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Economic Update 01/21/14

INFLATION RISES IN DECEMBER

Labor Department reports showed the Consumer Price Index up 0.3% last month (with core CPI rising 0.1%) and the Producer Price Index advancing 0.4% (core PPI went north 0.3%). If these spikes foreshadow greater inflation for 2014, they do little to alter the big picture of 2013 – a year in which consumer prices increased only 1.5% and wholesale prices rose just 1.2%. Annualized consumer inflation is beneath the Federal Reserve’s 2.0% target and hasn’t exceeded 2% for two years. The last two consecutive years in which consumer prices rose less than 2% were 1997-98.

A MILD LIFT FOR RETAILERS

Economists polled by Briefing.com thought retail sales would be flat in December. They rose 0.2% instead (0.7% with auto buying factored out). The Census Bureau revised November’s 0.7% advance down to 0.4%.

CONSUMER SENTIMENT MISSES EXPECTATIONS

The initial January consumer sentiment index from the University of Michigan took a major dip, dropping to 80.4 from the final December figure of 82.5. The consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Briefing.com was for a much higher reading – 83.0.

LESS GROUNDBREAKING AT YEAR’S END

This is hardly surprising given winter weather: the Census Bureau reported a 9.8% drop in housing starts for December, plus a 3.0% decline in building permits. For 2013, housing starts increased 18.3% and permits 17.5%.

NASDAQ OUT OF THE RED YTD

Thanks to a 0.55% 5-day advance, the tech-heavy Nasdaq became the first of the big three to go positive so far for 2014. The Dow gained 0.13% last week; the S&P 500 retreated 0.20%. Friday, the indices settled as follows: DJIA, 16,458.56; NASDAQ, 4,197.58; S&P, 1,838.70.

THIS WEEK: Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and U.S. stock and bond markets are closed; overseas, China’s government releases Q4 and 2013 GDP numbers. Tuesday brings earnings from Delta Airlines, Texas Instruments, Verizon, Halliburton, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, TD Ameritrade and The Travelers. More earnings reports arrive Wednesday from eBay, Logitech, Netflix and SanDisk, and the annual World Economic Forum begins in Switzerland. Thursday offers data on December existing home sales and initial jobless claims, Q4 results from Altera and Alaska Airlines and the Conference Board’s December leading indicators index. Friday, nothing major is scheduled.

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