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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.

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

Real Bond Returns and Inflation

A subscriber asked (more than six 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 2017, we find that: Keep Reading

Mojena Market Timing Model

The Mojena Market Timing strategy (Mojena), developed and maintained by professor Richard Mojena, is a method for timing the broad U.S. stock market based on a combination of many monetary, fundamental, technical and sentiment indicators to predict changes in intermediate-term and long-term market trends. He adjusts the model annually to incorporate new data. Professor Mojena offers a hypothetical backtest of the timing model since 1970 and a live investing test since 1990 based on the S&P 500 Index (with dividends). To test the robustness of the strategy’s performance, we consider a sample period commencing with inception of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) as a liquid, low-cost proxy for the S&P 500 Index. As benchmarks, we consider both buying and holding SPY (Buy-and-Hold) and trading SPY with crash protection based on the 10-month simple moving average of the S&P 500 Index (SMA10). Using the trade dates from the Mojena Market Timing live test, daily dividend-adjusted closes for SPY and daily yields for 13-week Treasury bills (T-bills) from the end of January 1993 through August 2018 (over 25 years), we find that: Keep Reading

Gold Return vs. Change in M2

A subscriber requested testing of the relationship between U.S. M2 Money Stock and gold, offered in one form via “Why Gold May Be Looking Cheap”: “[O]ne measure I’ve found useful is the ratio of the price of gold to the U.S. money supply, measured by M2, which includes cash as well as things like money market funds, savings deposits and the like. The logic is that over the long term the price of gold should move with the change in the supply of money… That equilibrium level is also relevant for future price action. When the ratio is low, defined as 25% below equilibrium, the medium 12-month return has been over 12%. Conversely, when the ratio is high, defined as 25% above equilibrium, the 12-month median return has been -6%. …This measure can be refined further. [G]old tends to trade at a higher ratio to M2 when inflation is elevated.” Because it defines specific valuation thresholds, this approach is susceptible to data snooping bias in threshold selection. We consider an alternative setup that relates monthly change in M2 to monthly gold return. We also consider the effect of inflation on this relationship. Using monthly seasonally adjusted M2 and end-of-month London gold price fix during January 1976 (to ensure a free U.S. gold market) through June 2018 (510 months), we find that: Keep Reading

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:

Keep Reading

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

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