The labor market continued its long winning streak as 2022 wrapped up. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending December 30.
Jobless claims remained low leading up to the holidays. The Department of Labor reports that first-time claims made for unemployment insurance benefits grew by 9,000 during the week ending December 24 to a seasonally adjusted 225,000. The four-week moving average of initial claims of 221,000 nearly matched that of a year earlier. Weekly initial claims data have remained in the low 200,000s for over a year. A total of 1.620 million people were receiving some form of unemployment insurance benefits during the week ending December 10, 25.6 percent below year-ago levels.
Home purchase contract signings continued to fall in November. The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) dropped 4.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted reading of 73.9 (2001=100). The PHSI, which measures transactions in which there is a signed contract but has not closed, was at its second lowest reading in 20 years and sat a massive 37.8 percent below its November 2021 reading. The PHSI was down in all four Census regions on both a month-to-month and year-to-year basis. The press release blames higher interest rates, which “drastically cut into the number of contract signings to buy a home.”
Home prices were flat in October. The Federal Housing Finance Agency reports that its purchase-only House Price Index (HPI) held steady during the month. The HPI grew in the New England (+1.4 percent), West South Central (+0.6 percent), South Atlantic (+0.2 percent), and Middle Atlantic (+0.1 percent) regions. The index dropped in the Pacific (-0.9 percent), East South Central (-0.3 percent), Mountain (-0.2 percent), West North Central (-0.2 percent), and East North Central (-0.1 percent) regions. Home prices remained 9.8 percent above year-ago levels—while still significant, this was the smallest 12-month comparable in two years. The FHFA derives the HPI from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac sales data.
A different data series indicates home prices fell in October. The nationwide S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index dropped 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis. Prices dropped in all 20 major metro areas tracked, including double-digit declines in Las Vegas (-1.3 percent) and Phoenix (-1.2 percent). The index remained 9.2 percent above year-ago levels, with two markets (Miami and Tampa) having 12-month comparables greater than 20 percent. The press release warns that given higher interest rates and a “challenging” economy “prices may well continue to weaken.”
Agricultural prices rose in November. Prices received by farmers jumped 4.5 percent during the month and were up a stunning 22.8 percent from a year earlier. (Note that the Department of Agriculture does not seasonally adjust the data.) Prices for crops and livestock surged 4.3 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. Rising were prices for lettuce, soybeans, eggs, and cattle. On the cost side, prices paid by farmers were steady in November and were up 10.8 percent over the past year.
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