May 31, 2011 / 3:24 PM / 7 years ago

WRAPUP 3-Weak data point to sluggish U.S. economy

 * Case-Shiller 20-city home price index falls in March
 * Consumer confidence declines in May
 * Chicago Purchasing Managers Index falls in May
 By Leah Schnurr
 NEW YORK, May 31 (Reuters) - A double-dip in home prices,
pessimistic consumers and a slowdown in regional manufacturing
raised concerns on Tuesday that the U.S. economy's soft patch
could become protracted.
 "The question is, 'Is the softer data we're seeing
transitory, or is it likely to persist throughout the remainder
of 2011?' Right now, that's an open question that investors are
trying to figure out," said Michael Sheldon, chief market
strategist at RDM Financial in Westport, Connecticut.
 The U.S. economy grew at a tepid 1.8 percent annual rate in
the first three months of the year, and these fresh signs
suggest the recovery is still struggling to gain momentum.
 The consumer also appears to be struggling, with data last
week showing consumer spending was crimped by high gasoline
prices in April. Consumer spending makes up more than
two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.
 A drop in a gauge of business activity in the U.S. Midwest
added to other regional reports that have pointed to slower
growth in manufacturing this month amid supply chain
disruptions from the major earthquake in Japan in March.
 It also boded poorly for a national factory report due on
Wednesday, which is expected to slow, and casts a cloud ahead
of a report on national employment on Friday.
 "While weakness in manufacturing may simply reflect auto
parts shortages, this is the fifth regional manufacturing index
to fall sharply in May," wrote Chris Low, chief economist at
FTN Financial.
 "(It) reinforces the general sense the economy is losing
steam," he added.
 U.S. stocks .SPX trimmed gains after the consumer
confidence and manufacturing data, but Wall Street was higher
in late day trading as the data was outweighed by optimism that
new financial aid for debt-laden Greece was on the horizon.
 U.S. single-family home prices dropped in March to fall
below the low hit in April 2009 during the financial crisis, a
closely watched survey showed.
 The S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan
areas declined 0.2 percent from February on a seasonally
adjusted basis, in line with economists' expectations.
 A glut of houses for sale along with foreclosures, tight
credit and weak demand have kept the housing market on the
ropes even as other areas of the economy start to recover.
 Home prices had been supported last spring by a tax credit,
but the housing market has struggled since the credit expired.
Prices in the 20 cities fell 3.6 percent year over year, worse
than expectations for a decline of 3.3 percent. For a table see
 "The declines sustained in the last 12 months have almost
erased the gains of the previous 12 months," said Cary Leahey,
managing director at Decision Economics in New York. "The
housing market is treading backward but not drowning."
 Graphic on S&P/Case Shiller home price index:
 The expansion of the U.S. manufacturing sector is forecast
 to slow when the data is released on Wednesday.
 The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of
consumer attitudes fell to 60.8 in May from a revised 66.0 in
April, well below a median forecast of 66.5.
 Consumers took a more negative view of business and labor
market conditions, while inflation expectations jumped after
easing in April. [ID:nN31277567]
 The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago business
barometer dropped to 56.6 in May from 67.6 in April, its lowest
reading since November 2009 and missing forecasts for a reading
of 62.6. For details see [ID:nN9E7G401Z].
 The index of new orders sank to 53.5 from 66.3, while the
employment component fell to 60.8 from 63.7.
 Economists expect Wednesday's larger ISM manufacturing
survey to ease to 57.7 in May from 60.4 the month before.
Friday's U.S. payrolls data is forecast to show the economy
added 180,000 jobs in May, easing from 244,000 in April.
 (Additional reporting by Ellen Freilich and Caroline
Valetkevitch in New York and Ann Saphir in Chicago; Editing by
Kenneth Barry)

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