Despite September sales continuing to rise, results still mixed: Smith Leonard
Posted by Larry Adams

The results of Smith Leonard's most recent survey require taking more history into account. 

Photo By Smith Leonard

New orders in September were up 13% over September 2022. But September 2022 orders were down 26%. As with the previous surveys, comparisons to 2021 and 2020 are even more difficult, noted Ken Smith, managing partner at Smith Leonard, which produces the monthly Furniture Insights.

Year to date, new orders for the first nine months were up about 1%, he said.

Shipments were down 20% in September 2023 from 2022 and down 18% for the year to date. The September 2022 shipments were up 5% over 2021 and up 6% year to date, according to Furniture Insights. The shipment comparisons are difficult to deal with percent changes as 2020 shipments were up significantly, setting the bar very high. Overall though, shipments in dollars are ahead for the year over order dollars. All of this means that shipments have continued to pull from the backlogs. Plus, the increase in shipments in 2022 was also so large due to the extremely high backlogs, the comparisons of 23 to 22 are not what we would normally expect. Hopefully all of that is confusing enough.

Backlogs actually increased a bit over August but were down 43% from September 2022. It appears that backlogs are getting to something closer to pre-pandemic levels, if one can determine how much price increases are included in the numbers. 

Consumer Confidence

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index increased in November to 102.0, up from a downwardly revised 99.1 in October. The Present Situation Index—based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions—ticked down slightly to 138.2, from 138.6. The Expectations Index—based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions—rose to 77.8 in November, up from its downwardly revised reading of 72.7 in October.

The report indicated that “Despite this month’s improvement, the Expectations Index remained below 80 for a third consecutive month—a level that historically signals a recession within the next year. While consumer fears of an impending recession abated slightly, around two-thirds of consumers surveyed in November still perceive a recession to be “somewhat” or “very likely” to occur over the next 12 months. This is consistent with the short and shallow recession
we anticipate in the first half of 2024.”

The housing results were somewhat mixed as total existing home and single family homes were down 14.6% from October 2022. Single family sales in October 2022 were down 28.2% from October 2021. While new residential single family sales were up 17.7% from a year ago, the volume of sales of both existing and new sales was off significantly.

The overall decline was blamed primarily on lower inventories of homes for sale as well as the highest mortgage rates in a generation.

Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for October 2023, were $705.0 billion, down 0.1% from the previous month, and up 2.5% above October 2022. Total sales for the August 2023 through October 2023 period were up 3.1% from the same period a year ago.

Retail trade sales were down 0.2% from September 2023, and up 1.6% above last year. Gasoline stations were down 7.5% from last year (primarily due to drops in gas prices), while non-store retailers were up 7.6% from October 2022.

Sales at furniture and home furnishings stores were down 11.8% for the month, bringing year-to-date sales to a reduction of 5.2%.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) was unchanged in October on a seasonally adjusted basis, after increasing 0.4% in September. Over the last 12 months, the all-items index increased 3.2% before seasonal adjustment.

The index for shelter continued to rise in October, offsetting a decline in the gasoline index. The energy index fell 2.5% over the month as a 5.0% decline in the gasoline index more than offset increases in other energy component indexes. The food index increased 0.3% in October, after rising 0.2% in September.

The all items less food and energy index rose 4.0% over the last 12 months, its smallest 12-month change since the period ending in September 2021. The energy index decreased 4.5% for the 12 months. Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 5.2% in the third quarter of 2023, according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The increase in real GDP reflected increases in consumer spending, private inventory investment, exports, state and local government spending, federal government spending, residential fixed investment, and nonresidential fixed investment. Imports increased.

Smith Leonard's Furniture Insights.



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