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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.

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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 the 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 variation in M2 and stock market returns? Using weekly data for seasonally adjusted M2 and the S&P 500 Index during November 1980 through June 2016 (1,861 weeks), we find that: Keep Reading

Real Bond Returns and Inflation

A subscriber asked (more than four 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 refer to the entire series. We apply the formula used by Aswath Damodaran to the yield series to estimate the nominal T-note total returns. We use the CPI series to calculate inflation (12-month change in CPI). We subtract inflation from the T-note nominal total return to get the T-note real total return. Using annual Shiller interest rate and CPI data for 1871 through 2015, we find that: Keep Reading

Gold Price Drivers?

What drives the price of gold: inflation, stock market behavior, public sentiment? To investigate, we relate spot gold price to non-seasonally adjusted Consumer Price Index (CPI), the S&P 500 Index and University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment. We start sampling in 1975 because: “On March 17, 1968, …the price of gold on the private market was allowed to fluctuate…[, and] in 1975…the price of gold was left to find its free-market level.” We lag CPI and consumer sentiment measurements by one month to ensure they are known to the market when calculating gold returns. Using monthly data from January 1975 (January 1978 for consumer sentiment) through June 2016 (498 or 461 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Testing 25 U.S. Stock Market Return Predictors

What variables best predict U.S. stock market returns? In his June 2016 paper entitled “Which Variables Predict and Forecast Stock Market Returns?”, David McMillan examines the power of 25 variables to predict excess return (relative to the 3-month U.S. Treasury bill yield) of Shiller’s S&P Composite Index both in-sample and out-of-sample. He chooses variables based on connectedness to expected cash flow/dividends and risk and assigns them to five groups:

  1. Financial ratios: dividend-price, price-to-earnings, cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE or P/E10), Tobin’s Q and market capitalization-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  2. Economic:  GDP cycle, GDP acceleration (rate of change in GDP growth), consumption growth, 10-year to 3-month Treasuries term spread and inflation.
  3. Labor: wage growth, unemployment, natural rate of unemployment, productivity growth and labor market conditions.
  4. Housing: house price growth, house affordability, home ownership, housing supply and new house sales.
  5. Other: University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment, Purchasing Managers Index, National Financial Conditions Index, leverage and non-financial leverage.

He employs regressions to test in-sample predictive power. He then tests out-of-sample forecasts starting in 2000 using various forecast methods and accuracy measures and considering both single-variable and multi-variable models. Using the specified data series as available during 1973 through 2014, he finds that: Keep Reading

ADP Employment Report and Stock Returns

Since May 2006, the monthly ADP National Employment Report has released a monthly estimate of U.S. nonfarm private sector employment growth using actual payroll data. The report is designed “to predict private-sector employment prior to the release of the CES [Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly Current Employment Statistics survey] report.” Do the ADP estimates affect or predict U.S. stock market returns on the release day or over the next month? To investigate, we consider both as-released (from press releases) and as-revised ADP data (from the extended downloadable historical dataset). Using monthly ADP report release dates and as-released employment growth estimates commencing April 2006, historically modeled ADP employment growth estimates commencing April 2001 and contemporaneous daily opening/closing and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) through early June 2016, we find that: Keep Reading

Productivity and the Stock Market

Financial media often cite Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) productivity growth news releases as relevant to investment outlook. Does the quarter-to-quarter change in U.S. labor force productivity predict U.S. stock market behavior? Specifically, does a rise (decline) in productivity portend strong (weak) earnings and therefore an advance (decline) for stocks? Using annualized quarterly changes in non-farm labor productivity from BLS and end-of quarter S&P 500 Index levels during January 1950 through March 2016 (265 quarters), we find that: Keep Reading

Federal Reserve Holdings and the U.S. Stock Market

Using quarterly data in their April 2013 preliminary paper entitled “Analyzing Federal Reserve Asset Purchases: From Whom Does the Fed Buy?” Seth Carpenter, Selva Demiralp, Jane Ihrig and Elizabeth Klee find that some categories of investors appear to sell U.S. Treasuries to the Federal Reserve and rebalance toward riskier assets (corporate bonds, commercial paper, and municipal debt). Are stocks a part of this process? To investigate, we relate weekly, monthly and quarterly U.S. stock market returns to comparable changes in the Federal Reserve’s System Open Market Account (SOMA) holdings, comprised of U.S. Treasury bills, U.S. Treasury notes and bonds, U.S. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIP) and Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS). The Federal Reserve reports these holdings with a small lag. Using weekly (Wednesday close) data for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) as a stock market proxy and total SOMA holdings during early July 2003 through mid-May 2016, we find that: Keep Reading

Credit Spread as a Stock Market Indicator

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 credit spread as the difference in yields between and Moody’s seasoned Baa corporate bonds and 10-year Treasury notes (T-note). Using average daily yields for these instruments by calendar month (a smoothed measurement) and contemporaneous monthly closes of the S&P 500 Index for April 1953 through March 2016 (756 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Stock Returns on Days of Unemployment Claims Reports

Each week the financial media report U.S. initial and continued unemployment claims (seasonally adjusted) as a potential indicator of future U.S. stock market returns. Do these indicators move the market? To investigate, we focus on weekly changes in unemployment claims during a period of “modern” information dissemination to release-day stock market returns. A modern period arguably encompasses the history of S&P Depository Receipts (SPY), a proxy for the U.S. stock market. Using relevant news releases and archival data as available from the Department of Labor (DOL) and daily unadjusted opening and closing levels for SPY during late January 1993 through mid-April 2016 (1,212 weeks), we find that: Keep Reading

Enhancing Stock Market Prediction with Distilled Economic Variables

Can investors exploit economic data for monthly stock market timing? In their September 2015 paper entitled “Getting the Most Out of Macroeconomic Information for Predicting Excess Stock Returns”, Cem Cakmaklı and Dick van Dijk test whether a model employing 118 economic variables improves prediction of monthly U.S. stock market (S&P 500 Index) excess returns based on conventional valuation ratios (dividend yield and price-earnings ratio) and interest rate indicators (risk-free rate, change in risk-free rate and credit spread). Excess return means above the risk-free rate. They each month apply principal component analysis to distill from the 118 economic variables (or from subsets of these variables with the most individual power to predict S&P 500 Index returns) a small group of independent predictive factors. They then regress next-month S&P 500 Index excess returns linearly on these factors and conventional valuation ratios/interest rate indicators over a rolling 10-year historical window to generate excess return predictions. They measure effectiveness of the economic inputs in two ways:

  1. Directional accuracy of forecasts (proportion of forecasts that accurately predict the sign of next-month excess returns).
  2. Explicit economic value of forecasts via mean-variance optimal stocks-cash investment strategies that each month range from 200% long to 100% short the stock index depending on monthly excess return predictions as specified and monthly volatility predictions based on daily index returns over the past month, with transaction costs of 0.0%, 0.1% or 0.3%.

Using monthly values of the 118 economic variables (lagged one month to assure availability), conventional ratios/indicators and monthly and daily S&P 500 Index levels during January 1967 through December 2014, they find that: Keep Reading

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