Caution flags waving: Slower sales, slower hiring, and declining consumer confidence

Although the Washington economy continues to outperform the nation, we remain concerned with signs of a national slowdown. Several caution flags have been raised this week.

The Associated Press reports on a downbeat survey by the National Association of Business Economists.

A measure of hiring by U.S. companies has fallen to a seven-year low and fewer employers are raising pay, a business survey found.

Just one-fifth of the economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics said their companies have added to their workforces in the past three months. That is down from one-third in July. Job totals were unchanged at 69% of companies, up from 57% in July. A broad measure of job gains in the survey fell to its lowest level since October 2012.

From the NABE press release:

“Results from the October 2019 NABE Business Conditions Survey show that the U.S. economy appears to be slowing, and respondents expect still slower growth over the next 12 months,” said NABE President Constance Hunter, CBE, chief economist, KPMG. “Many of the survey indicators in this report are at their lowest levels in several years. It is important to note, however, that all respondents still expect the current economic expansion to continue over the next 12 months. But, on balance, panelists expect slower growth than they did three months ago. After more than a year since the U.S. first imposed new tariffs on its trading partners, higher tariffs are disrupting business conditions, especially in the goods-producing sector. Two-thirds of respondents from that sector indicate that tariffs have had negative impacts on business conditions at their firms.”

“More panelists report falling sales and anemic profit margins at their firms over the past three months than in the previous survey,” added NABE Business Conditions Survey Chair Sam Kyei, CBE, chief economist, SAK Economics LLC.

The key numbers:

Sentiment has shifted toward growth expectations of 2.0% or less for the 12 months ending in the third quarter (Q3) of 2020. More than two-thirds (69%) of panelists expect real GDP growth of 1.1% to 2.0% over the coming year, while only one out of five expects growth of 2.1% to 3.0%. In comparison, nearly half (48%) of respondents in the July survey
expected real GDP growth to exceed 2% between Q2 2019 and Q2 2020.

Also, today the AP reports the Conference Board again finds declining consumer confidence.

U.S. consumer confidence fell for a third consecutive month in October as optimism about job prospects and business conditions down the road grew weaker.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index edged down to 125.9 in October, compared with 126.3 in September. Feelings about the present situation improved, but future expectations frayed.

Still, the Conference Board expects a good holiday season.

“Consumer confidence was relatively flat in October, following a decrease in September,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The Present Situation Index improved, but Expectations weakened slightly as consumers expressed some concerns about business conditions and job prospects. However, confidence levels remain high and there are no indications that consumers will curtail their holiday spending.”

Let’s hope so. And let’s also recognize that the signs are pointing to a slowdown in 2020, making the next legislative session a time for fiscal restraint.