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By New_Deal_democrat June 9, 2018 9:25 am
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Weekly Indicators consitnue to ease edition
May data consisted of a strongly positive ISM services index. April data included a decline in factory orders, but an increase in both wholesale sales and inventory. The April JOLTS report included record high job openings, and an increase in both actual hires and quits. 
 
In the rear view mirror, Q1 productivity and unit labor costs increased.
 
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.
 
NOTE that I include 12 month highs and lows in the data in parentheses to the right.

 

Interest rates and credit spreads

  • BAA corporate bond index 4.82% up +.10% w/w (1 yr range: 4.15 - 4.94) 
  • 10 year treasury bonds 2.94% up +.04% w/w  (2.05 - 3.11) 
  • Credit spread 1.88% up +.06% w/w (1.56 - 2.30)
Yield curve, 10 year minus 2 year:
  • 0.44%, up +0.01% w/w (0.43 - 1.30) 
30 year conventional mortgage rate
  • 4.68%, up +0.08% w/w (3.84 -  4.79)

BAA Corporate bonds remain neutral. If these go above 5%, they will become a negative. Mortgage rates and treasury bonds are still both negatives. The spread between corporate bonds and treasuries has now gone above 1.85%, and so I have switched it from positive to neutral. The only remaining positive is the yield curve. 

 

Housing

 

Mortgage applications  

  • Purchase apps up +4% to 257 w/w 
  • Purchase apps 4 week avg. -1 to 249
  • Purchase apps YoY up +9%, 4 week YoY avg. +5%
  • Refi app up +4% w/w
 
Real Estate loans
  • Unchanged w/w 
  • Up +3.7% YoY ( 3.3 - 6.5) (re-benchmarked, adding roughly +0.5% to prior comparisons) 

Refi has been dead for some time. Purchase applications were strong almost all last year, but began to falter YoY in late December, but rebounded during spring, ultimately making new expansion highs. This week they rebounded again, so they are positive by some measures but the 4 week average has declined from the peak enough to qualify as neutral.

 

With the re-benchmarking of the last year, the growth rate of real estate loans changed from neutral to positive. If the YoY rate falls below +3.25%, I will downgrade back to neutral.

 

Money supply

M1

  • +0.2% w/w 
  • -0.3% m/m 
  • Unchanged Real M1 last 6 months 
  • +1.9% YoY Real M1 (1.6 - 6.9) 
M2
  • +0.2% w/w  
  • +0.6% m/m 
  • +1.4% YoY Real M2 (0.9 - 4.1)

Since 2010, both real M1 and real M2 were resolutely positive.  Both decelerated substantially in 2017. Real M2 growth has fallen below 2.5% and is thus a negative.  Real M1 growth this week was again below 3.5% YoY, and this week was also unchanged on a 6 month basis. It therefore remains a neutral.

 

Credit conditions (from the Chicago Fed) 

 

  • Financial Conditions Index up +.05 to -0.80
  • Adjusted Index (removing background economic conditions) up +.05 -0.53
  • Leverage subindex up +.05 to -0.40
The Chicago Fed's Adjusted Index's real break-even point is roughly -0.25.  In the leverage index, 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$

  • Up +0.30 to 122.32 w/w -0.1% YoY (last week) (broad) (116.42 -128.62) 
  • Down -0.60 to 93.54 w/w, -3.84% YoY (yesterday) (major currencies) 

 The US$ appreciated about 20% between mid-2014 and mid-2015.  It went mainly sideways afterward until briefly spiking higher after the US presidential election. It has been a positive since last summer.

 

Commodity prices

JoC ECRI 

  • Up +2.67 to 112.62 w/w
  • Up +6.58 YoY 
BBG Industrial metals ETF 
  • 142.04 up +4.02 w/w, up +29.34% YoY (108.00 - 149.10)
Commodity prices bottomed near the end of 2015. After briefly turning negative, metals also surged higher after the 2016 presidential election.  ECRI has been neutral for many months.  On the other hand, industrial metals have been strongly positive and recently made a new high.

 

Stock prices S&P 500

  • Up +1.6% w/w at 2779.03 
Stock prices are a neutral, having not made either a new 3 month high or low in the last three months.  They made a string of new all-time highs beginning in summer 2016.
 

Regional Fed New Orders Indexes

(*indicates report this week) 

  • Empire State up +7.0 to +16.0 
  • Philly up +22.2 to +40.6 
  • Richmond up +25 to +16
  • Kansas City up +1 to +38
  • Dallas down -0.2 to +27.7
  • Month over month rolling average: unchanged at +28
The regional average has been more volatile than the ISM manufacturing index, but has accurately forecast its month over month direction. Last month there was a pause, but this month it is very strongly positive.

 

Employment metrics

 Initial jobless claims

  • 222,000 up +1,000
  • 4 week average 225,500 up +2,750 

Initial claims have recently made several 40+ year lows and so are very positive. The YoY% change in these metrics had been decelerating but is now back on its multi-year pace. 

 

The American Staffing Association Index

  • Unchanged at 97 w/w
  • Up +2.3% YoY

This index was generally neutral from May through December 2016, and then positive with a few exceptions all during 2017. It was negative for over a month at the beginning of this year, but has returned to a positive.

 

Tax Withholding 

  • $175.5 B for the last 20 reporting days vs. $178.6 B one year ago, down -$3.1 B or -1.7%
  • 20 day rolling average adjusted for tax cut [+$4 B]: up +$0.9 B or +0.5%

With the exception of the month of August and late November, this was positive for almost all of 2017. It has generally been negative since the effects of the recent tax cuts started in February.

 

I have discontinued the intramonth metric for the remainder of this year, since the kludge to guesstimate the impact of the recent tax cuts makes it too noisy to be of real use.

I have been adjusting based on Treasury Dept. estimates of a decline of roughly $4 Billion over a 20 day period. Until we have YoY comparisons, we have to take this measure with a big grain of salt.

 

Oil prices and usage 

  • Oil down -$0.18 to $65.58 w/w,  up +43% YoY
  • Gas prices down -$.02 to $2.94 w/w, up $0.53 YoY 
  • Usage 4 week average down -1.1% YoY 

 The price of gas bottomed over 2 years ago at $1.69.  With the exception of last July, prices generally went sideways with a slight increasing trend in 2017.  Usage turned negative in the first half of 2017, but has almost always been positive since then, but did turn down this week. Because the YoY change has gone back above 40%, the rating has changed from neutral to negative.

 

 Bank lending rates

 Both TED and LIBOR rose in 2016 to the point where both were usually negatives, with lots of fluctuation.  Of importance is that TED was above 0.50 before both the 2001 and 2008 recessions.  The TED spread was generally increasingly positive in 2017, while LIBOR was increasingly negative. This year the TED spread has also turned negative, but in the past month it returned to being a positive.

 

Consumer spending 

  • Johnson Redbook up +4.0 YoY

 Both the Goldman Sachs and Johnson Redbook Indexes generally improved from weak to moderate or strong positives during 2017 and have remained positive this year.

 

Transport

Railroad transport

  • Carloads up +0.2 YoY
  • Intermodal units up +6.3% YoY
  • Total loads up +3.2% YoY

Shipping transport

Rail was generally positive since November 2016 and remained so during all of 2017 with the exception of a period during autumn when it was mixed. After some weakness in January and February this year, rail has returned to positive.

Harpex made multi-year lows in early 2017, then improved, declined again, and then improved  yet again to recent highs. BDI traced a similar trajectory, and made 3 year highs near the end of 2017, declined early this year, but recently has hit multiyear highs.

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 

  • Down -1.9% w/w
  • Up +1.7% YoY

Steel production improved from negative to "less bad" to positive in 2016 and with the exception of early summer, remained generally positive in 2017. It turned negative in January and early February, but with the exception of two weeks (including this week) has been positive since then. 

 
 

SUMMARY: 

 

Among the long leading indicators, the more leading Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Indexes and real estate loans remained positive, as are mortgage applications for the week. Corporate bonds, real M1, mortgage rates, and (on a 4 week average basis) purchase mortgage applications are neutral. Treasuries, refinance applications, and real M2 are all negative.

 

Among the short leading indicators, industrial metals, the regional Fed new orders indexes, financial leverage, the US$, jobless claims, and staffing all remain positive. Stock prices, the ECRI commodity index, oil and gas prices, and the spread between corporate and Treasury bonds are all neutral. Gas usage turned negative.

 

Among the coincident indicators, positives include consumer spending, Harpex, rail, tax withholding, and the TED spread. The Baltic Dry Index and steel are neutral. LIBOR remains negative.

 

While there were no big changes this week, the short leading indicators weakened slightly. Nevertheless both the nowcast and the short term forecast, buoyed in particular by manufacturing, remain positive.

 

The long leading indicators have been very, very gradually easing, and for the second week in a row they have declined enough to qualify as neutral.

 

Have a nice weekend!

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