Economy Watch: Retail Sales, Residential Prices Advance, Promote Consumer Spending

Retail sales increased in the month of September. Residential prices also edged up, encouraging consumer spending, as a result.

The Census Bureau reported on Monday that U.S. retail sales for September were up 1.1 percent compared with August, and up 5.4 percent compared with September 2011. The total was adjusted for seasonal variations and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes. But gas didn’t add to the total in September, because in most places gas prices were going down slowly.

It was the third straight month of increasing retail sales, and moreover the sales increase for August was revised upward from 0.9 percent to 1.2 percent. Car sales continued to be fairly strong–up 1.3 percent in September–but they weren’t the main component of the overall increase, since without car sales, retail sales were still up 1.1 percent. People are out buying, and the buying is broad-based (and it didn’t hurt that several million iPhone 5s have already been sold).

Retail sales are now up 24.6 percent from the most recent bottom, which was a very deep bottom indeed in early 2009. Total sales are even higher now, by 9 percent, than at their peak before the recession. Take gas out of that equation, and retail sales are up 20.9 percent since the early ’09 trough, and 8.6 percent higher than the pre-recession peak.

FNC Reports Residential Prices Increases in August

FNC, which tracks non-distressed home sales, said on Monday that its Residential Price Index (Composite 100) was up 0.3 percent in August compared to July, thus recording a 20-month high. Its other indexes–10-MSA, 20-MSA, 30-MSA–increased between 0.5 percent and 0.8 percent month-over-month in August.

The monthly increase was the sixth one in a row by FNC’s reckoning, which the company says is consistent with “signs of strengthening market conditions led by rising existing-home sales and declining foreclosure activities.” Year-over-year, home prices were up 1.5 percent. According to FNC, its residential price index is “a hedonic index based on the data collected from public records and blended with data from appraisals.”

Home Prices Encourage Consumer Spending

Rising home prices are helping spur consumer spending, posited a report by Deloitte on Monday. Its Consumer Spending Index, which uses consumer cash flow as an indicator of future spending by consumers, rose from 3.27 in August to 3.53 in September. The index comprises four components: tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices. Of those, real home prices did the best for the month.

“The sizable increase in home prices may overstate the strength of the real estate market, though on a positive note, the declines may be over and the market stabilizing,”  Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte and author of the monthly index, said in a statement. “The increase may also provide a much-needed boost to consumer confidence as other hurdles lie ahead.”

Wall Street had its first unambiguously up day in a while, probably because of the retail numbers, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 95.38 points, or 0.72 percent. The S&P 500 was up 0.81 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.66 percent.