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Next week’s economic data will tell us a lot

Savannah Maher Nov 25, 2022
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"If consumers were truly, truly worried," says economist Jennifer Lee, discretionary spending on things like restaurant lunches "would be one of the first areas they would cut back on." Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Next week’s economic data will tell us a lot

Savannah Maher Nov 25, 2022
Heard on:
"If consumers were truly, truly worried," says economist Jennifer Lee, discretionary spending on things like restaurant lunches "would be one of the first areas they would cut back on." Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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Next week, we’ll get a trove of economic data that will indicate how well the job market and consumer morale are holding up and offer clues to the direction of inflation. 

On the last Tuesday of each month, The Conference Board releases its measure of consumer confidence. The numbers won’t just tell us about consumers’ current mood, but their economic outlook and whether they’re planning to make big purchases in the coming months. 

Recently, that monthly data revealed some pessimism. 

“If those numbers fall further, it suggests that retailers may not have the happiest of holidays,” said David Garfield, global head of industries for AlixPartners. “And that consumer confidence remains suppressed with fears of inflation.”

We’ll get a measure of inflation Thursday from the personal consumption expenditures index, the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation snapshot.

Jennifer Lee, a senior economist with BMO Capital Markets, will be poring over that data. She’ll be “looking particularly at wages and salaries” to infer whether they can support continued spending in an inflationary environment and whether those spending patterns are shifting

“I always look at those discretionary items. You know, are people still going out for lunch or dinner, going out for a drink after work with their colleagues, for example,” she said. “If consumers were truly, truly worried, that would be one of the first areas that they would cut back on.”

There will also be data from the Labor Department, starting with the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, also known as JOLTS. 

Elise Gould, a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute, is interested in the “turnover” part.

“The kind of churn that we’ve been seeing in the labor market as people have quit their jobs in search of better ones.” She’ll also be checking whether layoffs are extending beyond the tech sector. 

Next Friday, Gould said, the November jobs report will tell us whether the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes are having a cooling effect on the labor market. 

“I do want to look at what is happening for different demographic groups,” she said, like Black and Native American workers, who tend to fare worse during economic slowdowns. 

Even with all that data being released, Garfield with AlixPartners has his eye on another factor. 

“The real monster under the bed is the rail strike,” Garfield said, referring to a labor conflict largely focused on a lack of paid sick time. Rail unions say the work stoppage could begin Dec. 9.

Whether it comes to pass could tell us a lot more about where the economy is headed, he said.

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