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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.

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:

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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:

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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

New Home Sales and Future Stock Market/REIT Returns

Each month, the Census Bureau announces and the financial media report U.S. new home sales as a potential indicator of future U.S. stock market returns. Release date is about three weeks after the month being reported. Moreover, new releases may substantially revise recent past releases, so that the Census Bureau historical data set effectively has a longer lag. Does this economic indicator convey useful information about future returns for the broad U.S. stock market or for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT)? To investigate, we relate returns for the S&P 500 Index (SP500) and for the FTSE NAREIT All REITs total return index (REITs) to changes in new home sales at the monthly release frequency. Using monthly data for SP500 and for seasonally adjusted annualized new homes sales starting January 1963, and for REITs starting December 1971, all through September 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Housing Starts and Future Stock Market/REIT Returns

Each month, the Census Bureau announces and the financial media report U.S. housing starts as a potential indicator of future U.S. stock market returns. Release date is about two weeks after the month being reported. New releases may substantially revise recent past releases, so that the Census Bureau historical data set effectively has a longer lag. Does this economic indicator convey useful information about future returns for the broad U.S. stock market or for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT)? To investigate, we relate returns for the S&P 500 Index (SP500) and for the FTSE NAREIT All REITs total return index (REITs) to changes in housing starts at the monthly release frequency. Using monthly data for SP500 and for seasonally adjusted annualized housing starts starting January 1959, and for REITs starting December 1971, all through September 2018, we find that:

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Which Economic Variables Really Matter for Stocks?

Which economic variables are most important for predicting stock returns? In their October 2018 paper entitled “Sparse Macro Factors”, David Rapach and Guofu Zhou apply machine learning to isolate via sparse principal component analysis (PCA) which of 120 economic variables from the FRED-MD database most influence stocks. These variables span output/income, labor market, housing, consumption, orders/inventories, money/credit, yields/exchange rates and inflation. As a preliminary step, they adjust raw economic variables by, where necessary: (1) transforming them to produce stationary series; (2) adjusting for reporting lags of one or two months. They next execute sparse PCA, which sets small component weights to zero, thereby facilitating interpretation of results without sacrificing much predictive power. For comparison, they also extract the first 10 conventional principal components from the same variables. Finally, they use 202 stock portfolios to estimate the influence of sparse and conventional principal components on the cross section of stock returns. Using monthly data for the 120 economic variables and 202 stock portfolios during February 1960 through June 2018, they find that:

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Public Debt, Inflation and the Stock Market

When the U.S. government runs substantial deficits, some experts proclaim the dollar’s inevitable inflationary debasement and bad times for stocks. Other experts say that deficits are no cause for alarm, because government spending stimulates the economy, and the country can bear more debt. Who is right? Using annual (end of fiscal year, FY) level of the U.S. public debtinterest expense on the debtU.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) return and inflation rate as available during June 1929 through September 2018 (about 89 years), we find that: Keep Reading

Credit Spread as an Asset Return Predictor

A reader commented and asked: “A wide credit spread (the difference in yields between Treasury notes or Treasury bonds and investment grade or junk corporate bonds) indicates fear of bankruptcies or other bad events. A narrow credit spread indicates high expectations for the economy and corporate world. Does the credit spread anticipate stock market behavior?” To investigate, we define the U.S. credit spread as the difference in yields between Moody’s seasoned Baa corporate bonds and 10-year Treasury notes (T-note), which are average daily yields for these instruments by calendar month (a smoothed measurement). We use the S&P 500 Index (SP500) as a proxy for the U.S. stock market. We extend the investigation to bond market behavior via:

  • Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Investors Fund (VUSTX)
  • Vanguard Long-Term Investment-Grade Investors Fund (VWESX)
  • Vanguard High-Yield Corporate Investors Fund (VWEHX)

Using monthly Baa bond yields, T-note yields and SP500 closes starting April 1953 and monthly dividend-adjusted closes of VUSTX, VWESX and VWEHX starting May 1986, January 1980 and January 1980, respectively, all through August 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

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