Ick! America's economic signals are wildly mixedMarch 4, 2013: 9:15 AM ET
If you feel like economists are pushing and pulling you in different directions lately, it's because they are. I can't get them to agree on what's going on with American consumers right now.
Are we holding up solidly, in spite of the payroll tax hike? Or are we being squeezed by that and higher gas prices?
Here's the rundown on the conflicting signals:
YAY, WE'RE RECOVERING
- Existing and new home sales picked up in January
- Building permits – an indicator of future construction – hit their highest number in four years
- Stocks are at 5-year highs. Earnings were solid
- Auto sales are strong
- Manufacturing activity (measured by ISM) accelerated to its fastest pace in nearly two years
- Durable goods and factory orders (excluding defense and aircraft) rose in January. That's an indicator of future strength.
- The Consumer Confidence Index shows consumers are mostly upbeat
OMG, WE'RE BEING SQUEEZED
- Government spending cuts!
- Payroll tax hike
- Gas prices rose 10% in February (but not to worry – they're likely to decline in March)
- January consumer spending was weak
- Wal-Mart whined about its weak sales. Overall, retail sales were up in January, but slowed
- The saving rate declined
- Inflation is still subdued
- Job growth is steady, but still slow
- Fourth-quarter GDP growth was its weakest in 2 years