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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.

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

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

Do Any Sector ETFs Reliably Lead or Lag the Market?

Do any of the major U.S. stock market sectors systematically lead or lag the overall market, perhaps because of some underlying business/economic cycle? To investigate, we examine the behaviors of the nine sectors defined by the Select Sector Standard & Poor’s Depository Receipts (SPDR) exchange traded funds (ETF), all of which started trading in December 1998:

Materials Select Sector SPDR (XLB)
Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE)
Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF)
Industrial Select Sector SPDR (XLI)
Technology Select Sector SPDR (XLK)
Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR (XLP)
Utilities Select Sector SPDR (XLU)
Health Care Select Sector SPDR (XLV)
Consumer Discretionary Select SPDR (XLY)

Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for these ETFs, along with contemporaneous data for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) as a benchmark, during December 1998 through December 2017 (229 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Combining Market, Unemployment and Interest Rate Trends

In reaction to “Combine Market Trend and Economic Trend Signals?”, a subscriber suggested adding an interest rate trend signal to those for the U.S. stock market and U.S. unemployment rate for the purpose of timing the S&P 500 Index (SP500). To investigate, we look at combining:

We consider scenarios when the SP500 trend is positive, the UR trend is positive, the T-bill trend is positive, at least one trend is positive (>=1), at least two trends are positive (>=2) or all three trends are positive (All). For total return calculations, we adjust the SP500 monthly with estimated dividends from the Shiller dataset. When not in the index, we assume return on cash from the broker is the specified T-bill yield. We focus on gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR), maximum drawdown (MaxDD) and annual Sharpe ratio as key performance metrics. We use the average monthly T-bill yield during a year as the risk-free rate for that year in Sharpe ratio calculations. While we do not apply any stocks-cash switching frictions, we do calculate the number of switches for each scenario. Using the specified monthly data through October 2017, we find that: Keep Reading

Federal Regulations and Stock Market Returns

Do changes in the U.S. federal regulatory burden predict U.S. stock market returns? To check, we consider two measures of the regulatory burden:

  1. Annual number of pages in the Federal Register (FR) during 1936-2016 – “…in which all newly proposed rules are published along with final rules, executive orders, and other agency notices—provides a sense of the flow of new regulations issued during a given period and suggests how the regulatory burden will grow as Americans try to comply with the new mandates.”
  2. Annual number of pages in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) during 1975-2016 – “…the codification of all rules and regulations promulgated by federal agencies. Its size…provides a sense of the scope of existing regulations with which American businesses, workers, and consumers must comply.

Specifically, we relate annual changes in these measures to annual returns for the S&P 500 Index. Using the specified regulatory data and annual S&P 500 Index total returns during 1929 through 2016, we find that: Keep Reading

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