By Carlos Guillen
Stocks are sliding so far during today's trading session as Wall Street gets past the Fed's decision to continue its stimulus trajectory, and overall better than expected economic data presented earlier in the session has not been able to drive stocks higher.
Perhaps a bit encouraging today, but failing to enthuse investors, was that while data showed the number of people filing for unemployment benefits ticked higher, it still remained near five-year low levels and landed below expectations. According to the Department of Labor, initial claims during the week ended September 14 totaled 309,000, increasing from the 294,000 revised figure reported for the prior week and landing below the Street's estimate of 340,000. The sharp initial claims drop that we saw last week was originally said to be the result of "faulty reporting by states" as two states were updating their computer systems; however, as it turns out, the correction made to that surprising 292,000 result was just an increase of 2,000. So while this week's initial claims level did increase, the result is on its tenth week of remaining below the 350,000 level that economists say is consistent with moderate labor market growth of about 150,000 net new jobs a month. Moreover, it is the second lowest level since September 2007. The initial claims' four-week moving average was 314,750, decreasing from the prior week's average of 321,750 and maintaining is downward momentum.
Also encouraging, but certainly not enough to mitigate stocks sliding today, was that manufacturing in the Philadelphia region expanded this month. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, its diffusion index of current activity September result landed at 22.3, higher than the Street's consensus estimate of 9.0, increasing from the 9.3 reached in August. Given that a level above zero indicates an economic expansion, this represents the largest expansion since March 2011 in the region covering eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. Just three days ago, manufacturing data from the New York region also showed expansion as the general business conditions index for this month landed at 6.3; however, the result was lower than the Street's consensus estimate of 9.0, decreasing from the 8.2 reached in August. While both results went in different directions, at least it shows expansion, as factories are benefitting from encouraging auto sales and consumer demand for home-related goods.
Another encouraging bit of economic data that had no effect on investors was that the indexes of leading indicators improved and still appears to be maintaining a favorable short-term uptrend, signaling that a still overall strong housing and slowly improving jobs markets are helping the U.S. economy make more progress into the third quarter of 2013. According to the Conference Board, it's Leading Economic Index (NYSEMKT:LEI) during August increased month-over-month by 0.7 percent to 96.6, better than the Street's consensus estimate calling for a 0.6 percent month-over-month rise. Overall, the trend in the index is still pretty much solid to the upside and still looks to have more upside potential as economic growth should gradually strengthen through the end of the year.
Housing data presented earlier today did not serve to give stocks a lift, despite a better than expected result. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), existing home sales climbed a surprising 1.7 percent month-over-month in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.48 million units, above the Street's 5.30 million forecast and the highest since February 2007 when 5.79 million existing home sales were sold. Given the low interest rate scenario that has been induced by the Fed, the housing market has been on an encouraging recovery trend. However, the NAR does not believe sales will continue at this level through the fall. The median existing home prices increased 14.7 percent in August to $212,100, and with interest rates on the rise, would be buyers may no longer find an incentive to buy homes.
So, despite better than expected economic data points presented today, markets have fallen and they can't get up. Nonetheless, given the 5.63 percent gain so far since the start of this month, no one is complaining.