Weekly Indicators: Are Coincident Measures Starting To Turn Edition

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Includes: DBC, GSC, ITB, IYT, SLX, SPY, USO, XHB
by: Hale Stewart

By New Deal Democrat

Monthly June data included an increase in the Leading Economic Indicators, and positive housing permits, starts, and existing home sales.

My usual note: I look at the high frequency weekly indicators because while they can be very noisy, they provide a good Now-cast of the economy, and will telegraph the maintenance or change in the economy well before monthly or quarterly data is available. They are also an excellent way to "mark your beliefs to market."

In general, I go in order of long leading indicators, then short leading indicators, and then coincident indicators.

Interest rates and credit spreads

  • 4.25% BAA corporate bonds up +.02%
  • 1.59% 10-year treasury bonds up +.06%
  • 2.66% credit spread between corporates and treasuries down -.04%

Yield curve, 10-year minus 2-year:

  • 0.86%, up +.01% w/w

30-year conventional mortgage rate:

  • 3.44%, up +.04% w/w

Yields on corporate bonds and treasuries both made new lows last week, strongly suggesting that the expansion will continue at least one more year. On the other hand, mortgages have failed to make a new low for over 3 years, thus turning yellow (caution or neutral vs. positive) as a recession indicator. Spreads remain neutral. Yields have tightened from strongly to normally positive.

Housing

Mortgage applications

  • Purchase applications -2% w/w
  • Purchase applications up +16% YoY (affected by 4th of July week)
  • Refinance applications down -1% w/w

Real Estate loans

  • +0.3% w/w
  • +7.3% YoY

Mortgage applications had been awful for several years, before turning up early last year in response to very low rates. Purchase applications are very positive, while refinancing was moving more sideways with a slight positive trend earlier this year before spiking in the last month in response to low rates.

Real estate loans have been firmly positive for nearly 3 years.

Money supply

M1

  • +.07% w/w
  • +1.5% m/m
  • +7.1% YoY Real M1

M2

  • +0.2% w/w
  • +0.4% m/m
  • +5.7% YoY Real M2

Real M1 decelerated markedly in January to the point where it was a very weak positive and has fluctuated since then. Real M2 also decelerated, but has been more firmly positive. Both have been very positive for the last three months.

Trade weighted US dollar

  • Up +0.14 to 121.78 w/w, up +4.5% YoY (one week ago) (Broad)
  • Up +0.80 to 97.38 w/w, up +0.2% YoY (yesterday) (major currencies)

The US dollar appreciated about 20% from July 2014 through spring 2015, and has gone more or less sideways with a slight positive trend since then. l consider a YoY change of 5% or higher a negative. The broad measure is again neutral this week, and against major currencies positive.

Commodity prices

JoC ECRI

  • Up +0.01 to 94.58 w/w
  • Down -1.74 YoY

BBG Industrial metals ETF

  • 100.54 down -0.38 w/w

Commodity prices, as measured by industrial metals, appear to have bottomed in November. ECRI and oil subsequently turned up as well. Both are at 6-month highs and have come back well over 50% from their most negative readings last autumn. This is enough to turn them all the way back to positive.

Stock prices S&P 500

  • Up +0.7% w/w (new all-time high)

By making a new all-time high, stock prices have become a positive.

Regional Fed New Orders Indexes

(*indicates report this week)

  • Empire State up -12.7 to -1.9
  • *Philly up +14.8 to +11.8
  • Richmond down -14 to -14
  • Kansas City up +7 to +4
  • Dallas down -20.9 to -14.9
  • Month-over-month rolling average: +3 to -3

I inaugurated coverage of these indexes as an experiment to see if they helped forecast the ISM new orders index, which is an excellent short leading indicator for sales and industrial production roughly by 6 months. In May and June, there was a serious divergence between the two, as in the regional indexes, the positive bounce in March and April has been taken back.

Employment metrics

Initial jobless claims

  • 253,000 down -1,000
  • 4-week average 257,750 down -1,250

Initial claims remain well within the range of a normal economic expansion, as does the 4-week average.

The American Staffing Association Index

  • Down -2 to 91 w/w
  • Down -1.88 YoY

This index turned negative in May 2015, getting as bad as -4.30% late last autumn. Since the beginning of the year it has been progressively "less bad" and for 5 of the last 7 weeks has been positive. This week appears to have been affected by the change in the July 4 week. Next week the reading should bounce back.

Tax Withholding

  • Not available
  • Not available

Beginning with the last half of 2014, virtually all readings were positive, but turned more mixed and choppy, while still positive, since August 2015. In February, I said I would need this series on the 20-day basis to decline to less than +2% YoY for me to think it has reached a turning point, and it did so for 3 weeks in a row, briefly becoming a major red flag. April collections ran positive, and May strongly so. June was poor. But July has started out positive again. (NOTE: Treasury server was down this week.)

Oil prices and usage

  • Oil down -$2.04 to $44.24 w/w
  • Gas prices down -$.02 to $2.23 w/w
  • Usage 4-week average up +1.3% YoY

The price of gas bottomed this winter at $1.69. Usage turned briefly negative at the beginning of the year, but has been positive ever since. Gas prices probably made their summer high 5 weeks ago.

Bank lending rates

  • 0.410 TED spread up +0.030 w/w
  • 0.488 LIBOR up +.0.006 w/w (new 5-year high)

Both TED and LIBOR were already rising since the beginning of last year to the point where both have usually been negatives, although there were some wild fluctuations. Both TED and LIBOR were at or near 5-year highs in the past several months. Of importance is that TED was above 0.50 before both the 2001 and 2008 recessions, so although it is a negative, it is not a strong one.

Consumer spending

Both the Goldman Sachs and Johnson Redbook Indexes progressively weakened in pulses during 2015, before improving somewhat since the beginning of last November. Both Goldman Sachs and Gallup were very positive this week, but JR continued very weak.

Transport

Railroad transport

  • Carloads down -5.4% YoY
  • Loads ex-coal down -0.6% YoY
  • Intermodal units down -5.8% YoY
  • Total loads down -5.6% YoY

Shipping transport

Rail traffic turned negative and then progressively worse in pulses throughout 2015. Rail loads became "less worse" in January and showed continued improvement until going over the proverbial cliff in March. They have been trending incrementally less awful except for one week ago. They are close to the point where I will change the reading to neutral.

After rising briskly last spring, both the BDI and Harpex recently declined again to new multi-year lows. BDI has improved enough since then to score a neutral, while Harpex has recently resumed a slight decline. I am wary of reading too much into price indexes like this since they are heavily influenced by supply (as in, a huge overbuilding of ships in the last decade) as well as demand.

Steel production

  • Up +2.0% w/w
  • Down -0.2% YoY

Until spring 2014, steel production had generally been in a decelerating uptrend. It then gradually rolled over and got progressively worse in pulses through the end of 2015. This year it started out as "less worse" and turned positive several months ago, but for the last 5 weeks has turned negative again.

SUMMARY:

With one exception, all long leading indicators are either positive or neutral. Interest rates for corporate bonds, treasuries, the yield curve, real money supply, real estate loans, purchase mortgage applications, and mortgage rates are positive. Refinance applications are neutral. Since corporate and treasury interest rates made new lows, this resets the long leading indicator clock so far as they are concerned. On the other hand, mortgage rates still have not made new lows for over 3 years, so this remains a big negative in the longer term forecast.

Short leading indicators are all also either positive or neutral. Commodities across the board have improved so much that they are now a positive. Stock prices turned positive. The spread between corporates and treasuries remained neutral. The US dollar against major currencies is positive, and against all currencies neutral. Jobless claims, oil and gas prices, and usage, all remain very positive.

The coincident indicators while mixed remain generally negative. Temp staffing turned negative, but this appears to be a one week artifact of seasonality. Consumer spending was positive, although one measure barely so. Steel was negative again for the 5th week in a row. Shipping and bank rates remain negative. The item of most interest is rail, which is so much less negative than several months ago that it is on the verge of turning to a neutral.

Once again this week, the long and short leading indicators either remain or have turned positive. Meanwhile, the coincident indicators, with the exception of some measures of consumer spending, are negative.

This coming week, in addition to the first read of Q2 GDP, I will be paying particular attention to temp staffing, rail, and the regional Fed indexes to see if they confirm that the shallow industrial recession bottomed out several months ago.

New Deal Democrat, XE.com