In August, US retail sales rose for a second straight month. Retail sales rose by 0.9% M/M, marginally stronger than the expected 0.8% M/M increase, while the previous figure was downwardly revised from 0.8% M/M to 0.6% M/M. The breakdown is somewhat disappointing strength was led by gasoline stations sales (5.5% M/M) due to higher gasoline prices, and sales of motor vehicles and parts (1.3% M/M). Retail sales excluding autos and gas increased only 0.1% M/M, while a rise by 0.4% M/M was expected. Within the core component, sales of building materials (1.0% M/M) and eating and drinking (0.5% M/M) rose significantly during the month, while sales of electronics (-1.4% M/M), general merchandise (-0.3% M/M) and clothing weakened in August. The control group weakened by 0.1% M/M, while a decent 0.4% M/M increase was forecast. After a strong increase in July, US retail sales disappointed again in August, indicating that Americans remain still cautious in their spending behaviour as unemployment remains high and the future is still uncertain with the upcoming elections and fiscal cliff probably weighing on consumers’ minds.
In August, US industrial production fell at its fastest pace since early 2009. On a monthly basis, industrial production dropped by 1.2% M/M, while a stabilization was expected. The previous figure was downwardly revised from 0.6% M/M to 0.5% M/M. The breakdown shows that weakness was broad-based and led by production of vehicles and parts, which fell by 4.0% M/M. Also utility (-3.6% M/M) and mining (-1.8% M/M) production fell sharply, while more limited but still significant declines were registered in production of machinery (-0.8% M/M) and computers and electronics (-0.7% M/M). Capacity utilization fell significantly too, from 79.2% to 78.2%. While part of the weakness might have been caused by the tropical storm Isaac, it was surely not the whole story. The overall report is weak probably due to poor demand from abroad and as firms remain cautious due to the uncertain economic outlook.
According to the first estimate, U. of Michigan consumer confidence surged higher in September. The headline index rose from 74.3 to 79.2, while a slight worsening in consumer sentiment was expected. The breakdown shows that consumers became optimistic about the outlook as the economic outlook sub-index rose from 65.1 to 73.4, while sentiment about the economic conditions stayed broadly stable (88.3 from 88.7). The strength of the Michigan consumer confidence indicator is quite remarkable especially as other consumer confidence indicators are rather poor. We believe it might be due to the positive sentiment on financial markets, rather than the economic outlook.