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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.

Stock Price Momentum and Aggregate Default Risk Shocks

Are there economic conditions that favor stock price momentum investing? In the May 2012 draft of their paper entitled “Momentum and Aggregate Default Risk”, Arvind Mahajan, Alex Petkevich and Ralitsa Petkova investigate the relationship between stock momentum portfolio returns and U.S. aggregate default risk. They measure the momentum effect as average monthly gross returns of overlapping hedge portfolios formed each month by buying (selling) the equally weighted tenth of stocks with the highest (lowest) cumulative returns over the past six months and holding for six months, with a skip-month between ranking and holding intervals. They measure aggregate default risk as the prior-month yield spread between the Moody’s CCC corporate bond index and the 10-year U.S. Treasury note. They define default risk shocks as deviations from the linear relationships between default risk this month and its values the prior two months. They define high (low) default risk shock conditions as those above (below) the inception-to-date median value of the series. Using monthly returns for a very broad sample of AMEX/NYSE/NASDAQ stocks during 1960 through 2009 and monthly default risk spreads since 1954, they find that: Keep Reading

Dueling Consensus Forecasts of Economic Indicators

Which consensus forecast of U.S. economic indicators is best? How does the U.S. equity market react to consensus forecast errors? In their April 2012 paper entitled “Market Reaction to Information Shocks: Does the Bloomberg and Briefing.com Survey Matter?”, Linda Chen, George Jiang and Qin Wang investigate the accuracy of, and equity futures market reactions to, competing Bloomberg and Briefing.com survey-based forecasts for the values of scheduled weekly, biweekly, monthly and quarterly economic announcements. They focus on 14 announcements commonly treated as important: Building Permits, Capacity Utilization, Case-Shiller 20-city Index, Consumer Confidence, Consumer Price Index, Durable Goods Orders, Existing Home Sales, GDP Advance, Leading Indicators, Non-farm Payrolls, Personal Spending, Producer Price Index, Retail Sales and Unemployment Rate. They introduce standardization to compare errors across different indicator scales. Using consensus forecasts and announced values of 59 economic indicators, along with contemporaneous high-frequency price and volume data for the nearest S&P 500 futures contract (as available), over the period January 1998 through August 2010, they find that: Keep Reading

Personal Savings Rate and the Stock Market

In a past entry in his blog, guru Marc Faber observes: “There seems to be an inverse relationship between the savings rate and the stock market performance. When the savings rate is declining it is favorable for equities whereas when savings rate is increasing such as was the case in the late 1960’s, early 1980’s, and now, stock prices tend to move sideward or down.” Is this belief correct? If so, can investors exploit it? To check, we relate the U.S. personal saving rate as estimated quarterly by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (as a percentage of disposable personal income) to the quarterly change in the S&P 500 Index. Using data from the first quarter of 1950 through the first quarter of 2012 (249 quarters), we find that: Keep Reading

Economic Announcements and VIX

Do economic announcements systematically remove uncertainty from financial markets and thus reliably lower implied volatility indexes? In their September 2010 paper entitled “The Impact of Macroeconomic Announcements on Implied Volatilities”, Roland Füss, Ferdinand Mager and Lu Zhao measure the reactions of the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX) and the DAX Volatility Index (VDAX) to U.S. and German macroeconomic announcements. They consider announcements of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Producer Price Index (PPI) and the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The measurement interval is apparently close-to-close from the day before to the day of announcement. Using monthly/quarterly macroeconomic announcement dates from January 2005 through December 2009 and contemporaneous daily data for VIX and VDAX (60 months), they find that: Keep Reading

Do Homebuilders Lead the Market?

A reader asked whether the behavior of the stocks of homebuilders anticipate the overall equity market. To check, we first assemble a simple index of the performance of homebuilder stocks as the equally-weighted average monthly return for the stocks of DR Horton, Hovnanian, KB Homes, Lennar, Ryland and Pulte, starting with Pulte in August 1985 and adding the others as they are listed. Comparing these returns with monthly returns for the S&P 500 Index data for August 1985 through March 2012 (320 monthly returns), we find that: Keep Reading

Alternative Yield Discount (Inflation) Rates

Investors arguably expect that holdings earn profits in excess of the inflation rate. Do different measures of the inflation rate indicate materially different investment yield discounts? To investigate, we consider how the following two pairs of lagged annual inflation rates related to the S&P 500 annual operating earnings yield (E/P, lagged from Standard & Poor’s and forward from the Earnings Forecast), the S&P 500 annual dividend yield (lagged from Standard and Poor’s) and the 10-year Treasury note (T-note) and 3-month Treasury bill (T-bill) annualized yields:

  1. The non-seasonally adjusted inflation rate based on the total Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (retroactive revisions of seasonally-adjusted data confound historical analysis).
  2. The non-seasonally adjusted inflation rate based on core CPI from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  3. The inflation rate based on the Personal Consumption Expenditures: Chain-type Price Index (PCEPI) from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  4. The trimmed mean PCE inflation rate from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Using monthly data for all variables during March 1989 through February 2012 (23 years), we find that… Keep Reading

Election Season Stock Market VIX Drivers

Does political drama take over as the principal driver of U.S. stock market implied volatility during election seasons? In their March 2012 paper entitled “U.S. Presidential Elections and Implied Volatility: The Role of Political Uncertainty”, John Goodell and Sami Vähämaa compare the effects of political uncertainty to those of eight other sources of uncertainty on implied stock market volatility (as measured by VIX) during U.S. presidential election campaigns. They define the quadrennial campaign interval as the time from the beginning of February to the beginning of November of election years. They consider two measures of political uncertainty derived from the Iowa Electronic Markets: monthly change in probability of success of the eventual winner; and, monthly change in a measure of how close the race is. They also consider eight competing financial and economic sources of uncertainty as listed below. Using monthly data for these ten variables during the presidential election campaigns of 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 (40 total monthly observations), they find that: Keep Reading

Enhancing Financial Markets Volatility Prediction

Are there economic and financial variables that meaningfully predict return volatilities of financial markets? In their March 2012 paper entitled “A Comprehensive Look at Financial Volatility Prediction by Economic Variables”, Charlotte Christiansen, Maik Schmeling and Andreas Schrimpf investigate the ability of 38 economic and financial variables to predict return volatilities of four asset classes (stocks, foreign exchange, bonds and commodities). Asset class proxies are: (1) the S&P 500 Index; (2) spot levels for a basket of currencies versus the U.S. dollar; (3) 10-year Treasury note futures contract prices; and, (4) the S&P GSCI. They calculate actual (realized) monthly asset class volatilities from daily returns. They construct out-of-sample volatility forecasts based on iterative inception-to-date regressions of volatilities versus predictive variables. They use an autoregressive model (simple realized volatility persistence) as a benchmark. Using monthly data for 13 economic/financial variables and the S&P 500 Index realized volatility over the long period December 1926 through December 2010 (1,009 months) and monthly data for 38 variables and all four asset class volatilities during 1983 through 2010 (366 months), they find that: Keep Reading

Federal Funds Rate Changes Ubiquitously Useful?

Can investors reliably exploit monetary expansion and contraction as signaled by decreases and increases in the Federal Funds Rate (FFR)? In the December 2011 version of his paper entitled “Don’t Fight the Fed!”, Paulo Maio investigates the predictive power of FFR for the equity risk premium and the profitability of trading strategies based on this forecasting power. For example, he tests a rule-based strategy that takes a 1.5X leveraged (-0.5X short) position in a broad U.S. stock market index and a -0.5X short (1.5X long) position in the risk-free rate when the change in the FFR is below (above) some negative (positive) threshold, and otherwise a 1.0X position in the stock market index. He also tests a regression-based strategy that takes the above long (short) position in the stock market index if regression of next-month return versus change in FFR forecasts a positive (negative) return. The benchmark for these tests passively holds a 1.5X long position in the stock market index and a -0.5X position in the risk-free rate. He tests similar strategies on other risk factor and asset class indexes. Using FFR changes, one-month Treasury bill yields and monthly returns for a broad U.S. stock market index and several risk-factor portfolios since August 1954, long-term Treasuries and U.S. corporate bond indexes since August 1954, a commodities index since February 1972 and foreign currencies since July 1978, all through 2010, he finds that: Keep Reading

When and Why of the Size Effect

Does the size effect vary in an usefully predictable way? In the October 2011 revision of his paper entitled “Predicting the Small Stock Premium Over Different Horizons: What Do We Learn About Its Source?”, Valeriy Zakamulin examines whether eight U.S. market/economic variables exploitably predict the small stock premium at monthly, quarterly, semiannual and annual horizons. The eight variables are: (1) stock market return; (2) stock market dividend yield; (3) equity value premium; (4) stock return momentum; (5) default spread (Moody’s BAA-AAA corporate bond yield spread); (6)one-month Treasury bill yield; (7) U.S. Treasuries term premium (30-year bond yield minus one-month bill yield); and, (8) inflation rate. Using monthly data for the potentially predictive variables and for a broad sample of U.S. stocks/firms during January 1927 through December 2010 (1008 months, 252 quarters and 84 years), he finds that: Keep Reading

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