Durable Goods Orders were reported unchanged in October. So is it a bad economic signal or just a monthly anomaly? You'll find the answer in the paragraphs that follow.
Durable Goods Orders were unchanged in October, and September's rapid rise was revised lower to +9.2%, from the initially reported +9.9%. No change month-to-month after such a huge increase the month before shouldn't be something we complain about. It should in fact be expected, but there were several things that bothered me about the report and should also concern the rest of the investment community.
We always look beyond the headline figure in our study of the durable goods data, because of the high ticket costs of transportation goods. These high ticket prices skew the data. That is evident in the latest data, with durable goods orders less transportation up 1.5% month-to-month (versus the much bigger change in the headline figure), after marking a 1.7% (revised) increase in September. Considering the information less transportation, the report would seem much less concerning. It's also notable that each discussed data point exceeded economists' expectations, with the ex-transportation forecast average set at negative 0.4%.
However, all is not well. I say this because of the year-to-year change in durable goods orders less transportation. This data line was down 1.8% (revised) in September and lower by 2.3% in October. With the trend continuing through the two month period, we see that there is an issue year-to-year, and it likely marks important economic decline. I think it's safe to say Europe has weighed against American multi-nationals more this year than last year, with Germany and France both contaminated now. It has also been evidenced by the reported numbers and warnings by industrial players including the likes of Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT). Caterpillar's outlook and EPS estimates have come down substantially, and other stalwart industrials like General Electric (NYSE:GE) have seen analysts adjust EPS estimates downward as well.
Looking more closely at the data, we see that when excluding the defense industry, new orders only rose by 0.1%. Knowing that the fiscal cliff issue and sequestration pressures defense spending, this data proves meaningful as a predictor. It's because defense spending is likely to decrease further, barring a new and major war, and so some of the supports of durable goods orders and American industry could be removed. The earnings outlooks of Honeywell (NYSE:HON), General Dynamics (NYSE:GD) and others have seen appropriate adjustment as a result. More of the American manufacturing workforce may be displaced as a these companies act to protect the investment interests of their shareholder owners. It is concerning without a replacement channel for workers, and alternative energy is not filling production lines in the U.S. just yet, though domestic energy production is offering some support.
Nondefense new orders for capital goods, an area seen as an integral economic indicator and a measure of business capital investment, rose by 0.8% in October. Also, nondefense capital goods orders excluding for civilian aircraft from the likes of Boeing (NYSE:BA), which has done relatively well over the last few years, rose by a solid 1.7%.
Looking at industry specifics, orders for computers and electronic products increased by 0.9%, as Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) reinvention of computing has driven demand for tablets and new types of computing products, supporting economic activity, but is creating more jobs overseas than at home in my view. Still, the quality of life at home has improved in some respect, and other ancillary job opportunities have resulted beyond the manufacturing of these goods; for instance, in the design and marketing of applications of these products. New order activity in this segment appears to be seasonal, given the prior two months of decline and on recent new product introductions from Apple and competitors ahead of the holiday shopping season. New orders for appliances and electronic equipment were up 4.1% after a similar decline the month before, certainly supported by reviving real estate and on demand for the appliances that fill homes. Demand for flat screen televisions is also robust, as homeowners replace old technology as product prices come down.
The auto industry saw a lull in October, with new orders down 1.6% after a 1.9% decline the month before. Still, Ford (NYSE:F) and General Motors (NYSE:GM) will continue to benefit from burgeoning demand for autos in Asia, especially as Japanese tensions are exacerbated with China over territorial issues.
In totality, I'm concerned about the latest durable goods orders data, especially when considering what the effects of likely higher taxes for some in the United States will have on demand. Europe's ongoing decline and its lightening demand for American exports remain troubling as well. And so the answer to my rhetorical question is, yes, there is a negative signal in the latest Durable Goods Orders Report.