Last Week’s Economic News in Review

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Retail sales took a tumble and consumer prices were up, but not as far as expected. Meanwhile, layoffs enjoyed a nice drop.

Retail Sales

Retail sales for March dropped 0.3 percent to $446.9 billion, according to last week’s report from the Census Bureau. That said, compared annually, March’s retail sales were up 1.7 percent from March 2015.

Some key drivers for March’s downward performance were auto dealers, which saw a 2.3 percent drop; clothing and accessory stores, which fell 0.8 percent; food and drinking establishments, which were off by 0.8 percent; and department stores, which were down 0.6 percent.

“We’re having a little bit of a soft patch here for the consumer, with no obvious rationale,” Michael Feroli, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief U.S. economist, told Bloomberg. “It’s definitely a softer start to the year. Provided job gains remain as strong as they’ve been, we expect consumer spending should be okay.”

Some encouraging retail categories were building supply and garden stores, which were up 1.4 percent; health and personal care stores, which grew 1 percent; and gas stations, which posted a 0.9 percent gain.

Consumer Price Index

In related news, the Consumer Price Index grew 0.1 percent in March, which was off from the 0.3 percent the market had expected, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week. Similarly, the index for all items except energy and food — often referred to as core inflation — grew 0.1 percent, as well.

Some key indexes that saw pronounced change were the energy index, which was up 0.9 percent, and the gasoline index, which was up 2.2 percent. Meanwhile, the food index was down 0.2 percent. Also, apparel prices were down 1.1 percent, while shelter and transportation services were both up 0.2 percent.

Initial Jobless Claims

Layoffs fell to their lowest level since 1973 as initial jobless claims dropped well past market expectations. First-time claims for unemployment benefits filed by the newly unemployed tumbled to 253,000, a plummet of 13,000 claims from the prior week’s total of 266,000, the Employment and Training Administration reported last week. This was well below market expectations of 268,000 claims.

”Not every element of the economy is performing as well as the labor market, but that piece of the puzzle remains rock solid,” Amherst Pierpont Securities Chief Economist Stephen Stanley told the Wall Street Journal.

The four-week moving average — considered a more stable gauge of how lay-offs are performing — ticked down to 265,000 claims, a drop of 1,500 claims from the preceding week’s average of 266,500 claims.

This week we can expect:

  • Tuesday — Building permits and housing starts for March from the Census Bureau.
  • Wednesday — Existing home sales for March from the National Association of Realtors.
  • Thursday — Initial jobless claims for last week from the Employment and Training Administration.
  • Friday — Leading economic indicators for March from The Conference Board.