Economic Indicators

The U.S. economy is a very complex system, with indicators therefore ambiguous and difficult to interpret. To what degree do macroeconomics and the stock market go hand-in-hand, if at all? Do investors/traders: (1) react to economic readings; (2) anticipate them; or, (3) just muddle along, mostly fooled by randomness? These blog entries address relationships between economic indicators and the stock market.

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Do Copper Prices Lead the Broad Equity Market?

A reader asked: “Do copper futures prices reliably lead the market, as some believe.” The hypothesis is that demand for copper is a reliable leading indicator of economic activity and therefore of future corporate earnings and equity prices. In lieu of a long-run set of copper futures data, we use the monthly price index for copper base scrap (not seasonally adjusted) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which spans multiple economic expansions and contractions. Using monthly levels of the copper scrap price index and the S&P 500 Index for January 1957 through December 2015 (59 years), we find that: Keep Reading

Unemployment Rate and Stock Market Returns

The financial media and expert commentators sometimes cite the U.S. unemployment rate as an indicator of economic and stock market health, generally interpreting a jump (drop) in the unemployment rate as bad (good) for stocks. Conversely, investors may interpret a falling unemployment rate as a trigger for increases in the Federal Reserve target interest rate (and adverse stock market reactions). Is this indicator in fact predictive of U.S. stock market behavior in subsequent months, quarters and years? Using the monthly unemployment rate from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index data for the period January 1950 through December 2015 (792 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Employment and Stocks Over the Intermediate Term

U.S. job gains or losses are a prominent element of the monthly investment-related news cycle, with the financial media and expert commentators generally interpreting changes in employment as an indicator of future economic and stock market health. One line of reasoning is that jobs generate personal income, which spurs personal consumption, which boosts corporate earnings and lifts the stock market. Are employment trends in fact predictive of U.S. stock market behavior in subsequent months, quarters and years? Using monthly seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index data for the period January 1950 through December 2015 (792 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Inflation Forecast Update

The Inflation Forecast now incorporates actual total and core Consumer Price Index (CPI) data for December 2015. The actual total (core) inflation rate for December is about the same as (about the same as) forecasted.

Chicago Fed NFCI as U.S. Stock Market Predictor

A subscriber suggested that the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s National Financial Conditions Index (NFCI) may be a useful U.S. stock market predictor. NFCI “provides a comprehensive weekly update on U.S. financial conditions in money markets, debt and equity markets, and the traditional and ‘shadow’ banking systems.” It consists of 105 inputs, including the S&P 500 Implied Volatility Index (VIX) and Senior Loan Officer Survey results. Positive (negative) values indicate tight (loose) financial conditions, with degree measured in standard deviations from the mean. The Chicago Fed releases NFCI each week as of Friday on the following Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET (or Thursday if Wednesday is a holiday). To investigate its usefulness as a U.S. stock market predictor, we relate NFCI and changes in NFCI to future S&P 500 Index returns. Using weekly levels of NFCI and daily and weekly closes of the S&P 500 Index during January 1973 through December 2015, we find that: Keep Reading

Yield Curve as a Stock Market Indicator

Conventional wisdom holds that a steep yield curve (wide U.S. Treasuries term spread) is good for stocks, while a flat/inverted curve is bad. Is this wisdom correct and exploitable? To investigate, we consider in-sample tests of the relationships between several yield curve metrics and future U.S. stock market returns and two out-of-sample signal-based tests. Using average monthly yields for 3-month Treasuries (T-bill), 1-year Treasuries, 3-year Treasuries, 5-year Treasuries and 10-year Treasuries (T-note) as available since April 1953, monthly levels of the S&P 500 Index since March 1953 and monthly dividend-adjusted levels of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) since January 1993, all through October 2015, we find that: Keep Reading

Commercial and Industrial Credit as a Stock Market Driver

Does commercial and industrial (C&I) credit fuel business growth and thereby drive the stock market? To investigate, we relate changes in credit standards from the Federal Reserve Board’s quarterly Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices to future U.S. stock market returns. Presumably, loosening (tightening) of credit standards is good (bad) for stocks. The Federal Reserve publishes survey results about the end of the first month of each quarter (January, April, July and October). Using the “Net Percentage of Domestic Respondents Tightening Standards for C&I Loans” from the Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices Chart Data for the second quarter of 1990 through the fourth quarter of 2015 (104 surveys), and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index quarterly returns, we find that: Keep Reading

Gold a Consistent Dynamic Inflation Hedge?

Is gold a consistent hedge against inflation? In their October 2015 preliminary paper entitled “Is Gold a Hedge Against Inflation? A Wavelet Time-Frequency Perspective”, Thomas Conlon, Brian Lucey and Gazi Salah Uddin examine the inflation-hedging properties of gold over an extended period at different measurement frequencies (investment horizons) in four economies (U.S., UK, Switzerland and Japan). They consider both realized and unexpected inflation. They also test the inflation-hedging ability of gold futures and gold stocks. Using monthly consumer price indexes (not seasonally adjusted) for the four countries and monthly returns for spot gold (bullion) in the four associated currencies since January 1968, monthly survey-based U.S. inflation expectations since January 1978, and monthly returns on the Philadelphia Gold and Silver Index (XAU) as a proxy for gold stocks since January 1984, all through December 2014, they find that: Keep Reading

Federal Reserve Economic Influence and Asset Returns

Does the level, or changes in the level, of Federal Reserve (Fed) participation in the U.S. economy affect stock and bond market returns? To investigate, we consider the annual Fed assets-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio and the monthly Fed holdings of U.S. Treasuries as indications of the degree to which the Fed influences the U.S. economy. We use the S&P 500 Index as a long-term proxy for the U.S. stock markets. We use dividend-adjusted SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) and iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT) as short-term tradable proxies for the U.S. stock and bond markets, respectively. Using annual (year-end) Fed assets-to-GDP ratio and S&P 500 Index as available during 1950 through 2014, and monthly Fed holdings of Treasuries, SPY and TLT during January 2003 through September 2015, we find that: Keep Reading

Public Debt, Inflation and the Stock Market

When the U.S. government runs substantial deficits, some experts proclaim the dollar’s inevitable inflationary debasement and bad times for stocks. Other experts say that deficits are no cause for alarm, because government spending stimulates the economy, and the country can bear more debt. Who is right? Using annual (end of fiscal year) level of the U.S. public debtinterest expense on the debtU.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) return and inflation rate data over the period June 1929 through September 2015 (about 86 years), we find that: Keep Reading

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