A Roller Coaster of Economic Indicators

Includes: DIA, SPY
by: Jeffrey Frankel

The economy has been on a roller coaster ride since the cyclical peak of December 2007. (See illustration.) The gradual slide of early 2008 turned into a terrifying freefall in the last quarter of 2008 (after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy) and the first quarter of 2009. Now the train is probably at the bottom of the roller coaster valley.

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators, represented by the first car in the train, was yesterday morning reported to have risen for the seventh consecutive month in October. Similarly, consumer confidence is substantially improved relative to February (though it, like all economic statistics, has experienced some bumps in the ride). The important middle cars, which represent measures of aggregate output, probably reached bottom in the early summer, and then started back up. The BEA’s advanced estimate for GDP growth in the third quarter was 3 ½% .

The jobs measures are lagging well behind the rest of the train, as usual.
Among three key labor market measures, the hours worked series has apparently reached the bottom. Employment is still falling, though thankfully not at the very rapid pace of a year ago. The unemployment rate brings up the rear; people in that car are understandably unhappy.