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Archive for March, 2016

Applying the High-tech Wizardry of Sparklines to Economic Data

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

Yes, I’m an economist first, but in my secondary role as ‘tech whiz’ – my wife and kids would guffaw at that assertion – I’ve come across an exciting feature of standard Excel spreadsheets that I feel must be shared with you.

Of course, there’s always the danger that I’ve finally clued in to something everybody else has known about for years. However, I’ve asked around and it seems most people aren’t yet aware of a tool called ‘Sparklines’ that is highly worthwhile.

And neat and cool and easy to use.

Let’s suppose you have a ‘wall’ of data, such as appears in Table 1 that accompanies this Economy at a Glance. I’ve included the row numbers and column letters for ease of explanation.

The statistics in cells ‘C2’ diagonally to ‘O22’ are percent changes of U.S. put-in-place construction investment, latest 12-month averages versus previous 12-month averages.

Retail Sales Story in U.S. and Canada is a Twisty Narrative

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

Obtaining a proper read on retail sales in the U.S. and Canada these days has been made harder  by the sharp drop in gasoline prices, -20.7% year over year south of the border and -13.1% on the north side.

As a result, February’s cash register ‘take’ by gas station operators in the U.S. was -15.6% year over year, while in Canada, in January, it was -7.1%. (Retail sales data from Statistics Canada consistently lags results from the Census Bureau by a month.)

Therefore, U.S. retail sales in February that were +3.1% year over year in total including gas station billings, were a much better +4.8% without them.

Similarly in Canada, an already good jump in total retail sales in January of +6.8% improved to an outstanding +7.3% when sales at the pump were omitted.


U.S. Housing Starts Forecasts and Long-term Graphs

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

CMD’s latest U.S. housing starts forecasts appear in Table 1 of this Economy at a Glance and the patterns for ‘total’, ‘single-family’ and ‘multi-family’ are readily apparent from the three accompanying graphs.

Charts showing the long-term regional results for Northeast, Midwest, South and West can be found in the web version of this story (please provide link). All the graphs include a dotted trend line as provided by Excel.

Huge pent-up demand for U.S. new housing construction has been accumulating since 2007.

That’s ten years, or a decade, with residential groundbreakings in a crater that descended as steep as only about half a million units in 2009. (They pinnacled at 2.1 million in 2006.)


U.S. Economy Adds Nearly One-quarter of a Million Jobs in February

Monday, March 7th, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

A significant milestone has just been reached in the U.S. labor market. For the latest week ending February 27th, America’s initial jobless claims figure was less than 300,000 for the 52nd week in a row.


That’s a whole year of strong success in keeping the number of people newly unemployed quite low. (In the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the number topped off at 670,000.)


Falling below their 300,000 benchmark level, rosy initial jobless claims automatically imply encouraging news from the Employment Situation Report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).


The BLS has just reported that in February, the total number of jobs in the U.S. rose by 242,000, where a gain of 200,000 or more is considered bullish.


The national unemployment rate stayed below 5.0% at 4.9%, the same as in January. A year ago, it had been 5.5%.


In another positive sign, the proportion of working-age people who actively sought employment in February moved a little higher, to 62.9%. This measure is called the ‘participation rate’ and it usually picks up when job prospects are good.


(On the flip side, when job prospects are abysmal, people stop looking for work and the result is a ‘discouraged worker’ effect.)


That’s Not How Things are Usually Done

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Article source: CMDGroup

Okay, I admit it, I’m flummoxed.

I’m supposed to be writing about the economy, but how can I stay focused in the midst of a U.S. presidential election campaign.

Voting day may still be eight months away, in November, but there are distractions galore in the surround-sound coverage of the primaries and caucuses.

The economy has become a side-show event compared with what is going on in the electoral center ring.

Over the past decade-plus, the differences between the Democrats and Republicans have become deeper and more firmly entrenched.

Positions on the left and right have turned inflexible. Celebrity commentators in the media have played roles in marshalling legions of strident supporters.

Policy stances have proven intractable, yielding gridlock in Washington.

The crop that’s now being harvested is a disdain for politics as normally practiced.

Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton has been hard pressed to establish a lead over her rival, Bernie Sanders, a man who doesn’t hesitate to label himself a socialist.

On the Republican side, the candidacy of Donald Trump was supposed to peter out by last September, according to almost all the pundits.


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