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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.

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 February 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Stock Market Earnings Yield and Inflation Over the Long Run

How does the U.S. stock market earnings yield (inverse of price-to-earnings ratio, or E/P) interact with the U.S. inflation rate over the long run? Is any such interaction exploitable? To investigate, we employ the long run dataset of Robert Shiller. Using monthly data for the S&P Composite Stock Index, estimated aggregate trailing 12-month earnings and dividends for the stocks in this index, and estimated U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) during January 1871 through February 2021 (over 150 years), and estimated monthly yield on 1-year U.S. Treasury bills (T-bills) since January 1951, we find that:

Keep Reading

Real Bond Returns and Inflation

A subscriber asked (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 constant maturity 10-year U.S. Treasury note after 1953. We use the term “T-note” loosely to name the entire series. We apply the formula used by Aswath Damodaran to the yield series to estimate nominal T-note total returns. We use 12-month change in CPI. We subtract inflation from T-note nominal total return to get T-note real total return. Using annual Shiller interest rate and CPI data for 1871 through 2020, 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 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 2021 (125 surveys), and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index quarterly returns (aligned to survey months), we find that: Keep Reading

Money Velocity and the Stock Market

Regarding “Money Supply (M2) and the Stock Market”, a subscriber responded: “I’ve always thought…that both M2 and velocity were needed. If there’s more money, but it is not circulating, then it doesn’t have a chance to have much impact. That’s the situation we have right now for the most part.” The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis tracks money velocity based either M1 or M2 money supplies at a quarterly frequency, stating that: “Velocity is a ratio of nominal GDP to a measure of the money supply. It can be thought of as the rate of turnover in the money supply–that is, the number of times one dollar is used to purchase final goods and services included in GDP.” Specifically, the bank calculates money velocity as quarterly nominal GDP divided by average money supply during the quarter. Using quarterly values for seasonally adjusted Velocity of M1Velocity of M2 and the S&P 500 Index from the first quarter of 1959 through the fourth quarter of 2020, we find that: Keep Reading

Money Supply (M1) and the Stock Market

A reader commented: “M2 cannot be an accurate money supply measure because it includes non-cash investments such as money market mutual funds. When the stock market corrects and people are exchanging stocks for say, money market mutual fund shares, the M2 figure will actually increase. The money supply is not literally increasing in such cases as no new cash is being created; there is merely an exchange of existing assets. Technically, only increasing the monetary base would increase the money supply, but M1 is a reasonable substitute for that as it includes the cash part of bank reserves.” The M1 money stock consists of funds that are readily accessible for spending: currency in circulation, traveler’s checks, demand deposits and other checkable deposits. Is there a reliable relationship between historical variation in M1 and stock market returns? Using weekly data for seasonally adjusted M1 and the S&P 500 Index during January 1975 through January 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Money Supply (M2) and the Stock Market

Some investing experts cite change in money supply as a potentially important driver of future stock market behavior. When the money supply grows (shrinks), they theorize, nominal asset prices tend to go up (down). Or conversely, money supply growth drives inflation, thereby elevating discount rates and depressing equity valuations. One measure of money supply is M2 money stock, which consists of currency, checking accounts, saving accounts, small certificates of deposit and retail money market mutual funds. Is there a reliable relationship between historical variations in M2 and stock market returns? Using weekly data for seasonally adjusted M2 and the S&P 500 Index during November 1980 through January 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Diversifying across Growth/Inflation States of the Economy

Can diversification across economic states improve portfolio performance? In their November 2020 paper entitled “Investing Through a Macro Factor Lens”, Harald Lohre, Robert Hixon, Jay Raol, Alexander Swade, Hua Tao and Scott Wolle study interactions between three economic “factors” (growth, defensive/U.S. Treasuries and inflation) and portfolio building blocks (asset classes and conventional factor portfolios). Their proxies for economic factors are: broad equity market for growth; U.S. Treasuries for defensive; and, spread between inflation-linked bonds and U.S. Treasuries for inflation. To diversify across economic states, they calculate historical performance of each portfolio building block during each of four economic regimes: (1) rising growth and rising inflation; (2) rising growth and falling inflation; (3) falling growth and rising inflation; and, (4) falling growth and falling inflation. They then look at benefits of adding defensive and inflation economic factor overlays to a classis 60%/40% global equities/bonds portfolio. Using monthly economic factor data and asset class/conventional factor portfolio returns during February 2001 through May 2020, they find that: Keep Reading

Cass Freight Index a Stock Market Return Predictor?

The monthly Cass Freight Index is a “measure of North American freight volumes [shipments] and expenditures… Data within the Index includes all domestic freight modes and is derived from $28 billion in freight transactions processed by Cass annually on behalf of its client base of hundreds of large shippers. These companies represent a broad sampling of industries including consumer packaged goods, food, automotive, chemical, OEM, retail and heavy equipment… The diversity of shippers and aggregate volume provide a statistically valid representation of North American shipping activity. …Volumes represent the month in which transactions are processed by Cass, not necessarily the month when the corresponding shipments took place. The January 1990 base point is 1.00. …Each month’s volumes are adjusted to provide an average 21-day work month. Adjustments also are made to compensate for business additions/deletions to the volume figures.” Cass typically publishes the index level for a month about the middle of the following month. Does freight data usefully anticipate economic trend and thereby U.S. stock market returns? To investigate, we relate level of shipments and changes in shipments and expenditures to SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) returns. Using monthly Cass Freight Index levels and monthly dividend-adjusted SPY returns as available during January 1993 (limited by inception of SPY) through January 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Alternative Yield Discount (Inflation) Rates

Investors arguably expect that investments generate returns in excess of the inflation rate. Do different measures of the inflation rate indicate materially different yield discounts? To investigate, we relate 12-month trailing S&P 500 annual operating earnings yield (E/P), S&P 500 12-month trailing annual dividend yield, 10-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) yield and 3-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield to four measures of annual U.S. inflation rate:

  1. Non-seasonally adjusted inflation rate based on the total Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (retroactive revisions of seasonal adjustments interfere with historical analysis).
  2. Non-seasonally adjusted inflation rate based on core CPI from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  3. Inflation rate based on the Personal Consumption Expenditures: Chain-type Price Index (PCE) from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  4. Trimmed mean PCE from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Using monthly data for all variables during March 1989 (limited by earnings data) through December 2020, we find that… Keep Reading

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