Yesterday was one of those days when good news seem to strike, from nowhere.
It seems the UK High Street enjoyed its best period over Easter in 15 months.
In the US, consumer confidence has enjoyed a sharp lift, while more evidence has emerged from across the pond to suggest the housing market may at last be stabilizing.
In the UK, it was the CBI which brought good news. Its survey of the High Street last month rose to the highest level recorded since January 2008.
Forty-four per cent of retailers questioned by the CBI said year-on-year sales volumes rose in the first half of April, while 41 per cent said they were down. That makes a balance of plus 3. The last time there was a positive balance was in March last year, when there was a balance of plus 1.
But don’t get too excited by this. It appears the timing of Easter had a lot to do with the boost. The three-month moving average of sales volumes, which smoothes out monthly peaks and troughs, remained negative with a balance of minus 22 per cent. Mind you, last month this index came in at minus 39 per cent, so there was a significant improvement for this more reliable index too.
Grocers, and footwear and leather retailers, seemed to be the stars of the period. In fact, other sectors of the High Street remained in the doldrums. Presumably then, if you wander around outside at the moment, you will see a lot more leather jackets and shiny new shoes.
As for the US, it was the Consumer Confidence index from the Conference Board which enjoyed a big improvement. It rose from 26.9 to 39.2. Mind you, the index is still incredibly low. To put the latest readings in context, the index was posting scores in excess of 100 before the phrase ‘credit crunch’ came into popular usage.
Meanwhile, the closely watched Case Shiller Index tracking US house prices made a turn for the better.
The Case Shiller Index for measuring house prices in the top 20 cities across the US fell by 18.6 per cent on last year. That may not sound very good to you, but at least it wasn’t a record drop. In each of the previous 16 months, falls hit a new record.
There has been growing evidence in recent weeks that the US housing market is gradually turning. According to the US Federal Housing Finance Agency, US house prices rose 0.7 per cent between January and February. It was the second biggest rise seen in 18 months, the highest rise occurring the month before.
Alan Greenspan has argued that the economic crisis will come to an end only when US house prices stop falling. So, is the end in sight?
The fat lady has not started to sing yet. But she is certainly limbering up, and running through her voice exercises. The next month or so will be interesting. Will the fat lady begin her march onto stage, or will she do an about turn and go home without even blasting out a single note?
© Investment & Business News 2013