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The Numbers: U.S. Exports Hit New High Amid Weakening Consumer Confidence

CHICAGO — U.S. EMPLOYMENT FIGURES showed gains in construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade and mining for January. About 113,000 new nonfarm jobs were added in January but the unemployment rate remained steady at 6.6%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Numbers were static from December’s figures—since October 2013, the unemployment rate has dipped by 0.6 percentage point. Long-term unemployment stands at 3.6 million, down 232,000 for January.

“The U.S. economy’s recovery continued in the first month of 2014,” says Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. “January was the 47th consecutive month of private-sector job growth, with 8.5 million new jobs over that period. The unemployment rate maintained its downward trend, reaching its lowest level since October 2008.”

MORTGAGE APPLICATIONS WERE UP 0.4% for the last week in January, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Application Survey. Weather was blamed for the drop in pending home sales, says a report from the National Association of Realtors. The organization’s Pending Home Sales Index was down 8.7% to 92.4 in December from November’s 101.2. The December figure is based on contracts, not closings, and is at the lowest level since October 2011.

U.S. EXPORTS HIT A NEW HIGH for 2013, the fourth straight year that new records have been set. Data from the U.S. Department of Commerce indicate that exports totaled $2.3 trillion in 2013, an increase of almost $700 billion since 2009. The trade deficit also improved by $63.1 billion, decreasing to $471.5 billion (the lowest since 2009).

ECONOMIC ACTIVITY in the non-manufacturer sector increased for the 48th consecutive month, according to the latest Report on Business from the Institute for Supply Management.

“Eleven non-manufacturing industries reported growth in January,” says Anthony Nieves, chair of the ISM’s Non-Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. “The majority of respondents’ comments reflect an improvement in business conditions. Some of the respondents indicate that weather conditions have impacted their business. There remains a bit of uncertainty about the overall economy for some of the survey respondents; however, the majority feel positive about continued economic growth.”

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE WAS DOWN only slightly in the January survey conducted by the Surveys of Consumers by Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan. However, consumers anticipate higher heating bills in the near future because of the weather, and they see slower gains in stock and home values, which will likely curtail spending by upper-income households. Consumer spending will likely slow in 2014 from the chart-topping 3.3% rate in the last quarter of 2013.

“Despite the recent economic gains, consumers’ outlook for their finances as well as the national economy over the longer term have remained more resistant to improvement than in past recoveries,” says Surveys of Consumers Chief Economist Richard Curtin. “… Optimism about long-term job and income prospects are essential for maintaining high levels of economic motivation. Too few consumers have regained that optimism.”


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