An Economic Snapshot of the 2018 Holiday Season

Anybody watching their 401(k) knows the market is down, but there are plenty of positive economic indicators to be thankful for as Thanksgiving ushers in this year’s holiday season. Notably, gas prices are low, unemployment claims are at generational lows and housing starts for both one-unit and two-plus-unit structures are higher than any other moment in time since the Great Recession.

Digging into the raw numbers, the U.S. labor market hasn’t been this tight since the winter of 1973. As reported by the Department of Labor, the week ending November 17 saw seasonally adjusted initial claims tick up to 224,000, a slight increase of 3,000 from the previous week’s level. The ongoing employment fever is no closer to breaking.

With a structural lack of new construction in most markets, expect continued ramping up of multi-unit residential construction (often with ground-floor retail) in most urban markets.


Partly a function of high consumer confidence, like inflation and rising prices in several key categories, total household debt has increased by $219 billion in the third quarter—that indicator’s 17th consecutive quarterly increase. Another note of caution in the critical home building world, mortgage applications decreased slightly in recent weeks.

Looking around for a few other bright spots, industrial production edged up a scant 0.1 percent in October, oil prices are falling rapidly, home inventory is up in the bellwether California market and the New York Fed’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey showed general business conditions edging up two points. These are positive nuggets, regardless of where the Dow is this week.

None of this is to say there aren’t things to argue about with family around the dinner table. Newly armed with fresh indicators, now you are ready to move those conversations onto neutral ground. “How’s that household debt treating you these days, Uncle Larry?”

Drive, fly, walk or hibernate safely!


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