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By New_Deal_democrat June 3, 2017 10:25 am
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Weekly Indicators: coincident data turns more mixed edition
May data started out with a decent jobs report, positive in all the headlines but decelerating in the number of jobs added. Labor force participation declined, however. Motor vehicle sales were flat. The ISM manufacturing index remained positive.
 
April personal income and spending were up, but construction spending declined.
 
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, then coincident indicators.

 

Interest rates and credit spreads

  • BAA corporate bond index 4.45% -0.04% w/w (12 mo. high 4.90%. 12 mo. low 3.15%)
  • 10 year treasury bonds 2.21% -0.04% w/w 
  • Credit spread 2.24% unchanged 
Yield curve, 10 year minus 2 year:
  • 0.93%, down -0.04% w/w
30 year conventional mortgage rate
  • 4.02%, unchanged w/w (1 year high was 4.39%)

Yields on treasuries and mortgage rates made new 12 month highs in December, but subsequently retreated, turning negative for two weeks before turning neutral again.  Corporate bonds remain neutral. Spreads remain very positive. The yield curve remains weakly positive, as both the 2-5 and 5-10 year spreads (but not the 10-30 year spread) are less than +0.50.

 

Housing

 

Mortgage applications 

 

  • purchase applications down -1% w/w
  • purchase applications up +7% YoY
  • refinance applications down -6% w/w
 
Real Estate loans
  • Up +0.2% w/w 
  • Up +4.9% YoY 

Mortgage applications turned outright negative for three weeks before tipping back to neutral and then surprisingly positive for most weeks in the last few months, including this week. Refi applications remain near multi-year lows.

 

Real estate loans had been firmly positive for over 3 1/2 years, but the rate of growth (of this cumulative measure) declined sufficiently for the last three months for loans to become a neutral.

 

Money supply

M1

  • +0.6% w/w 
  • +3.0% m/m 
  • +6.3% YoY Real M1
M2
  • +0.3% w/w  
  • +0.5% m/m 
  • +3.7% YoY Real M2

Both real M1 and real M2 were positive almost all last year.  Real M2 has shown substantial deceleration beginning last August, and real M1 more recently. Both remain positives.

 

Credit conditions (from the Chicago Fed) 

 

  • Financial Conditions Index -0.86
  • Adjusted Index (removing background economic conditions) -0.38
  • Leverage subindex -0.64
In the adjusted and leverage indexes, which are more leading, a negative number is good, a positive poor. The historical breakeven point has been -0.5 for the unadjusted Index. All three metrics presently show looseness and so are positives for the economy.
 

Trade weighted US$

  • Down -0.29 to 123.01 w/w, up +1.1% YoY (one week ago) (Broad)
  • Down -0.77 to 96.67 w/w, up +2.8% YoY (yesterday) (major currencies) 

 

The US$ appreciated about 20% between mid-2014 and mid-2015.  It went mainly sideways since then until spiking higher after the US presidential election. With a few exceptions as to major currencies, it has been generally neutral for about 4 months.

 

Commodiy prices

JoC ECRI

  • Down -1.01 to 104.10 w/w
  • Up +15.53 YoY
BBG Industrial metals ETF
  • 110.26 down -1.19 w/w, up +19.0% YoY
Commodity prices bottomed near the end of 2015. After briefly turning negative, metals also surged higher since the election, but have recently cooled off somewhat.

 

Stock prices S&P 500

 

  • Up +1.0% w/w to 2439.07 (new record) 
Stock prices are positive, having made a string of new all-time highs beginning last summer, including this week.
 

Regional Fed New Orders Indexes

(*indicates report this week)

  • Empire State down -25.7 to -4.4
  • Philly down -2.0 to +25.4
  • Richmond down -26 to 0
  • Kansas City up +1 to +9
  • *Dallas up +6.6 to +18.1
  • Month over month rolling average: up +1 to +9
The regional average has been more volatile than the ISM manufacturing index, but has accurately forecast its month over month direction. These continue to be positive, although they have backed well off from March's highs.

 

Employment metrics

 Initial jobless claims

  • 248,000 up +14,000
  • 4 week average 238,000 up +2,750

 

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

 

The American Staffing Association Index

 

  • Unchanged at 95 w/w
  • Up +1.36 YoY

This index was generally neutral from May 2016 until the end of the year, and has been positive with a few exceptions since the beginning of this year.

 

Tax Withholding

  • $197.5 B for the month of May 2017 vs. $185.9 B one year ago, up +$11.6 B or +6.2%
  • $171.3 B for the last 20 reporting days vs. $169.7 B one year ago, up +$1.6 B or +0.9%

Beginning with the last half of 2014, virtually all readings were positive, but turned more mixed and choppy, and occasionally even negative, in last 2015 through the first part of 2016.  The last few months have with brief exceptions showed a marked improvement. This week is a rare neutral for the 20 day total.

 

Oil prices and usage

  • Oil down -$2.08  $47.79 w/w,  down -$4.40 YoY
  • Gas prices up +$0.01 to $2.41 w/w, up +$0.07 YoY
  • Usage 4 week average down -0.7% YoY 

 

The price of gas bottomed about 18 months ago at $1.69.  Except for early this spring, prices have generally gone sideways with a slight increasing trend for the last year.  Usage  faltered and has now turned negative for several months.

 

Bank lending rates

 

Both TED and LIBOR rose since the beginning of last year to the point where both were usually negatives, although there were some wild fluctuations.  Of importance is that TED was above 0.50 before both the 2001 and 2008 recessions.  The TED spread has turned very positive for the last several months. Meanwhile LIBOR has turned more and more negative.  I am at a loss as to why the two lending measures have diverged so sharply.

 

Consumer spending

  • Johnson Redbook up +1.8% YoY
  • Goldman Sachs/Retail Economist up +1.6 w/w, unchanged YoY
  • Gallup daily consumer spending 14 day average $101, unchanged YoY

 

Both the Goldman Sachs and Johnson Redbook Indexes progressively weakened in pulses during 2015, before improving somewhat in 2016. Meanwhile for over four months Gallup absolutely screamed higher -- until this week. This week only Johnson Redbook was a positive.

 

Transport

Railroad transport

  • Carloads up +8.0% YoY
  • loads ex-coal up +1.7% YoY
  • Intermodal units up +5.4% YoY
  • Total loads up +6.7% YoY

Shipping transport

Rail turned negative in 2015 and fell even more sharply in spring 2016. Since last June, rail improved to neutral, and then positive almost all weeks since the beginning of November. It was very positive again this week.

Harpex recently declined to repeated multi-year lows, but in the last three months came back all the way to positive. It is now higher than during 4 of the last 5 years. BDI also surged back to being a positive before declining back to neutral in the last month.  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 +0.7% w/w
  • Up +1.2% 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. It improved from negative to "less bad" to positive in 2016 and except for several recent weeks remained positive since. In the last few weeks it was neutral or negative, before turning positive this week.

 
 

SUMMARY: 

 

Among long leading indicators, Treasuries, corporate bonds, mortgage rates, and growth in real estate loans remain neutral. The yield curve is positive but weakly so. Money supply remains positive.  Purchase mortgages also are very positive, while  refinance mortgage applications remain negative. The two more leading Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Indexes are both positive.

 

Short leading indicators, including stock prices, jobless claims, industrial commodities, the regional Fed new orders indexes, spreads, financial conditions, staffing, and oil and gas prices are all positive. The US$ is neutral. Gas usage remains negative.

 

The coincident indicators turned mixed this week, with rail, steel, Harpex shipping, Johnson Redbook consumer spending, and the TED spread being positive. The Baltic Dry Index turned neutral, as did both the Goldman Sachs and Gallup measures of consumer spending.  LIBOR remains negative.

 

There were a few more neutrals and negatives this week, primarily among coincident indicators.

Nevertheless, the nowcast for the economy remains positive, as does the near term forecast. The longer term forecast also remains neutral to positive, shading a little closer to neutral based on recent data.

 

Have a nice weekend!

 

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