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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.

Gas Prices and Future Stock Market Returns

Some experts argue that high (low) gasoline prices mean that consumers must allocate more (less) spending power to fuel, and therefore less (more) to other industries and stocks. Do data support this argument? To check, we relate U.S. stock market returns to changes in U.S. gasoline price changes. Using weekly average retail prices for regular gasoline in the U.S. and contemporaneous levels of the S&P 500 Index from late August 1990 through early February 2015 (1,279 weeks, with a six-week gap in gas prices at the turn of 1990 and a one-week gap in the S&P 500 Index in 2001), we find that: Keep Reading

Do Any Style ETFs Reliably Lead or Lag the Market?

Do any of the various U.S. stock market size and value/growth styles systematically lead or lag the overall market, perhaps because of some underlying business/economic cycle? To investigate, we consider the the following six exchange-traded funds (ETF) that cut across capitalization (large, medium and small) and value versus growth:

iShares Russell 1000 Value Index (IWD) – large capitalization value stocks.
iShares Russell 1000 Growth Index (IWF) – large capitalization growth stocks.
iShares Russell Midcap Value Index (IWS) – mid-capitalization value stocks.
iShares Russell Midcap Growth Index (IWP) – mid-capitalization growth stocks.
iShares Russell 2000 Value Index (IWN) – small capitalization value stocks.
iShares Russell 2000 Growth Index (IWO) – small capitalization growth stocks.

Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the style ETFs and S&P Depository Receipts (SPY) over the period August 2001 through December 2014 (161 months, limited by data for IWS/IWP), we find that: Keep Reading

Use the U.S. LEI for Long-term Stock Market Timing?

Referring to “Leading Economic Index and the Stock Market”, a subscriber inquired about using the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI) for the U.S. to generate long-term U.S. stock market timing signals, as follows:  

“How about using the LEI in the following fashion?

Buy when the LEI rises by 1.0 % from its lowest point in the prior six months.
Sell when the LEI falls by 1.5% from its highest point in the last six months.

I used 1% as a buy because bear markets can end abruptly, not because I was torturing the data to confess. You could use 1.5% and I think still have robust results…changes in trend, which are rare, seem to be helpful. I bought the LEI data from the Conference Board and did some testing by hand using the above going back to 1969. I think I found some interesting results. …It gave early sell in 2006… The signal date was the date of the release… Most of the benefit of the trading system comes within the last 14 years.”

Using the monthly change in LEI data from archived Conference Board press releases during June 2002 through October 2014 (146 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Components of U.S. Stock Market Returns by Decade

How do the major components of U.S. stock market performance behave over time? In his October 2014 paper entitled “Long-Term Sources of Investment Returns and a Simple Way to Enhance Equity Returns”, Baijnath Ramraika decomposes long-term returns from the U.S. stock market (as proxied by Robert Shiller’s S&P Composite Index) into four components:

  1. Dividend yield
  2. Inflation
  3. Real average change in 10-year earnings (E10)
  4. Change in the Cyclically Adjusted Price-Earnings ratio (CAPE, or P/E10)

He further segments this decomposition by decade. Using his decomposition by decade for 1881 through 2010 (13 decades), we find that: Keep Reading

Earnings per Share Growth in the Long Run

Can the U.S. stock market continue to deliver its historical return? In the preliminary draft of his paper entitled “A Pragmatist’s Guide to Long-run Equity Returns, Market Valuation, and the CAPE”, John Golob poses two questions:

  1. What long-run real return should investors expect from U.S. equities?
  2. Do popular metrics reliably indicate when the U.S. equity market is overvalued?

He notes that the body of relevant research presents no consensus on the answers to these questions, which both relate to long-term growth in corporate earnings per share. Recent forecasts for real stock market returns range from as low as 2% to about 6% (close to the 6.5% average since 1871), reflecting disagreements about how slow GDP growth, low dividends, share buybacks and the profitability of retained earnings affect earnings per share growth. The author introduces Federal Reserve Flow of Funds (U.S. Financial Accounts) and S&P 500 aggregate book value to gauge effects of stock buybacks. He also assesses the logic of using Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio (CAPE or P/E10) as a stock market valuation metric. Using S&P 500 Index price and dividend data, related earnings data and U.S. financial and economic data as available during 1871 through 2013, he concludes that: Keep Reading

Money Supply Growth and Future Stock Market Returns

Are changes in the money supply usefully predictive of stock market behavior? In his September 2014 paper entitled “Does Money Supply Growth Contain Predictive Power for Stock Returns?”, David McMillan investigates whether changes in U.S. money supply reliably affect future U.S. stock market returns. He examines also whether any predictive power of money supply growth is independent of dividend yield, interest rates and other economic variables. He focuses on M2 money stock but also considers M1 money stock and the non-M1 components of M2 (saving deposits, small time deposits, retail money market mutual funds), M4 and the monetary base and its components (currency in circulation and reserves). He considers predictability horizons of one month, one year, five years, 10 years and 15 years. Using monthly data for stock index levels, dividends and earnings from Robert Shiller and seasonally adjusted money supply and other economic data from FRED during January 1959 through December 2012 (54 years), he finds that: Keep Reading

Preponderance of Evidence Bad for U.S. Stocks?

Is the U.S. stock market in a Federal Reserve-driven bubble that is about to burst? In his August 2014 paper entitled “Fed by the Fed: A New Bubble Grows on Wall St.”, Oliver Dettmann examines how shifts away from quantitative easing by central banks, and the introduction of rising interest rates, may affect current valuation levels of the U.S. stock market. He focuses on a discounted real earnings model, employing a range of optimistic, moderate and pessimistic scenarios. Based on estimates of S&P 500 real earnings growth and an implied earnings discount rate derived from a sample period of January 1974 through June 2014, he finds that: Keep Reading

Cyclical Behaviors of Size, Value and Momentum in UK

Do the behaviors of the most widely accepted stock market factors (size, book-to-market or value, and momentum) vary with the economic trend? In the June 2014 version of their paper entitled “Macroeconomic Determinants of Cyclical Variations in Value, Size and Momentum premium in the UK”, Golam Sarwar, Cesario Mateus and Natasa Todorovic examine differences in the sensitivities of UK equity market size, value and momentum factor returns (premiums) to changes in broad and specific economic variables. They define the broad economic state each month as upturn (downturn) when the OECD Composite Leading Indicator for the UK increases (decreases) that month. They also consider contributions of six specific variables to economic trend: GDP growth; unexpected inflation (change in CPI); interest rate (3-month UK Treasury bill yield); term spread (10-year UK Treasury bond yield minus 3-month UK Treasury bill yield); credit spread (Moody’s U.S. BBA yield minus 10-year UK government bond yield); and, money supply growth. They lag economic variables by one or two months to align their releases with stock market premium measurements. Using monthly UK size, value and momentum factors and economic data during July 1982 through December 2012, they find that: Keep Reading

Risk Parity Strategy Performance When Rates Rise

Risk parity asset strategies generally make large allocations to low-volatility assets such as bonds, which tend to fall in value when interest rates rise. Is risk parity a safe strategy when rates rise? In their June 2014 research note entitled “Risk-Parity Strategies at a Crossroads, or, Who’s Afraid of Rising Yields?”, Fabian Dori, Manuel Krieger, Urs Schubiger and Daniel Torgler examine how the rising interest rate environment of the U.S. in the 1970s affects risk parity performance. They also examine how inflation and economic growth affect risk parity performance. They use the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) as a proxy for the interest rate. Their risk parity model uses 40-day past volatility for risk weighting and allows leverage to target an annualized portfolio volatility (7.5%, per Fabian Dori). They consider two benchmark portfolios: conservative, allocating 60% to bonds, 30% to stocks and 10% to commodities; and, aggressive, allocating 40% to bonds, 40% to stocks and 20% to commodities. They rebalance all portfolios daily, including estimated transaction costs. They compare six-month returns of risk parity and benchmark portfolios across ranked fifths (quintiles) of contemporaneous six-month changes in interest rates, inflation and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate. Using daily levels of a generic 10-year T-note, the S&P 500 Index and the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index during January 1970 through June 1996 and actual daily futures prices for 2-year, 5-year and 10-year T-notes, the S&P 500 Index, the NASDAQ 100 Index and the DJ UBS Commodity Index during July 1996 through April 2014, along with contemporaneous interest rate, inflation and GDP data, they find that: Keep Reading

Relative Strength of 10-year and 30-year Treasuries as Regime Indicator

Does the relative performance of 10-year U.S. Treasuries and 30-year U.S. Treasuries offer a useful risk-on/risk-off regime change signal? In their February 2014 paper entitled “An Intermarket Approach to Tactical Risk Rotation Using the Signaling Power of Treasuries to Generate Alpha and Enhance Asset Allocation” (the National Association of Active Investment Managers’ 2014 Wagner Award third place winner), Michael Gayed and Charles Bilello examine whether the relationship between the monthly total returns of the 10-year and 30-year Treasuries usefully indicate when to hold (or tilt toward) Treasuries versus stocks. They reason that informed investors migrate toward intermediate-term (long-term) Treasuries when they anticipate strong (weak) economic conditions. Therefore, the relative strength of 10-year and 30-year Treasuries signals when to take an aggressive or defensive investment posture. Using monthly total returns for 10-year and 30-year Treasuries and for the broad U.S. stock market during April 1977 through December 2013, they find that: Keep Reading

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