The economy in the U.S. took a step forward as home sales unexpectedly climbed, manufacturing accelerated and the outlook for the second half of 2014 brightened.
Purchases of previously owned homes rose in July to a 5.15 million annualized pace, a 10-month high, according to data from the National Association of Realtors in Washington. A factory gauge climbed in August to the loftiest level in more than four years, the index of leading indicators jumped last month and fewer Americans than projected filed claims for jobless benefits last week, other reports showed.
“The economy has got good momentum,” said Michelle Girard, chief U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. “The second half of the year is going to look a good deal better than the first half.”
Employment growth, historically low mortgage rates and more properties from which to choose are giving would-be homebuyers the confidence to take the plunge, just as improving business investment is probably behind the pickup in manufacturing. The data come as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellenprepares to address central bankers tomorrow on the job-market outlook, which may provide clues on policy makers’ next move.
The drop in jobless claims “is pointing to a labor market that’s gaining traction,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy head of U.S. research and strategy at TD Securities USA LLC in New York. More data like this “will certainly mean that the Fed will be encouraged to move sooner rather than later” to raise interest rates, he said, although “the Fed needs a body of evidence greater than what they have now for them to feel decisive in one direction or the other.”
At their July meeting, Fed officials raised the possibility they’ll increase the target interest rate sooner than anticipated in light of labor-market strength, according to meeting minutes released yesterday. Weak wage growth and low inflation have given the Fed room to hold the target rate near zero, which has kept mortgage rates low.
Stocks rose, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to an all-time high, as data boosted optimism in the economy amid speculation the Fed will continue to support the recovery. The S&P 500 climbed 0.3 percent to 1,992.38 at the close in New York.
The news elsewhere wasn’t as positive, as rising political tensions threatened to weaken global trade, contributing to a slowing in manufacturing in the euro area and China, other reports showed.
In the U.S., the Markit Economics preliminary manufacturing index for August jumped to 58, the highest since April 2010, as production, orders and employment picked up, the London-based group said today. Readings exceeding 50 in the purchasing managers’ gauge indicate expansion.
A regional report corroborated the improvement as the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s factory index climbed to 28 this month, the highest level since March 2011 and the second-highest in the past decade. Readings greater than zero signal growth in the region covering eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.
The gains in manufacturing are being reflected in an improving job market. Jobless claims fell by 14,000 to 298,000 in the week ended Aug. 16, according to Labor Department figures. The report coincides with the period the government surveys employers to calculate monthly payroll growth. The employment report for August will be released on Sept. 5.
“There’s a good chance we’ll get another solid month of payrolls,” said Guy Berger, an economist at RBS Securities, who projected 295,000 claims. “Lower layoffs, together with faster hiring, mean better prospects for consumer spending.”