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A Sour Start to the Long Weekend

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Amid good signs like the strong employment report last week, we have also seen some “yellow flag” data sets on the economy in recent weeks.

Today, we received more of those indicators that give us reason for pause. Today’s Retail sales report was below expectations, as was the data from the Federal Reserve on industrial production. Those follow a rise in initial claims for unemployment insurance claims yesterday.

Retail sales fell 0.1 percent in December, although they are up 2.2 percent compared to December 2014. The biggest gainers were furniture stores, building material stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, sporting goods and hobby stores, and restaurants.

The weakest areas were gasoline stations, general merchandise stores, clothing stores, and that catch-all category of “miscellaneous.”

Industrial production, meanwhile, fell 0.4 percent in December, the third decline in a row. Among the major industry groups, manufacturing fell 0.1 percent, while mining fell 0.8 percent and utilities dropped 2.0 percent.

“Weak economic reports are compounding the geopolitical and global economic growth concerns that have been hurting equity markets recently,” said Bob Hughes, senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research.

In an environment of slow growth, patches of weakness can be more of a worry, he said.

“Still, with job gains continuing and consumer confidence holding up, there is no reason to panic. But, broadening weakness is a concern. One thing to watch now will be corporate earnings for the fourth quarter.  If earnings come in close to or a bit better than expectations, that could help settle equity markets,” Hughes said.

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