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Updated: Feb 7, 2023

January 30, 2022 Last week’s economic news was mixed. American households’ personal income declined, and with it their spending in the final two months of last year. Despite the deceleration, the U.S. economy still managed to grow in Q4-2022. Looking forward, all signs point to an economy that’s slowing and concerns of a weaker economy in 2023 persist. That said, rates continue to moderate, and housing prices have softened as a result of a less competitive market, so affordability conditions are improving and bringing some buyers back into the market. Recent releases show an uptick in pending sales, new homes sales, and mortgage activity.

  • Pending home sales break six-month streak to end the year with modest gains: The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator of home sales at the national level, improved in December 2022 for the first time since May, increasing 2.5% from November. The modest rise in contract signings month-over-month was mainly attributed to mortgage rates trending down, which provided a window of opportunity for some buyers to re-enter the market. While pending sales were still 33.8% behind December of 2021, rates have continued trending lower in recent weeks and should drive an improvement in pending sales for January as well.

  • U.S. GDP rose 2.9% in fourth quarter, but underlying factors suggest slowing ahead: The latest reading of the U.S. economy showed that gross domestic product (GDP) in Q4-2022 grew at an annualized rate of 2.9%. This is a stronger-than-expected showing but concerns over how sustainable this short-term strength will remain in question. The underlying components of the report showed several sources of weakness heading into the new year. The monthly data, in particular, showed that consumer spending, which account for more than 2/3 of GDP, showed back-to-back declines the last two months of the year.

  • Job growth remains positive, but labor market weakening: The U.S. labor market continues to do well as most states increased their payrolls in December. However, the number of states with negative job growth increased and the states that added jobs, did so at a slower pace. California added 16,200 jobs to close out the year, and while this was the 15th consecutive increase in employment, it was also the 2nd lowest in that time frame. The November gain in jobs was also revised down to 19,900, which followed December for the 3rd smallest job gain in the last 15 months. Meanwhile, December’s unemployment rate for the Golden State was unchanged at 4.1% compared to 5.8% a year ago, despite its labor force contracting by 26,800 – the most of any state. Overall, in 2022, California payrolls grew a modest 3.6% over the year.

  • U.S. new home sales post third consecutive monthly gain: Sales of new single-family homes in the U.S. increased for a third straight month in December. November’s sales were revised down to 602,000 units so December’s 616,000 unit pace ended up with a slight improvement of 2.3%. This is a double-digit increase in sales activity for new homes from the 550,000-unit low pace established in the middle of 2022, offering hope that the struggling housing market is starting to stabilize – though at depressed levels. However, the Northeast and the West (which includes California), did not see a monthly improvement like the South or Midwest did. January might be a different story as rates retreat.

  • Personal income declines in the final two months of 2022: After adjusting for inflation, American households recorded a 2.1% increase in Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) during the 4th quarter of 2022. However, spending on food, energy, and non-durable goods fell back-to-back in November and December. Moreover, according to the latest PCE index release by the Bureau of Economics Analysis (BEA), real spending for durable goods dropped in 4 out of the last 5 months – with the largest monthly declines occurring in the final months of the year. Personal income rose 0.2% in December and savings rates also rose to 3.4% - the highest level in 7 months. Real disposable income also inched up as inflation eased, but as high prices persist and Americans’ purchasing power continues to erode.

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