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Gold Prices Rise on Weak US Financial Reports

Gold prices have seen modest upward movement today in the face of mixed data from different sectors of the US economy today which led to a slump in the US dollar. US homebuilding saw a major drop, hindering hopes that the housing sector was seeing a comeback. Manufacturing data came in below expectations, industrial production saw a steep decline, and jobless claims saw a modest increase in line with market expectations.

Key Takeaways

  • Housing starts dropped from a 12-year high, dropping -9.4% in September.
  • The Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index dropped from 12 in September to 5.6 in October, below expectations of a 7.1 reading.
  • Industrial production in September dropped -0.4% from August, double the expected drop of -0.2%.
  • Initial jobless claims rose 4,000 to 214,000, although this was below expectations of 215,000.

The dollar is down today as multiple reports painted an uninspiring picture of the health of the US economy. Housing starts fell -9.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.256 million units in September, down from a 12-year high seen the month before. The drop is attributed to a decline in the volatile multi-family home component, according to the report released by the Commerce Department on Thursday.

Housing Report

Single-family homebuilding, a less volatile component which accounts for most of the market, rose 0.3% in September to 918,000 units, the highest level since January. Permits for single-family homes rose 0.8% to 882,000 units, while starts for multi-family housing dropped -28.2% and permits dropped -8.2%.

August data was revised higher from 1.364 million units to 1.386 million units, the highest level since June 2007 and matching pre-housing collapse figures. Market analysts had predicted a drop to 1.320 million units. Housing starts saw a 1.6% annual increase in the 12 months through September, while building permits dropped 2.7% on a monthly basis.

Permits also saw a 12-year high in August with a rate of 1.425 million units. August activity indicates that the Fed’s monetary easing policies are beginning to take effect in the housing market, but the sector is still suffering from land and labor shortages.

The Federal Reserve is likely to cut interest rates for the third time this month with more decline expected in the housing market as well as weak business investment and manufacturing activity stemming from the trade war with China.

Manufacturing and Industrial Production

The Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index, released on Thursday, dropped from 12 to 5.6 in October, below expectations of a 7.1 reading. Some sub-indices performed well, with new orders rising from 24.8 to 26.2, and staff levels rising from 15.8 to 32.9. Prices paid fell from 33.0 to 16.8, and inventory levels dropped from 21.8 to 6.6. Future business conditions saw a promising rise from 20.8 to 33.8, indicating that survey respondents are hopeful for the upcoming months.

“The average level of the five Philly subindexes which also comprise the national ISM manufacturing index nudged down only slightly; new orders rose to a 17-month high," said Ian Sheperdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

"As a result, the Philly numbers continue to point to a much higher ISM, which won’t happen as long as the trade war persists. The Philly Fed region exports much less than the U.S. as a whole, and China accounts for a relatively small share of those exports, so it is less exposed to the trade war. It will overstate the ISM for the foreseeable future."

Meanwhile, industrial production fell  -0.4% in September, well above expectations of a -0.2% drop. The drop is due to a decline in mining and the drop in global oil prices, as well as lower activity in automobile production in the midst of the General Motors strike. US industrial production dropped -0.1% annually, the first annual decline since 2016.

The Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production report said “The cutback in motor vehicle output in September contributed to a drop of nearly 2 per cent for consumer durables and to declines of around 1 per cent for transit equipment and durable goods materials. The indexes for many of the other market groups were relatively little changed.”

Global declines in industrial production are another reminder of the ongoing economic slowdown seen worldwide. Production of consumer goods, an indicator of US consumer confidence, dropped -0.4% annually compared to the post-recession high of 2.6% seen in April 2018. Vehicle production fell -5% annually due to the ongoing strike at General Motors which is expected to see resolution soon.

Business equipment production fell -0.8% annually, pointing to reduced confidence at companies uncertain of conditions due to the trade war. Apparel rose 2.3%, equipment used for production dropped to 77.7% vs. 77.5% expected after dropping from a post-recession high of 80% seen late last year.

Jobless Claims

Jobless claims rose 4,000 to 214,000 vs. 215,000 expected for the week ended October 12, according to a report released by the Labor Department on Thursday. The labor market continues to show signs of strength, tightening despite a hiring slowdown and worsening economic conditions around the world. Claims were estimated in Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Puerto Rico due to the national Columbus Day holiday.

The four-week average of initial claims, a less-volatile indicator of layoffs, rose 1,000 to 214,750 last week. Continuing claims fell 10,000 to 1.68 million people for the week ended October 5, and the four-week average of those claims rose 3,500 to 1.67 million. Meanwhile, payrolls rose by 136,000 in September, down from 168,000 in August.

Layoffs remain low with skilled workers still in high demand. The labor market is, however, losing momentum, particularly in the manufacturing sector. The 15-month trade war with China has undercut capital expenditure due to reduced business investment, creating recessionary pressure in manufacturing. The stimulus from last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut has also faded, with reduced growth seen as a result.

The strike at General Motors involving 58,000 workers may also have impacted jobless claims by disrupting related supply lines.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have risen following the release of today’s financial data. Spot gold last traded at $1,494.40/oz, up 0.43% with a high of $1,495.68/oz and a low of $1,494.58/oz. With mostly negative news in the financial markets today, gold prices may yet see increased momentum throughout today’s session, although upward price action is possibly being tempered by a tentative deal agreement between the EU and UK over Brexit.

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