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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.

Employment and Stock Market Returns

U.S. job gains or losses receive prominent coverage in the monthly financial news cycle, with media and expert commentators generally interpreting employment changes 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 changes in fact predictive of U.S. stock market behavior in subsequent months, quarters and years? Using monthly seasonally adjusted non-farm employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and monthly S&P 500 Index levels during January 1939 (limited by employment data) through February 2020, we find that: Keep Reading

Evolving Equity Index Earnings-returns Relationship

Why does the coincident relationship between U.S. aggregate corporate earnings growth and stock market return change from negative in older research to positive in recent research? In their January 2020 paper entitled “Assessing the Structural Change in the Aggregate Earnings-Returns Relation”, Asher Curtis, Chang‐Jin Kim and Hyung Il Oh examine when the change in the aggregate earnings growth-market returns relationship occurs. They then examine factors explaining the change based on asset pricing theory (expected cash flow and expected discount rate). They calculate aggregate earnings growth as the value-weighted average of year-over-year change in firm quarterly earnings scaled by beginning-of-quarter stock price. They consider only U.S. firms with accounting years ending in March, June, September or December, and they exclude firms with stock prices less than $1 and firms in the top and bottom 0.5% of quarterly earnings growth. They calculate corresponding quarterly stock market returns from one month prior to two months after fiscal quarter ends to capture earnings announcement effects. Using quarterly earnings and returns data as specified for a broad sample of U.S. public firms from the first quarter of 1970 through the fourth quarter of 2016, they find that:

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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 a few days after 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 2020 (121 surveys), and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index quarterly returns (aligned to survey 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 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 2019 report is November 15, 2019, with forecasts for the four quarters of 2020. 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 2019 (205 surveys), we find that:

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Cyclical Consumption as Stock Market Return Predictor

Do investors drive stocks to overvaluation (undervaluation) in good (bad) economic times, such that corresponding expectations for future returns are therefore relatively low (high). In the August 2019 update of their paper entitled “Consumption Fluctuations and Expected Returns”, flagged by a subscriber, Victoria Atanasov, Stig Møller and Richard Priestley introduce the cyclical consumption economic variable and examine its power to predict stock market returns. They hypothesize that in good (bad) economic times:

  1. Marginal utility of present consumption is low (high).
  2. Investors are willing (unwilling) to sacrifice current consumption for investment.
  3. This investment pushes stock prices up (down) and expected returns therefore down (up).

Their principal measure of consumption is quarterly seasonally adjusted real per capita consumption expenditures on non-durables and services from the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) Table 7.1 maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. They extract its cyclical component (detrend) by regressing the logarithm of real per capita consumption on a constant and four lagged values of consumption from about six years prior. They conduct both in-sample and out-of-sample (expanding window regressions, with 2-quarter lag for release delay) tests of the quarterly relationship between cyclical consumption and future U.S. stock market returns. Using the specified consumption data and quarterly returns for the S&P 500 Index and the broad value-weighted U.S. stock market from the first quarter of 1947 through the fourth quarter of 2017, they find that: Keep Reading

CPI-to-PPI Ratio and the Stock Market

In response to “PPI and the Stock Market”, a subscriber hypothesized that increases and decreases in the ratio of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to the Producer Price Index (PPI) are bullish and bearish for the stock market, respectively. The reasoning for the hypothesis is that CPI reflects aggregate corporate revenue, while PPI reflects aggregate costs. The ratio CPI/PPI therefore relates to aggregate profitability, which should translate to stock market level. To test this hypothesis, we construct U.S. CPI/PPI monthly from non-seasonally adjusted CPI and non-seasonally adjusted PPI. We then relate changes in this ratio to S&P 500 Index returns. Using CPI and PPI values and S&P 500 Index levels during December 1927 through November 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

PPI and the Stock Market

Inflation at the producer level (per the Producer Price Index, PPI) is arguably an advance indicator for inflation downstream at the consumer level (per the Consumer Price Index, CPI). Do investors reliably react to changes in PPI as an indicator of the future wealth discount rate? In other words, is a high (low) producer-level inflation rate bad (good) for the stock market? Using monthly, non-seasonally adjusted PPI from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and S&P 500 Index levels during December 1927 through October 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

GDP Growth and Stock Market Returns

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) each quarter estimates economic growth via changes in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and its Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE), Private Domestic Investment (PDI) and government spending components. BEA releases advance, preliminary and final data about one, two and three months after quarter ends, respectively. Do these estimates of economic growth usefully predict stock market returns? To investigate, we relate economic growth metrics to S&P 500 Index returns. Using quarterly and annual seasonally adjusted nominal GDP data from BEA National Income and Product Accounts Table 1.1.5 as available during January 1929 through September 2019 (nearly 90 years) and contemporaneous levels of the S&P 500 Index, we find that:

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Combining Economic Policy Uncertainty and Stock Market Trend

A subscriber requested, as in “Combine Market Trend and Economic Trend Signals?”, testing of a strategy that combines: (1) U.S. Economic Policy Uncertainty (EPU) Index, as described and tested separately in “Economic Policy Uncertainty and the Stock Market”; and, (2) U.S. stock market trend. We consider two such combinations. The first combines:

  • 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) for the broad U.S. stock market as proxied by the S&P 500 Index. The trend is bullish (bearish) when the index is above (below) its SMA10 at the end of last month.
  • Sign of the change in EPU Index last month. A positive (negative) sign is bearish (bullish).

The second combines:

  • SMA10 for the S&P 500 Index as above.
  • 12-month simple moving average (SMA12) for the EPU Index. The trend is bullish (bearish) when the EPU Index is below (above) its SMA12 at the end of last month.

We consider alternative timing strategies that hold SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) when: the S&P 500 Index SMA10 is bullish; the EPU Index indicator is bullish; either indicator for a combination is bullish; or, both indicators for a combination are bullish. When not in SPY, we use the 3-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as the return on cash, with 0.1% switching frictions. We assume all indicators for a given month can be accurately estimated for signal execution at the market close the same month. We compute average net monthly return, standard deviation of monthly returns, net monthly Sharpe ratio (with monthly T-bill yield as the risk-free rate), net compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key strategy performance metrics. We calculate the number of switches for each scenario to indicate sensitivities to switching frictions and taxes. Using monthly values for the EPU Index, the S&P 500 Index, SPY and T-bill yield during January 1993 (inception of SPY) through October 2019, we find that:

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Combine Market Trend and Economic Trend Signals?

A subscriber requested review of an analysis concluding that combining economic trend and market trend signals enhances market timing performance. Specifically, per the example in the referenced analysis, we look at combining:

  • The 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) for the broad U.S. stock market. The trend is positive (negative) when the market is above (below) its SMA10.
  • The 12-month simple moving average (SMA12) for the U.S. unemployment rate (UR). The trend is positive (negative) when UR is below (above) its SMA12.

We consider scenarios when the stock market trend is positive, the UR trend is positive, either trend is positive or both trends are positive. We consider two samples: (1) dividend-adjusted SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) since inception at the end of January 1993 (nearly 26 years); and, (2) the S&P 500 Index (SP500) since January 1948 (limited by UR availability), adjusted monthly by estimated dividends from the Shiller dataset, for longer-term robustness tests (nearly 71 years). Per the referenced analysis, we use the seasonally adjusted civilian UR, which comes ultimately from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS generally releases UR monthly within a few days after the end of the measured month. We make the simplifying assumptions that UR for a given month is available for SMA12 calculation and signal execution at the market close for that same month. When not in the stock market, we assume return on cash from the broker is the yield on 3-month U.S. Treasury bills (T-bill). We focus on gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR), maximum drawdown (MaxDD) and annual Sharpe ratio as key performance metrics. We use the average monthly T-bill yield during a year as the risk-free rate for that year in Sharpe ratio calculations. While we do not apply any stocks-cash switching frictions or tax considerations, we do calculate the number of switches for each scenario. Using specified monthly data through September 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

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