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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.

EFFR and the Stock Market

Do changes in the Effective Federal Funds Rate (EFFR), the actual cost of short-term liquidity derived from a combination of market demand and Federal Reserve open market operations designed to maintain the Federal Funds Rate (FFR) target, predictably influence the U.S. stock market over the intermediate term? To investigate, we relate smoothed (volume-weighted median) monthly levels of EFFR to monthly U.S. stock market returns (S&P 500 Index or Russell 2000 Index) over available sample periods. Using monthly data as specified since July 1954 for EFFR and the S&P 500 Index (limited by EFFR) and since September 1987 for the Russell 2000 Index, all through February 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Inflation Forecast Update

The Inflation Forecast now incorporates actual total and core Consumer Price Index (CPI) data for March 2019. The actual total (core) inflation rate for March is higher than (slightly lower than) forecasted.

ISM PMI and Future Junk Bond Returns?

A subscriber asked about the validity of the assertion in “The Daily Shot” of February 26, 2019 (The Wall Street Journal) that “recent weakness in the ISM [Institute for Supply Management] Manufacturing PMI [Purchasing Managers’ Index] index points to downside risks for high-yield debt.” Such a relationship might support a strategy of switching between high-yield bonds and cash, or high-yield bonds and U.S. Treasuries, based on PMI data. To investigate, we consider the following two pairs of funds:

  1. Vanguard High-Yield Corporate (VWEHX) and Vanguard Long-Term Treasury (VUSTX) since May 1986 (limited by VUSTX).
  2. iShares iBoxx High Yield Corp Bond (HYG) and iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF) since April 2007 (limited by HYG).

We consider both statistical tests and strategies that each month (per the PMI release frequency) holds high-yield bonds or cash, or high-yield bonds or Treasuries, according to whether the prior-month change in PMI is positive or negative. We use the 3-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as a proxy for return on cash. Using fund monthly total returns as available and monthly seasonally adjusted PMI data for January 1950 through January 2016 from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (discontinued and removed) and from press releases thereafter, all through February 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Consumer Inflation Expectations Predictive?

A subscriber noted and asked: “Michigan (at one point) claimed that the inflation expectations part of their survey of consumers was predictive. That was from a paper long ago. I wonder if it is still true.” To investigate, we relate “Expected Changes in Prices During the Next Year” (expected annual inflation) from the monthly final University of Michigan Survey of Consumers and actual U.S. inflation data based on the monthly non-seasonally adjusted consumer price index (U.S. All items, 1982-84=100). The University of Michigan releases final survey data near the end of the measured month, and the long-turn historical expected inflation series presents a 3-month simple moving average (SMA3) of monthly measurements. We consider two relationships:

  • Expected annual inflation versus one-year hence actual annual inflation.
  • Monthly change in expected annual inflation versus monthly change in actual annual inflation.

As a separate (investor-oriented) test, we relate monthly change in expected annual inflation to next-month total returns for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) and iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT). Using monthly survey/inflation data since March 1978 (limited by survey data) and monthly SPY and TLT total returns since July 2002 (limited by TLT), all through January 2019, 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” for large and medium businesses from the Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices Chart Data for the second quarter of 1990 through the first quarter of 2019 (117 surveys), and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index quarterly returns (aligned to survey months), we find that: Keep Reading

ISM NMI and Stock Market Returns

Each month, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) compiles results of a survey “sent to more than 375 purchasing executives working in the non-manufacturing industries across the country.” Based on this survey, ISM computes the Non-Manufacturing Index (NMI), “a composite index based on the diffusion indexes for four…indicators with equal weights: Business Activity (seasonally adjusted), New Orders (seasonally adjusted), Employment (seasonally adjusted) and Supplier Deliveries.” ISM releases NMI for a month on the third business day of the following month. Does the monthly level of NMI or the monthly change in NMI predict U.S. stock market returns? Using monthly seasonally adjusted NMI data during January 2008 through January 2016 from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and from press releases thereafter through December 2018, and contemporaneous monthly S&P 500 Index closes (132 months), we find that: Keep Reading

ISM PMI and Stock Market Returns

According to the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), their Manufacturing Report On Business, published since 1931, “is considered by many economists to be the most reliable near-term economic barometer available.” The manufacturing summary component of this report is the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), aggregating monthly inputs from purchasing and supply executives across the U.S. regarding new orders, production, employment, deliveries and inventories. ISM releases PMI for a month at the beginning of the following month. Does PMI predict stock market returns? Using monthly seasonally adjusted PMI data during January 1950 through January 2016 from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (discontinued and removed) and from press releases thereafter through December 2018, and contemporaneous monthly S&P 500 Index closes (828 months), we find that:

Keep Reading

Should the “Anxious Index” Make Investors Anxious?

Since 1990, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has conducted a quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters. The American Statistical Association and the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted the survey from 1968-1989. Among other things, the survey solicits from economic experts probabilities of U.S. economic recession (negative GDP growth) during each of the next four quarters. The survey report release schedule is mid-quarter. For example, the release date of the fourth quarter 2018 report is November 13, 2018, with forecasts for the four quarters of 2019. The “Anxious Index” is the probability of recession during the next quarter. Are these forecasts meaningful for future U.S. stock market returns? Rather than relate the probability of recession to stock market returns, we instead relate one minus the probability of recession (the probability of good times). If forecasts are accurate, a relatively high (low) forecasted probability of good times should indicate a relatively strong (weak) stock market. Using survey results and quarterly S&P 500 Index levels (on survey release dates as available, and mid-quarter before availability of release dates) from the fourth quarter of 1968 through the fourth quarter of 2018 (201 surveys), we find that:

Keep Reading

CPI and Stocks Over the Short and Intermediate Terms

Do investors reliably react over short and intermediate terms to changes in the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI), a logical measure of the wealth discount rate? Using monthly total and core (excluding food and energy) CPI releases (for all items, not seasonally adjusted) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index open and close data for the period mid-January 1994 (the earliest for which CPI release dates are available) through mid-November 2018 (299 releases), we find that: Keep Reading

Most Effective U.S. Stock Market Return Predictors

Which economic and market variables are most effective in predicting U.S. stock market returns? In his October 2018 paper entitled “Forecasting US Stock Returns”, David McMillan tests 10-year rolling and recursive (inception-to-date) one-quarter-ahead forecasts of S&P 500 Index capital gains and total returns using 18 economic and market variables, as follows: dividend-price ratio; price-earnings ratio; cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio; payout ratio; Fed model; size premium; value premium; momentum premium; quarterly change in GDP, consumption, investment and CPI; 10-year Treasury note yield minus 3-month Treasury bill yield (term structure); Tobin’s q-ratio; purchasing managers index (PMI); equity allocation; federal government consumption and investment; and, a short moving average. He tests individual variables, four multivariate combinations and and six equal-weighted combinations of individual variable forecasts. He employs both conventional linear statistics and non-linear economic measures of accuracy based on sign and magnitude of forecast errors. He uses the historical mean return as a forecast benchmark. Using quarterly S&P 500 Index returns and data for the above-listed variables during January 1960 through February 2017, he finds that: Keep Reading

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