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We’ve had a mixed bag of economic data today that hasn’t contained enough good or bad news one way or the other to give the stock market any significant direction. US stocks have been up slightly, then down slightly, but trading has been muted overall.
By early afternoon in New York, the Dow was trading down 0.23% or 34 points at 15,077.84. The wider-encompassing S&P 500 Index was off a slightly steeper amount, dropping 0.37% to 1655.2, while the tech-focused NASDAQ 100 was flat.
The pace of housing starts picked up in July, according to the Commerce Department, with a seasonally-adjusted, annualised rate of 896,000. This came in just below the 900,000 units that were expected, but this was more than compensated for by an upward-revision of June’s level from 836,000 to 846,000. The rise in construction on new residential buildings comes in spite of unseasonably wet weather on the US east coast and mortgage rates that have been creeping up and suggests there is further life in the housing market yet.
Consumer sentiment appears to be waning this month, with the University of Michigan’s index of consumer sentiment slipping to 80.0 from July’s final reading of 85.1. This index has been steadily climbing this summer, so the sudden retraction comes as something of a surprise, especially given improvement in the labour market, rising house prices and falling petrol costs. The low level stems from the current conditions section of the survey, which fell to its worst reading since April, and is perhaps a sign that recent falls in the stock market are dragging down consumer spirits. With retailers hoping for a good showing in the important back-to-school period, this is not a good sign.