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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Earnings per Share Growth in the Long Run

Can the U.S. stock market continue to deliver its historical return? In the preliminary draft of his paper entitled “A Pragmatist’s Guide to Long-run Equity Returns, Market Valuation, and the CAPE”, John Golob poses two questions:

  1. What long-run real return should investors expect from U.S. equities?
  2. Do popular metrics reliably indicate when the U.S. equity market is overvalued?

He notes that the body of relevant research presents no consensus on the answers to these questions, which both relate to long-term growth in corporate earnings per share. Recent forecasts for real stock market returns range from as low as 2% to about 6% (close to the 6.5% average since 1871), reflecting disagreements about how slow GDP growth, low dividends, share buybacks and the profitability of retained earnings affect earnings per share growth. The author introduces Federal Reserve Flow of Funds (U.S. Financial Accounts) and S&P 500 aggregate book value to gauge effects of stock buybacks. He also assesses the logic of using Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio (CAPE or P/E10) as a stock market valuation metric. Using S&P 500 Index price and dividend data, related earnings data and U.S. financial and economic data as available during 1871 through 2013, he concludes that: Keep Reading

Inflation Forecast Update

The Inflation Forecast now incorporates actual total and core Consumer Price Index (CPI) data for September 2014. The actual total (core) inflation rate for September is lower than (about the same as) forecasted.

The new actual and forecasted inflation rates will flow into Real Earnings Yield Model projections at the end of the month.

Unemployment Rate and Stock Market Returns

The business 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 September 2014 (777 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 business 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 September 2014 (777 months), we find that: Keep Reading

ECRI’s Weekly Leading Index and the Stock Market

Financial market commentators and media sometimes cite the Economic Cycle Research Institute’s (ECRI) U.S. Weekly Leading Index (WLI) as an important economic indicator, implying that it is predictive of future stock market performance. According to ECRI, WLI “has a moderate lead over cyclical turns in U.S. economic activity.” ECRI publicly releases a preliminary (revised) WLI value with a one-week (two-week) lag. Does this indicator usefully predict U.S. stock market returns? Using WLI values for January 1967 through mid-September 2014 and contemporaneous weekly levels of the S&P 500 Index, 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 third quarter of 2014 (98 surveys), and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index quarterly returns, we find that: Keep Reading

Money Supply Growth and Future Stock Market Returns

Are changes in the money supply usefully predictive of stock market behavior? In his September 2014 paper entitled “Does Money Supply Growth Contain Predictive Power for Stock Returns?”, David McMillan investigates whether changes in U.S. money supply reliably affect future U.S. stock market returns. He examines also whether any predictive power of money supply growth is independent of dividend yield, interest rates and other economic variables. He focuses on M2 money stock but also considers M1 money stock and the non-M1 components of M2 (saving deposits, small time deposits, retail money market mutual funds), M4 and the monetary base and its components (currency in circulation and reserves). He considers predictability horizons of one month, one year, five years, 10 years and 15 years. Using monthly data for stock index levels, dividends and earnings from Robert Shiller and seasonally adjusted money supply and other economic data from FRED during January 1959 through December 2012 (54 years), he finds that: Keep Reading

Leading Economic Index and the Stock Market

The Conference Board “publishes leading, coincident, and lagging indexes designed to signal peaks and troughs in the business cycle for major economies around the world,” including the widely cited Leading Economic Index (LEI) for the U.S. Does the LEI predict stock market behavior? Using the as-released monthly change in LEI from archived Conference Board press releases and contemporaneous dividend-adjusted daily levels of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) for June 2002 through August 2014 (146 monthly LEI observations), we find that: Keep Reading

Preponderance of Evidence Bad for U.S. Stocks?

Is the U.S. stock market in a Federal Reserve-driven bubble that is about to burst? In his August 2014 paper entitled “Fed by the Fed: A New Bubble Grows on Wall St.”, Oliver Dettmann examines how shifts away from quantitative easing by central banks, and the introduction of rising interest rates, may affect current valuation levels of the U.S. stock market. He focuses on a discounted real earnings model, employing a range of optimistic, moderate and pessimistic scenarios. Based on estimates of S&P 500 real earnings growth and an implied earnings discount rate derived from a sample period of January 1974 through June 2014, he finds that: Keep Reading

Real Bond Returns and Inflation

A subscriber asked (more than two years ago): “Everyone says I should not invest in bonds today because the interest rate is so low (and inflation is daunting). But real bond returns over the last 30 years are great, even while interest rates are low. Could you analyze why bonds do well after, but not before, 1981?” To investigate, we consider the U.S. long-run interest rate and the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) series from Robert Shiller. The long-run interest rate is the yield on U.S. government bonds, specifically the 10-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) after 1953. We apply the formula used by Aswath Damodaran to this yield series to estimate the nominal T-note returns. We use the CPI series to calculate the inflation rate. We subtract the inflation rate from the nominal T-note return to get the real T-note return. Using annual Shiller interest rate and CPI data for 1871 through 2013, we find that: Keep Reading

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