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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.

Unemployment Claims Reports and Near-term Stock Market Returns

Each week the 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 and next-week stock market returns. By modern period, we mean 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 dividend-adjusted weekly and daily opening and closing levels for SPY during late January 1993 through mid-July 2018 (1,330 weeks), we find that:

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ADP Employment Report and Stock Returns

Since May 2006, the 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 2002 and contemporaneous daily opening/closing and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) through early July 2018, 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 March 1953 and monthly dividend-adjusted levels of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) since January 1993, all through May 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Unemployment Rate and Stock Market Returns

The financial media and expert commentators sometimes cite the U.S. unemployment rate as an indicator of economic and stock market health, generally interpreting a jump (drop) in the unemployment rate as bad (good) for stocks. Conversely, investors may interpret a falling unemployment rate as a trigger for increases in the Federal Reserve target interest rate (and adverse stock market reactions). Is this indicator in fact predictive of U.S. stock market behavior in subsequent months, quarters and years? Using the monthly unemployment rate from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index data for the period January 1950 through April 2018 (820 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Employment and Stock Market Returns

U.S. job gains or losses are a prominent element of the monthly investment-related news cycle, with the financial media and expert commentators generally interpreting changes in employment 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 trends in fact predictive of U.S. stock market behavior in subsequent months, quarters and years? Using monthly seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and contemporaneous S&P 500 Index data for the period January 1950 through April 2018 (820 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Federal Deficit and Stock Returns

Does the level of, or change in, the annual U.S. federal deficit systematically influence the U.S. stock market, perhaps by stimulating consumption and thereby lifting corporate earnings (bullish) or by igniting inflation and thereby elevating discount rates (bearish)? To check, we relate annual stock market returns to the annual surplus/deficit (receipts minus outlays) as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We align stock market returns with deficit calculations (federal fiscal years, FY) as follows: (1) prior to 1977, we calculate annual returns from July through June; (2) we ignore the July 1976 through September 1976 transition quarter; and, (3) since 1977, we calculate annual returns from October through September. Using surplus/deficit data and returns for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) as a proxy for the U.S. stock market during FY 1930 through 2017 (83 years), plus deficit projections through 2023, we find that: Keep Reading

Expert Estimates of 2018 Country Equity Risk Premiums and Risk-free Rates

What are current estimates of equity risk premiums (ERP) and risk-free rates around the world? In their April 2018 paper entitled “Market Risk Premium and Risk-free Rate Used for 59 Countries in 2018: A Survey”, Pablo Fernandez, Vitaly Pershin and Isabel Acin summarize results of a March 2018 email survey of international finance/economic professors, analysts and company managers “about the Risk Free Rate and the Market Risk Premium (MRP) used to calculate the required return to equity in different countries.” Results are in local currencies. Based on 5,173 specific and credible responses spanning 59 countries with more than five such responses, they 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 future stock market 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 December 2017 (about 87 years) and contemporaneous levels of the S&P 500 Index (since 1950 only) and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), we find that:

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Chemical Activity Barometer as Stock Market Trend Indicator

A subscriber proposed: “It would be interesting to do an analysis of the Chemical Activity Barometer [CAB] to see if it has predictive value for the stock market. Either [look] at stock prices when [CAB makes] a two percent pivot down [from a preceding 6-month high] as a sell signal and one percent pivot up as a buy signal…[or when CAB falls] below its x month moving average.” The American Chemistry Council claims that CAB “determines turning points and likely future trends of the wider U.S. economy” and leads other commonly used economic indicators. To investigate its usefulness for U.S. stock market timing, we consider the two proposed strategies, plus two benchmarks, as follows:

  1. CAB SMAx Timing – hold stocks (the risk-free asset) when monthly CAB is above (below) its simple moving average (SMA). We consider SMA measurement intervals ranging from two months (SMA2) to 12 months (SMA12).
  2. CAB Pivot Timing – hold stocks (the risk-free asset) when monthly CAB most recently crosses 1% above (2% below) its maximum value over the preceding six months. We look at a few alternative pivot thresholds.
  3. Buy and Hold (B&H) – buy and hold the S&P Composite Index.
  4. Index SMA10 – hold stocks (the risk-free asset) when the S&P Composite Index is above (below) its 10-month SMA (SMA10), assuming signal execution the last month of the SMA measurement interval.

Since CAB data extends back to 1912, we use Robert Shiller’s S&P Composite Index to represent the U.S. stock market. For the risk-free rate, we use the 3-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield since 1934. Prior to 1934, we use Shiller’s long interest rate minus 1.59% (the average 10-year term premium since 1934). We assume a constant 0.25% friction for switching between stocks and T-bills as signaled. We focus on number of switches, compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key performance metrics. Using monthly data for CAB, the S&P Composite Stock Index, estimated dividends for the stocks in this index (for calculation of total returns) and estimated long interest rate during January 1912 through December 2017 (about 106 years), and the monthly T-bill yield since January 1934, we find that: Keep Reading

Do Copper Prices Lead the Broad Equity Market?

Is copper price a reliable leading indicator of economic activity and therefore of future corporate earnings and equity prices? To investigate, we employ the monthly price index for copper base scrap (not seasonally adjusted) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which spans multiple economic expansions and contractions. Using monthly levels of the copper scrap price index and the S&P 500 Index during January 1957 through December 2017 (61 years), we find that: Keep Reading

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