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The U.S. Economic Month at a Glance: November 2, 2012

An Improving Economy in the Lead Up to the Election

The U.S. economy continues to chug along at a 2 to 2.5 per cent pace. Most indicators suggest that while the economy is improving, it will continue to require support from monetary authorities as well as Congress and the president, whoever that may be. Once the November 6 election is over, the government must get back to work quickly to ensure that the economy doesn’t tumble off the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the beginning of 2013. We expect real GDP to expand by a modest 2.4 per cent next year, assuming that the government takes the necessary steps to lower future deficits to more sustainable levels while not pushing the economy over the fiscal cliff.1

Hurricane Sandy’s impact on fourth-quarter GDP will depend on how quickly repairs can be made to badly damaged infrastructure in many parts of the Northeast. Initial estimates suggest that the economic loss attributable to the storm will range from $10 billion to $20 billion. Because the storm hit the Northeast coast during a weekday and was very slow moving, the value of output lost due to interruptions in business will probably exceed the cost of damaged property. Some businesses—from New York City down to parts of Virginia—have been closed since the storm hit on October 29. Many homes are still without electricity. And air, rail, and subway services have been severely curtailed. The Northeast region accounts for some 10 per cent of U.S. GDP, implying that the loss in output and household spending will be significant.

Hurricane Sandy’s impact on fourth-quarter GDP will depend on how quickly repairs can be made to badly damaged infrastructure in many parts of the Northeast.

There was a slight improvement in real GDP growth in the third quarter of this year. The economy expanded at a 2 per cent pace, up from a gain of only 1.3 per cent in the second quarter. The improvement was mainly a result of higher consumer and government spending. As well, a narrowing of the U.S. trade deficit meant net exports were less of a drag on the economy. The economy will continue to expand at a modest pace over the near term, with growth accelerating to 3 per cent by the end of 2013. This depends crucially on Congress and the administration successfully avoiding the fiscal cliff and implementing a credible plan for fiscal sustainability. An agreement between Congress and the White House should set the stage for a pick-up in hiring as some of the uncertainty weighing on businesses starts to recede.

The long-anticipated improvement in housing markets has finally arrived, and this will boost the economy’s growth prospects over the short term. While sales of existing homes weakened somewhat in September, they remain well above where they were in the spring and early summer of this year. Other signs of a strengthening market include a drop in the monthly supply of homes on the market to levels consistent with a housing market that is finally returning to some sort of normality. Even more encouraging is that the supply of distressed homes is diminishing, a development that should help stabilize home prices in many regions of the country. (Homes in foreclosure have generally sold for 25 per cent below market, and this factor has put downward pressure on home prices since the market collapsed in 2009.)

The housing market will receive a lift from the latest employment numbers. A higher-than-expected 171,000 new jobs were created in October and the unemployment rate remained below 8 per cent for the second straight month. Also encouraging was the fact that job figures for both August and September were revised up by 84,000. Construction and manufacturing positions increased and there were also gains in many sectors of the service industry. Confidence in the labour market is slowly improving, as evidenced by the increase in new entrants into the labour market and the number of workers who are quitting their positions voluntarily. We expect the economy to generate around 2.5 million new jobs in 2013, up from an estimated 2 million in 2012.

1   “Fiscal cliff” refers to a series of tax increases and spending cuts that are set to take effect automatically at the start of 2013 if Congress and the White House fail to agree on a new economic policy. The measures would remove hundreds of billions of dollars from the economy and could send it back into recession.

U.S. Data Released to November 2, 2012

Monthly growth rates
(unless otherise indicated)
Latest month
One mo. ago
Two mos. ago
Three mos. ago
Four mos. ago
Five mos. ago
Six mos. ago
month avg.
Leading indicators
Consumer confidence (1) Oct. 72.2 68.4 61.3 65.4 62.7 64.4 68.7 66.1
Institute for Supply
Management (PMI) (1)
Oct. 51.7 51.5 49.6 49.8 49.7 53.5 54.8 51.5
Domestic demand
Personal consumption Sept. 0.79 0.54 0.39 –0.02 –0.17 0.24 0.26 0.29
Personal income Sept. 0.36 0.13 0.16 0.31 0.26 0.16 0.48 0.27
Real personal disposable income Sept. 0.36 0.13 0.16 0.29 0.25 0.15 0.47 0.26
Savings rate (1) Sept. 3.3 3.7 4.1 4.4 4.1 3.6 3.7 3.8
Retail sales Sept. 1.24 1.27 0.77 –0.79 –0.10 –0.63 0.30 0.29
Motor vehicle sales (1)
(million units, annualized)
Oct. 14.3 14.9 14.5 14.1 14.4 14.0 13.9 14.3
Housing starts (1) (000s) Sept. 872 758 728 754 706 747 706 753
Industrial production Sept. 0.41 –1.38 0.65 0.03 0.05 0.83 –0.60 0.00
Capacity utilization rate (1) Sept. 78.3 78.0 79.2 78.8 78.9 79.0 78.4 78.7
CPI (Y/Y) Sept. 2.0 1.7 1.4 1.7 1.7 2.3 2.6 1.9
Core CPI (Y/Y) Sept. 2.0 1.9 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.3 2.3 2.2
Producer price index (Y/Y) Sept. 2.2 2.0 0.5 0.8 0.7 1.8 2.8 1.5
Labour market
Employment (000s) (2) Oct. 171 148 192 181 45 87 68 127
Unemployment rate (1) Oct. 7.9 7.8 8.1 8.3 8.2 8.2 8.1 8.1
Credit market
Federal funds rate (1) Sept. 0.14 0.13 0.16 0.16 0.16 0.14 0.13 0.15
90–day Treasury bill rate (1) Sept. 0.11 0.10 0.10 0.09 0.09 0.08 0.08 0.10
30–year Treasury note (1) Sept. 2.88 2.77 2.59 2.70 2.93 3.18 3.28 2.84
(1) Level
(2) Level change
n.a. = not applicable
Sources: The Conference Board of Canada; U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Labour Markets

Labour market charts for November 2012

Income and Consumption

Income and consumption charts for November 2012


Prices charts for November 2012

Consumer Markets

Consumer market charts for November 2012

Financial Markets

Financial market charts for November 2012

Business Markets

Business market charts for November 2012

Forecasts and research often involve numerous assumptions and data sources, and are subject to inherent risks and uncertainties. This information is not intended as specific investment, accounting, legal, or tax advice.
Sources: The Conference Board of Canada; Moody's

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Kip Beckman Kip Beckman
Principal Research Associate
Forecasting and Analysis

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