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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.

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

Combine Market Trend and Economic Trend Signals?

A subscriber requested review of an analysis concluding that combining economic trend and market trend signals enhances market timing performance. Specifically, per the example in the referenced analysis, we look at combining:

  • The 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) for the broad U.S. stock market. The trend is positive (negative) when the market is above (below) its SMA10.
  • The 12-month simple moving average (SMA12) for the U.S. unemployment rate (UR). The trend is positive (negative) when UR is below (above) its SMA12.

We consider scenarios when the stock market trend is positive, the UR trend is positive, either trend is positive or both trends are positive. We consider two samples: (1) dividend-adjusted SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) since inception at the end of January 1993 (24 years); and, (2) the S&P 500 Index (SP500) since January 1950, adjusted monthly by estimated dividends from the Shiller dataset, as a longer-term robustness test (67 years). Per the referenced analysis, we use the seasonally adjusted civilian UR, which comes ultimately from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS generally releases UR monthly within a few days after the end of the measured month. When not in the stock market, we assume return on cash from the broker is the yield on 3-month U.S. Treasury bills (T-bill). 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

Do Hedge Funds Effectively Exploit Real-time Economic Data?

Do hedge funds demonstrate the exploitability of real-time economic data? In their June 2017 paper entitled “Can Hedge Funds Time the Market?”, Michael Brandt, Federico Nucera and Giorgio Valente evaluate whether all or some equity hedge funds vary equity market exposure in response to real-time economic data, and (if so) whether doing so improves their performance. Their proxy for real-time economic data available to a sophisticated investor is the 20-day moving average of an economic growth index derived from principal component analysis of purely as-released industrial output, employment and economic sentiment. They relate this data to hedge fund performance by:

  1. Applying a linear regression to measure the sensitivity (economic data beta) of each hedge fund to monthly changes in economic data.
  2. Sorting funds into tenths (deciles) based on economic data beta and calculating average next-month equally weighted risk-adjusted performance (7-factor alpha) by decile. The seven monthly factors used for risk adjustment are: equity market excess return; equity size factor; change in 10-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) yield; change in yield spread between BAA bonds and T-notes; and trend following factor for bonds, currencies and commodities.

Using sample of 2,224 dead and alive equity hedge funds having at least 36 months of net-of-fee returns and average assets under management of at least $10 million, and contemporaneous daily values of the economic growth index, during January 1994 through December 2014, they find that:

Keep Reading

Expert Estimates of 2017 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 2017 paper entitled “Discount Rate (Risk-Free Rate and Market Risk Premium) Used for 41 Countries in 2017: A Survey”, Pablo Fernandez, Vitaly Pershin and Isabel Acin summarize results of a March 2017 email survey of international finance/economic professors, analysts and company managers “about the Market Risk Premium (MRP) or Equity Premium used to calculate the required return to equity in different countries.” Based on 4,368 specific and credible responses spanning 41 countries with at least 25 such responses, they find that: Keep Reading

Interpreting Inverted Yield Curves as Economic Indigestion

Is there a straightforward way to interpret the state of the yield curve as a manifestation of how efficiently the economy is processing information? In his March 2017 paper entitled “Simple New Method to Predict Bear Markets (The Entropic Linkage between Equity and Bond Market Dynamics)”, Edgar Parker Jr. presents and tests a way to understand interaction between bond and equity markets based on arrival and consumption of economic information. He employs Shannon entropy to model the economy’s implied information processing ratio (R/C), with interpretations as follows:

  1. R/C ≈ 1: healthy continuously upward-sloping yield curve when information arrival and consumption rates are approximately equal.
  2. R/C >> 1: low end of the yield curve inverts when information is arriving much faster than it can be consumed.
  3. R/C << 1: high end of the yield curve inverts when information is arriving much slower than it can be consumed.

Under the latter two conditions, massive information loss (entropy growth) occurs, and firms cannot confidently plan. These conditions delay/depress economic growth and produce equity bear markets. He tests this approach by matching actual yield curve data with standardized (normal) R and C distributions that both have zero mean and standard deviation one (such that standardized R and C may be negative). Using daily yields for U.S. Treasuries across durations and daily S&P 500 Index levels during 1990 through 2016, he finds that: Keep Reading

Factor Investing and the Business Cycle

What is “under the hood” at quantitative investment firms? In their December 2016 book-length paper entitled “Factor Investing and Asset Allocation: A Business Cycle Perspective”, Vasant Naik, Mukundan Devarajan, Andrew Nowobilski, Sebastien Page and Niels Pedersen examine the process of translating macroeconomic forecasts into alpha-generating portfolios via mean-variance optimization. They address how to: (1) specify the risk factors driving returns in global financial markets; (2) estimate factor returns and volatilities; and, (3) construct an optimal portfolio of factors. They emphasize the primacy of the business cycle in estimating future returns and volatilities of risk factors across multiple asset classes. They also emphasize the importance of market valuations (to identify when price fluctuations create tactical opportunities) in investment decision making. Based on the body of financial markets research over the last 50 years and their own experiences with the investment process, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Deconstructing Industry Stock Return Momentum

Do supply chain (trade network) dynamics explain intermediate-term momentum in industry stock returns? In their December 2016 paper entitled “Feedback Loops in Industry Trade Networks and the Term Structure of Momentum Profits”, Ali Sharifkhani and Mikhail Simutin examine whether industry trading network activities create feedback that induces intermediate-term autocorrelation (echo) in associated stock returns. They apply graph theory to quantify supply-demand relationships within industry trade networks and strength of feedback loops that connect each of 49 industries to itself. They then relate network feedback strength to intermediate-term momentum (industry return from 12 months ago to seven months ago) and short-term momentum (industry return from six months ago to two months ago) for each industry as follows:

  1. Each month, sort the 49 industries into thirds (terciles) by current trade network feedback strength.
  2. Calculate the value-weighted average return of stocks within each industry.
  3. Within each feedback strength tercile, form a hedge portfolio that is long (short) the equal-weighted fifth, or quintile, of industries with the highest (lowest) past returns over each of the two specified momentum measurement intervals.
  4. Calculate average next-month return for each feedback strength-momentum double-sorted hedge portfolio.

Using industry input-output network trade data as issued (partly every five years and partly annual) and monthly industry component stock returns/capitalizations for 49 U.S. industries since 1972, and related analyst coverage data since 1984, all through December 2014, they find that: Keep Reading

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