increasing! This was the line at the Barney’s Warehouse Sale this morning in NY. At 7:11am, 50 people were on line and by 8, the line was down the block and around the corner. Luxury discounters are cutting prices significantly and if these people are lining up to shop today, it leads me to wonder, do they have a job?
For the 6th month in a row, US consumers have cut back spending. The December consumer spending data tells us that retailers had a very tough time this holiday shopping season. Consumers reduced their spending by 2.7 percent but if you take out year end deals in the auto sector, retail sales actually fell 3.1 percent, the largest decline in at least 16 years. The Grinch really stole Christmas this year and no one is happy about it. Lower gasoline prices continued to drive down gas station receipts, but weaker spending was seen across the board. The worry now is that more retailers will be forced to file for bankrupcty protection and the latest consumer spending reinforces those fears. With more than 1 million Americans out of work in the last 2 months, concern about job security lead to more nimble shopping over the Christmas holidays.
Import prices dropped for the fifth month in a row, but by less than the market had expected.
Expect fourth quarter GDP to be very weak. Retail sales is one of the primary inputs to GDP and the sharp drop in consumer spending suggests that GDP could have fallen as much as 4 percent. The dollar should continue to weaken against the Japanese Yen but the Euro has its own host of problems. There are reports that Ireland may call in the IMF if the economy weakens. This is yet another reason why the ECB could cut interest rates on Thursday.
I have spoke often about the consequences of a strong currency. In the case of the US, the weak dollar in the first half of the year has helped to contribute to Q2 and for some Q3 corporate earnings as well. However I strongly believe that Q4 earnings will be very bad. Partly because of the global recession and partly because of the strong US dollar.
There is an article in the Wall Street Journal today titled “Stronger Dollar Cools Sales in Overseas Hot Spots” that talk about this same theme.
But I want to show you their charts on US exports:
And now take a look at a chart of the Dollar Index:
Do you see the correlation?
Also, the strength of the Japanese Yen is a big reason why Toyota is forecasting their first loss in 7 DECADES!!
US retail sales and producer prices were basically in line with expectations but that does not undermine the fact that the data was very weak and confirms that the Federal Reserve will be cutting interest rates by 75bp next week. USD/JPY hit a 13 year low last night after news that the automaker bailout plan is not going happen before the new year. Everyone had hoped that the automaker saga would come to an end, but lawmakers are not letting that happen. On Wednesday, I said that USD/JPY could hit to a new 13 year. At that time, the currency pair was trading at 92.50-93.00. The possibility of the US taking interest rates below Japanese levels should keep the US dollar soft going into the Fed interest rate decision on Tuesday.
Consumer spending fell for the fifth month in a row while producer prices dropped for the second straight month. The two biggest inputs into GDP are retail sales and trade. Consumers cut back spending more aggressively in October and November which suggests that GDP growth could take a big dive in the fourth quarter, especially with the widening of the trade deficit.
GDP Could Contract by 4 to 6% in Q4
GDP could decline as much as 4 to 6 percent in Q4, which would be the largest contraction in growth since the 1980s. In the first quarter of 1982, GDP fell -6.4 percent. A 4 to 6 percent drop in GDP would not be out of the ordinary given the current conditions in the US economy. In the fourth quarter of 1990, GDP contracted by 3 percent and in the first quarter of 1991, it contracted by 2 percent. The currrent recession is worse than the one the US economy experienced in the 1990s, so a contraction in growth exceeding 3 percent would actually be expected.
The biggest drop in consumer spending came from gasoline station receipts. Prices at the pump have fallen more than 50 percent since the summer and gas stations are suffering as a result. The only silver lining in the retail sales report is the fact that not every sector saw slower sales. Electronics and sporting goods were in demand but this rebound after at least 4 consecutive months of softer spending is probably related to Black Friday sales.
BTW: EUR/GBP is at the brink of hitting 90 cents – a move that I called on Dec 8
The two biggest inputs into GDP are consumer spending and trade. Therefore the 2.8 percent decline in retail sales and the surprise widening of the trade deficit in the month of October suggests that GDP growth could take a big dive in the fourth quarter.
Word on the street is that some economists are calling for GDP to decline as much as 4 to 6 percent in Q4, which would be the largest contraction in growth since the 1980s. In the first quarter of 1982, GDP fell -6.4 percent. A 4 to 6 percent drop in GDP would not be out of the ordinary given the current conditions in the US economy. In the fourth quarter of 1990, GDP contracted by 3 percent and in the first quarter of 1991, it contracted by 2 percent.
If you agree that the current recession is worse than the one in the 1990s, then it would be logical to expect a contraction in growth exceeding 3 percent.
Don’t Expect Retail Sales and Producer Prices to Help
Retail sales and producer prices for the month of November are due for release tomorrow. Another large decline in consumer spending will only support our thesis that GDP will see a big contraction in the fourth quarter. All of the leading indicators for retail sales that we follow point to very weak consumer spending last month despite stronger Black Friday sales. SpendingPulse, the retail data service of MasterCard Inc. reported that retail sales excluding autos dropped by the largest amount in 5 years. Chain store sales as measured by the International Council of Shopping Centers also dropped by 2.7 percent last month, the largest decline in at least 8 years. Don’t forget that November was also the month that non-farm payrolls fell 533k. Americans were more worried about keeping their jobs last month than spending liberally.
The Treasury market is already pricing in the possibility of deflation and depression with yields in zero to negative territory for the first time since the Great Depression. Although we don’t think that the US will fall into a depression, the data certainly supports tougher times ahead for the US economy.