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Economy getting a bit rosier at year’s end

Tis the season . . . when we look for some good news. We don’t have to look far to see some in the economy as we approach the end of the year.

Perhaps the best positive for us is the latest report of the Conference Board on the Consumer Confidence Index.  The confidence index jumped more than 15 points in November, now standing at 56.0. It had disappointed us in October by declining to 40.9, so this turnaround is strong and most welcomed.

Other indices also show movement upward. For example, the Present Situation Index rose from 27.1 to 38.3, while the Expectations Index rose to 67.8 from 50.0. As we head into our major winter boat show season — starting in just three weeks in New York — the bounce back up in the confidence indices promises consumers are heading for the New Year feeling more positive. Now, I know the levels are still not considered “healthy” by economists. Still, the up direction fires me up so don’t rain on my parade today, please.

Adding more good news, unemployment has moved down to 8.6 percent, according to the Labor Department. While half of the drop in unemployment stems from a decline in the number of workers in the labor force, this kind of news is still positive and tends to render people more optimistic about things getting better.

Here’s more: Pending home sales rose 10.4 percent in October, hitting an index of 93.3 according to the National Association of Realtors. An index reading of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001. Notably, a sale is listed as pending when the contract has been signed but not closed. Not all contracts close, of course, but combined with earlier reports of increased new home starts and sales (new homes sales 8.9 percent higher compared to a year ago), it’s more good news for the housing market. As we’ve noted before, housing improvement can signal an upward trend for boat sales.

And, while we’re at it, how about the Institute for Supply Management’s Index of Manufacturing that rose to 52.7 in November, up from 50.8 in October. A reading over 50 reflects expansion and it’s the 28th month above 50. Meanwhile, the November report of the Chicago Purchasing Management Index rose to 62.6 from 58.4 in October, a seven-month high and the 26th straight month over 50. The Chicago PMI, if you’re not familiar, is a time-tested regional view of the national economy.

Let’s not stop now. Finally, the news reported that holiday shoppers had spent 16 percent more after Thanksgiving than a year ago helped boost the November retail sales to a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent increase, says the Commerce Department. Add to that the Federal Reserve report on Tuesday that the economy was “slightly healthier,” hiring is picking up and U.S. consumers are spending more despite slower growth globally.

If nothing else, all this news makes me optimistic about our winter boat shows and the possibilities for an increase in boat sales for 2012!

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