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By New_Deal_democrat January 20, 2018 9:30 am
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Weekly Indicators: jump in interest rates overshadows new low in jobless claims edition
December data included housing permits, which rose slightly, and the more volatile starts, which declined sharply. Industrial production and capacity utilization both rose. Consumer sentiment about the present as measured by the University of Michigan declined, while sentiment about the future rose. 
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 4.26% up +.03% w/w (1 yr range: 4.15 - 4.90)
  • 10 year treasury bonds 2.66% up +0.11% w/w  (2.05 - 2.66) (new 3 year high)
  • Credit spread 1.60% down -0.08% w/w (1.68 - 2.30) (new 10 year low)
Yield curve, 10 year minus 2 year:
  • 0.59%, up +0.04% w/w (.50 - 1.30) 
30 year conventional mortgage rate
  • 4.23%, up +0.09% w/w (3.84 -  4.39)

BAA Corporate bonds, having recently tied their expansion low, are now a positive, but only weakly so because AAA bonds did not confirm this low. Mortgage rates are now a weak negative.


Yields on treasuries and mortgage rates made new 12 month highs one year ago. The trend for most of 2017 was neutral. Treasuries just made a new high, but mortgage rates are still below theirs. The yield curve remains weakly positive, while the spread between corporate bonds and treasuries is strongly positive.




Mortgage applications 


  • Purchase apps up +3% w/w
  • Purchase apps up +7% YoY
  • Refi up +4% w/w
Real Estate loans
  • Up +0.2% w/w 
  • Up +3.5% YoY  ( 3.5 - 6.5) (new 1 year low)

Purchase applications were strong almost all last year. Refi has been dead.  Last month, purchase applications turned neutral and then negative. This week they returned to positivity.


The growth rate of real estate loans remains neutral.


Money supply


  • Up +2.8 w/w 
  • -1.2% m/m 
  • +5.8% YoY Real M1 (4.6 - 6.9)
  • Up +0.2 w/w  
  • +0.1%  m/m
  • +2.3% YoY Real M2 (2.3 - 4.1)

Since 2010, both real M1 and real M2 were resolutely positive.  Both decelerated substantially in 2017.  Real M1 is still quite positive, however, while real M2 growth has now fallen all they way to a negative.


Credit conditions (from the Chicago Fed) 


  • Financial Conditions Index down -.02 to -0.93 (new 1 year low)
  • Adjusted Index (removing background economic conditions) down -.02 to 0.78 (new 1 year low)
  • Leverage subindex unchanged -0.61
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$

  • Down -0.49 to 117.79 w/w -7.7% YoY (last week) (broad) (116.74 -128.62) 
  • Down -0.30 to 90.65 w/w, -10.1% 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


  • Up +1.17 to 114.18 w/w
  • Up +6.19 YoY 
BBG Industrial metals ETF 
  • 136.15 down -0.19 w/w, up +20.01% YoY (108.00 - 138.81)
Commodity prices bottomed near the end of 2015. After briefly turning negative, metals also surged higher after the 2016 presidential election.  ECRI has recently decelerated enough to become neutral.  Industrial metals remain a  positive.


Stock prices S&P 500


  • Up +0.9% w/w to 2810.30 (new all time high)
Stock prices are positive, having made a string of new all-time highs beginning in summer 2016.

Regional Fed New Orders Indexes

(*indicates report this week)

  • *Empire State down -7.1 to +11.9
  • *Philly down -18.1 to +10.1
  • Richmond down -19 to +16
  • Kansas City down -15 to +7
  • Dallas up +10.1 to +30.1
  • Month over month rolling average: down -5 to +15
The regional average has been more volatile than the ISM manufacturing index, but has accurately forecast its month over month direction, and remains positive, but less so than the last few months.


Employment metrics

 Initial jobless claims

  • 220,000 down -41,000 (new 40 year low)
  • 4 week average 245,500 down -5,250


Initial claims remain well within the range of a normal economic expansion. They turned negative YoY, probably due to seasonal distortions, for two weeks before falling sharply this week. The less volatile 4 week average is right in line with its 2017 average.


The American Staffing Association Index


  • Down -3 to 91 w/w
  • Down -0.7 YoY

This index was generally neutral from May through December 2016, and then positive with a few exceptions all during 2017. This number has now been negative for three weeks, but is still in the throes of volatile seasonality for several more weeks.


Tax Withholding 

  • $158.0 B for the first 12 days of January 2018 vs. $148.2 B one year ago, up +$9.8 B or +6.6%
  • $243.3 B for the last 20 reporting days vs. $226.3 B one year ago, up +$17.0 B or +7.5%

With the exception of the month of August and late November, this was positive for almost all of 2017.


Oil prices and usage 

  • Oil down -$0.90 to $63.57 w/w,  up +21.7% YoY (2.5 year high)
  • Gas prices up +0.04 to $2.56 w/w, up +$0.26 YoY 
  • Usage 4 week average up +3.9% YoY


The price of gas bottomed 2 years ago at $1.69.  With the exception of 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.


 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.


Consumer spending

  • Johnson Redbook up +2.6% YoY
  • Goldman Sachs Retail Economist -1.9% w/w, +2.7% YoY


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



Railroad transport

  • Carloads down -4.1% YoY
  • Intermodal units up +5.0% YoY
  • Total loads up +0.5% YoY

Shipping transport

Rail has been generally positive since November 2016 and remained so during all of 2017 with the exception of a period during autumn when it was mixed. There is probably still a little seasonal distortion in this week's number, so I am discounting the negative carloads for now.

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. 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 +3.5% w/w
  • Down -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. I am discounting this week's reading, like that of rail, due to seasonality, but that should end next week.




Among the long leading indicators, spreads are very positive, joined by some corporate bonds, real M1, purchase mortgage applications, and the more leading Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Indexes. Growth in real estate loans is neutral. This week treasuries, mortgage rates (slightly), refinance applications, and real M2 were all negatives.


Among the short leading indicators, stock prices, industrial metals, the regional Fed new orders indexes, spreads, financial conditions, the US$, and gas prices and usage all remain positive. Jobless claims made a new 40 year low. Oil prices and the ECRI commodity index are neutral. Staffing was negative, but this may still be seasonality.


Among the coincident indicators, positives included consumer spending, tax withholding, the TED spread, the Baltic Dry Index and Harpex. LIBOR remains negative.  Rail is mixed and steel is negative, but for now I am discounting them, although in the next week seasonality should disappear.


Aside from some remaining seasonality, the big story this week is the jump in interest rates turning some long leading indicators negative, as well as real M2. If this persists another week or two, I will downgrade the long term forecast back to neutral, but so long as housing remains strong, this is not going to turn negative. The near term forecast remain very positive, as does the nowcast for now.


Special note about the government shutdown: almost all of the above data come from the Fed or from private sources, and will continue to be reported. During the last shutdown, jobless claims were also reported. So the only data that might be affected is the daily treasury report.


Have a nice weekend!


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