WASHINGTON – A hazy picture of the U.S. economy has emerged from the most recent snapshots of retail sales, housing, manufacturing, the job market and the confidence of consumers.
The figures reflect higher borrowing costs, slower hiring and rising uncertainty just before much of the government shut down Oct. 1 – all trends that the Federal Reserve is trying to assess at a policy meeting this week.
Taken together, they portray an economy that was stumbling even before the shutdown, which further slowed growth.
The most recent reports the Fed will consider have pointed to a weak economy, though there are a few bright spots:
Consumer confidence fell to a six month low in October, according to the private Conference Board.
Retail sales rose modestly in September outside of auto sales, the Commerce Department said. Auto sales dropped 2.2 percent, the most in almost a year. But that was mostly because of a calendar quirk that shifted Labor Day weekend sales to August. Higher interest rates and rising home prices discouraged many Americans from buying existing homes in September. A measure of signed contracts reached its lowest level in nine months. The National Association of Realtors’ index of pending home sales fell below the level it had reached a year earlier.
Orders for most long-lasting U.S. factory goods dropped last month as businesses cut back on spending. The decline suggested that businesses weren’t confident about the economy.
Hiring has slowed. Employers added an average of just 143,000 jobs a month from July through September. That was down from an average of 182,000 in April through June and from 207,000 in the first three months of the year.