With any luck, the stock market will be off to a strong start in September, gaining support from today's bevy of encouraging economic data. The positive data -- including the Chicago Manufacturing Index and consumer spending numbers -- has not lifted the market much today, though likely because it's the last Friday of August and the start of a holiday weekend.
But the beat goes on: The Purchasing Management Index (PMI) from Chicago, which measures results in the Midwest, rose to 58.9 last month, up from 55.9 and topping the 55.5 estimate. A number above 50 indicates economic expansion. Today's 58.9 is the highest reading since May 2002 and, more significantly, the fourth increase in a row, indicating steam building in the economy.
Additional encouragement came from the employment component of the index, which rose to 51.2 from 46.0, showing regional job expansion rather than contraction. These numbers bolstered Thursday's Commerce Department report, which said the U.S. economy grew a surprisingly strong 3.1% annualized in the three months ended June (during which time, not coincidentally, the stock market began to recover).
Meanwhile, consumer spending remained strong in July, rising 0.8%, with the pedal to the metal in auto sales, especially. Consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy, was buttressed during the recession by mortgage refinancings (which are drying up) and tax cuts. A second round of cuts added about 1% to the average take-home pay this summer.
On the heels of the strong data, some analysts are projecting a robust turnaround for the second half of this year, saying the U.S. economy could grow at upwards of 6% annualized. Whether this happens or not, the fact that, at around 6%, unemployment has remained relatively low compared to other recessions supports the argument that we're closer to strength than weakness.
Bonds sold off on today's news and long-term yields jumped nearly five basis points, with 30-year yields rising to 5.25% and the 10-year rising to 4.46%. Falling bonds, rising stocks, at least regional cases of steadying unemployment, healthy consumer spending, and numbers showing economic expansion -- it all might point to a classic turnaround. Here's hoping.
On Tuesday, we'll see August Institute for Supply Management (ISM) numbers. A reading of 53.0, up from 51.8, is expected.