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By New_Deal_democrat December 10, 2016 9:58 am
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Weekly indicators: gas usage joins the US$ and interest rates as a negative edition
All of the monthly data released in the past week was positive. The November ISM services index was positive and improving. Univ. of Michigan's consumer sentiment improved. October factory orders increased. Wholesale inventories fell while sales increased, a double positive.

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

  • Dow Jones corporate bond index 357.51 down -1.15 w/w (2016 high is 395.36, 2016 low is 341.41)
  • 2.47% 10 year treasury bonds up +.08%
  • BofA/ML B Credit spread down -.24% to 4.28% (new 24 month low)
Yield curve, 10 year minus 2 year:
  • 1.28%, up +.02% w/w
30 year conventional mortgage rate
  • 4.20%, up +.07% w/w (52 week high of 4.24% intraweek)

Yields on treasuries and mortgage rates continued near 12 month highs this week, and remain negatives. Corporate bonds are still neutral. Because rates made new lows after the Brexit vote in June, that nevertheless strongly suggests that the expansion will continue through mid-2017.  The yield curve is also still positive, and spreads have turned positive as well.




Mortgage applications


  • purchase applications up +0.4% w/w
  • purchase applications up +3% YoY
  • refinance applications down -1% w/w
Real Estate loans
  • Unchanged w/w
  • Up +6.7% YoY 

Mortgage applications briefly  spiked in response to low rates following the Brexit vote.  Purchase applications last made a new high at the beginning of June.  They have wobbled between being positive and neutral for nearly 3 months. This week they were again nearly negative, and I believe they will turn YoY negative within the next several weeks.  If so, they will flip to becoming an important negative. Refinance applications have turned south in a big way in the last few weeks and are near multiyear lows.


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


Money supply


  • -1.3% w/w
  • +1.3% m/m
  • +7.2% YoY Real M1
  • Unchanged w/w
  • +0.6% m/m 
  • +6.3% YoY Real M2 

Both real M1 and real M2 have been firmly positive almost all year, although less so in the last month. 


Trade weighted US$

  • Down -0.72 to 127.14 w/w, up +5.2% YoY (one week ago) (Broad)
  • Up +0.94 to 101.59 w/w, up +4.1% 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. It has been neutral for about 2 months, and this week the broad index was again negative.


Commodiy prices


  • Up +1.96 to 102.98 w/w
  • Up +28.93 YoY
BBG Industrial metals ETF
  • 114.78 up +1.35 w/w, up +28.9% YoY
Commodity prices bottomed about one year ago. After briefly turning negative, metals have now surged higher since the election.


Stock prices S&P 500


  • Up +3.1% w/w
Stock prices became a positive having made new all-time highs in summer, and made more new highs this week.

Regional Fed New Orders Indexes

(*indicates report this week)(no reports this week)

  • Empire State up +8.7 to +3.1
  • Philly up +2.3 to +18.6
  • Richmond up +19 to +7
  • Kansas City down -8 to +6*Dallas up +2.1 to -1.4
  • Month over month rolling a verage: unchanged at +6 (12 month high)
In the months since I started coverage of this metric, the regional average has been more negative than the ISM manufacturing index, but has accurately forecast its month over month direction. The average Fed readings are now at their most positive this year,


Employment metrics

 Initial jobless claims

  • 258,000 down -10,000
  • 4 week average 252,500 up +1,000


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


The American Staffing Association Index


  • Down -3 to 96 w/w
  • Down -0.32 YoY

This index turned negative in May 2015, getting as bad as -4.30% late last autumn.  Since the beginning of the year it became progressively "less bad" and for the last few months has been so close to positive YoY as to be a neutral, as it was again this week. NOTE: the week over week reading is now strongly affected by holiday seasonality.


Tax Withholding

  • $58.4 B for the first 6 days of December vs. $56.1 B one year ago, up +$2.3 B or +4.1%
  • $180.4 B for the last 20 reporting days ending Thursday vs. $175.0 B one year ago, up +$5.4 B or +3.1%

Beginning with the last half of 2014, virtually all readings were positive, but turned more mixed and choppy, and occasionally even negative, since August 2015.  The last few months have generally shown a marked improvement.


Oil prices and usage

  • Oil down -$0.13 to  $51.48 w/w,  up +$7.80 YoY
  • Gas prices up +.06 to $2.21 w/w, up +$0.16 YoY
  • Usage 4 week average down -1.2% YoY


The price of gas bottomed last winter at $1.69.  Usage had been almost uniformly positive until several weeks ago.  It has turned negative for 2 of the last 3 weeks.  Gas prices have gone sideways for the last three months, and are now higher YoY, making them a neutral, as were oil prices this week. In general oil is no longer a tailwind for the economy, but it hasn't quite turned into a headwind yet -- although it is getting closer.


Bank lending rates


Both TED and LIBOR rose since the beginning of last year to the point where both have usually been negatives, although there were some wild fluctuations.  Of importance is that TED was above 0.50 before both the 2001 and 2008 recessions.  Both recently reached that level. The TED spread has turned positive for the last five weeks.


Consumer spending


Both the Goldman Sachs and Johnson Redbook Indexes progressively weakened in pulses during 2015, before improving somewhat over the last 12 months.  Redbook has recently turned very weak.  Goldman and Gallup have both been generally more positive, although Gallup was wobbly for a month before turning positive again. The results were all positive this week.



Railroad transport

  • Carloads up +0.9% YoY
  • loads ex-coal up +3.0% YoY
  • Intermodal units up +3.2% YoY
  • Total loads up +2.0% YoY

Shipping transport

After turning negative throughout 2015, rail loads became "less worse" in January and showed continued improvement until going over the proverbial cliff all spring (typically down -10% or more). Since June, generally rail was neutral. For the last five weeks it has turned positive.

Harpex has recently resumed its decline again to repeated multi-year lows. BDI recently turned positive, then neutral, and is now screamingly positive again.  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 +2.3% w/w
  • Up +9.5% 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 has been neutral to positive for the last few few months.




Initially, please note that seasonality is beginning to affect a number of the weekly readings on these indexes. 


The interest rate components of the long leading indicators remain negative, except for corporate bonds, which are neutral.  Purchase mortgage applications were neutral and just barely above turning negative.  Refinance applications are negative. The yield curve and money supply as well as real estate loans remain positive.


Short leading indicators, including stock prices, jobless claims, industrial commodities, and the regional Fed new orders indexes, are all positive. Spreads, temp staffing, oil and gas prices, and the US$ against major currencies are neutral.  The broad US$ remained negative, and gas usage turned negative.


The coincident indicators continue their much more positive run.  Rail, the TED spread, the BDI, steel, tax withholding, and consumer spending are all positive now.  Only the Harpex shipping index and LIBOR remain negative.


The shorter term 6 month forecast remains very positive.  The longer term 12+ forecast is clouded by the post-election increase in interest rates and the US$.  Energy prices aren't negative yet, but they are tending in that direction.


This coming week we will have a look at November consumer spending and, of increasing importance, inflation.  Next year may feature a more hawkish Fed chasing increasing prices.

 Have a nice weekend! 

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