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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 Manufacturing PMI and Stock Market Returns

According to the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) each month generates the Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), aggregating monthly inputs from purchasing and supply executives in manufacturing firms across the U.S. regarding new orders, production, employment, deliveries and inventories. ISM releases Manufacturing PMI for a month at the beginning of the following month. Does Manufacturing PMI predict stock market returns? Using monthly seasonally adjusted Manufacturing PMI data during January 1948 through January 2016 from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (discontinued and removed) and from press releases thereafter through March 2021, and contemporaneous monthly S&P 500 Index closes, we find that:

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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 final GDP data from BEA National Income and Product Accounts Table 1.1.5 as available during January 1929 through April 2021 and contemporaneous levels of the S&P 500 Index, we find that:

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KCFSI as a Stock Market Return Predictor

A subscriber suggested the Kansas City Financial Stress Index (KCFSI) as a potential U.S. stock market return predictor. This index “is a monthly measure of stress in the U.S. financial system based on 11 financial market variables. A positive value indicates that financial stress is above the long-run average, while a negative value signifies that financial stress is below the long-run average. Another useful way to assess the current level of financial stress is to compare the index to its value during past, widely recognized episodes of financial stress.” The paper “Financial Stress: What Is It, How Can It Be Measured, and Why Does It Matter?” describes the 11 financial inputs for KCFSI and its methodology, which involves monthly demeaning of inputs, monthly normalization of the overall indicator to have historical standard deviation one and principal component analysis. This process changes past values in the series, perhaps even changing their signs. Is KCFSI useful for U.S. stock market investors? To investigate, we relate monthly S&P 500 Index returns to monthly values of, and changes in, KCFSI. We match return calculation intervals to KCFSI release dates. Using monthly data for KCFSI and the S&P 500 Index during February 1990 (limited by KCFSI) through March 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Consumer Credit and Stock Returns

Does expansion (contraction) of consumer credit indicate growing (shrinking) corporate sales, earnings and ultimately stock prices? The Federal Reserve collects and publishes U.S. consumer credit data on a monthly basis with a delay of about five weeks. Using monthly seasonally adjusted total U.S. consumer credit for January 1943 through February 2021 and monthly S&P 500 Index closes for January 1943 through March 2021, we find that: Keep Reading

Facing Down Inflation

What asset classes offer the best performance during episodes of high and rising inflation? In their March 2021 paper entitled “The Best Strategies for Inflationary Times”, Henry Neville, Teun Draaisma, Ben Funnell, Campbell Harvey and Otto Van Hemert analyze performances of passive and active strategies across various asset classes during inflationary episodes in the U.S., U.K., and Japan over the past 95 years. They define inflationary regimes as follows:

  • An episode begins when annual change in headline consumer price index (CPI) rises to 5% or higher.
  • An episode ends when annual change falls below 50% of its trailing 24-month peak.
  • Alternatively, an episode begins when annual change in CPI is above 2% but has fallen to less than 50% of its trailing 24-month peak, and then rises to at least 5%.

They exclude episodes shorter than six months. They also analyze alternative asset classes such as fine art and discuss crypto-assets as a potential inflation hedge. Using monthly CPI and various asset class returns in the U.S., UK and Japan during 1926 through 2020, they find that:

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Gas Prices and Future Stock Market Returns

Some experts argue that high (low) gasoline prices mean that consumers must allocate more (less) spending power to fuel, and therefore less (more) to other industries and stocks. Do data support this argument? To check, we relate U.S. stock market returns to changes in U.S. gasoline price changes. Using weekly average retail prices for regular gasoline in the U.S. and contemporaneous levels of the S&P 500 Index from late August 1990 through mid-March 2021 (with a six-week gap in gas prices at the turn of 1990 and a one-week gap in the S&P 500 Index in 2001), we find that: Keep Reading

Yield Curve as a Stock Market Indicator

Conventional wisdom holds that a steep yield curve (wide U.S. Treasuries term spread) is good for stocks, while a flat/inverted curve is bad. Is this wisdom correct and exploitable? To investigate, we consider in-sample tests of the relationships between several yield curve metrics and future U.S. stock market returns and two out-of-sample signal-based tests. Using average monthly yields for 3-month Treasuries (T-bill), 1-year Treasuries, 3-year Treasuries, 5-year Treasuries and 10-year Treasuries (T-note) as available since April 1953, monthly levels of the S&P 500 Index since April 1953 and monthly dividend-adjusted levels of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) since January 1993, 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:

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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

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