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By New_Deal_democrat March 10, 2018 9:32 am
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Weekly Indicators: long leading forecast just barely above neutral edition
February data included a very strong jobs report, with the only weak spot remaining tepid wage growth. ISM services was also strongly positive. January factory orders declined, and wholesale sales declined, while inventories rose, meaning the inventory to sales ratio also rose, a negative.
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 4.64% up +.11% w/w (1 yr range: 4.15 - 4.90)
  • 10 year treasury bonds 2.89% up +.03% w/w  (2.05 - 2.93) 
  • Credit spread 1.75% up +.08% w/w (1.56 - 2.30)
Yield curve, 10 year minus 2 year:
  • 0.63%, up +0.01% w/w (.50 - 1.30)
30 year conventional mortgage rate
  • 4.58%, up +0.06% w/w (3.84 -  4.58) (tied for new 4 year high)

BAA Corporate bonds, having recently tied their expansion low, are now a positive. If they move just 0.02% higher, to above 4.65%, I will downgrade them to neutral.  Mortgage rates and treasury bonds are now both negatives. The trend for these for most of 2017 was neutral. The yield curve is positive, while the spread between corporate bonds and treasuries is strongly positive.




Mortgage applications  

  • Purchase apps down -1% w/w
  • Purchase apps up +1% YoY
  • Refi down +2% w/w
Real Estate loans
  • Unchanged w/w 
  • Up +3.9% YoY  ( 3.3 - 6.5) 

Refi has been dead for some time. Purchase applications were strong almost all last year, but began to falter in late December, turning neutral and briefly even negative. Having dropped below +3% YoY, they are again a neutral this week.


The growth rate of real estate loans remains neutral.


Money supply


  • +0.4% w/w 
  • -1.4% m/m 
  • +4.2% YoY Real M1 (3.8 - 6.9)
  • Up +0.2% w/w  
  • Up +0.1% m/m 
  • +1.8% YoY Real M2 (1.8 - 4.1) (new 7 year low)

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.


I have also downgraded real M1 to a weak positive. Over the last seven months, it has only grown +0.5%. If real M1 YoY growth falls below 3.5% and turns negative on a 6 month basis, I will downgrade it further to neutral. 


Credit conditions (from the Chicago Fed) 


  • Financial Conditions Index up +0.02 to -0.77
  • Adjusted Index (removing background economic conditions) unchanged at -0.56
  • Leverage subindex unchanged at -0.50
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 +0.62 to 118.43 w/w -6.1% YoY (last week) (broad) (116.74 -128.62) 
  • Up +0.17 to 90.12 w/w, -11.11% 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 +0.28 to 111.89 w/w
  • Up +5.29 YoY 
BBG Industrial metals ETF 
  • 134.11 down -3.56 w/w, up +18.81% YoY (108.00 - 140.86)
Commodity prices bottomed near the end of 2015. After briefly turning negative, metals also surged higher after the 2016 presidential election.  ECRI has decelerated enough to become neutral.  On the other hand, industrial metals have been strongly positive and made a new high two weeks ago.


Stock prices S&P 500


  • Up 3.5% w/w to 2786.57 
Despite the recent 10% correction, stock prices did not make a new 3 month low and so remain positive, They made a string of new all-time highs beginning in summer 2016.

Regional Fed New Orders Indexes

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

  • Empire State up +1.6 to +13.5
  • Philly up +14.4 to +24.5
  • Richmond up +11 to +27
  • Kansas City up +2 to +16
  • Dallas down -0.2 to +25.3
  • Month over month rolling average: up +2 to +20
The regional average has been more volatile than the ISM manufacturing index, but has accurately forecast its month over month direction, and remains strongly positive.


Employment metrics

 Initial jobless claims

  • 231,000 up +21,000 
  • 4 week average 222,500 up +2,000 

Initial claims are near 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 94 w/w
  • Up +0.7% 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, but returned to being weakly positive several weeks ago.


Tax Withholding 

  • $209.7 B for the last 20 reporting days vs. $216.9 B one year ago, down -$6.2 B or -2.9%
  • 20 day rolling average adjusted for tax cut [+$4 B]: down -$2.2 B or -1.0%

With the exception of the month of August and late November, this was positive for almost all of 2017. It was very positive last week, but turned negative this week.


I am discontinuing 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.  Based on Treasury Dept. estimates, this is roughly $4 Billion over a 20 day period, so I am using that for a temporary adjustment this year, during which we have to take this measure with a big grain of salt.


Oil prices and usage 

  • Oil up +$0.55 to $62.09 w/w,  up +24.6% YoY
  • Gas prices up +0.01 to $2.56 w/w, up $0.22 YoY 
  • Usage 4 week average up +3.3% 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

  • 0.440 TED spread up  +0.010 w/w (1 year high)
  • 1.740 LIBOR up +0.044 w/w 

 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 +3.8 YoY
  • Goldman Sachs Retail Economist -0.8% w/w, +1.9% YoY

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



Railroad transport

  • Carloads up +1.3% YoY
  • Intermodal units up +10.4% YoY
  • Total loads up +5.8% 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. Since the beginning of this year, carloads have usually been negative, while intermodal (mainly imports) has been positive. For the last two weeks, this has resolved 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. 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 +2.9% w/w
  • Up +5.0% 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. With one exception it had been negative since the beginning of this year, but has been positive for the last two weeks.




Among the long leading indicators, spreads are positive, as are the more leading Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Indexes, Real M1 and corporate bonds are weakly positive. Purchase mortgage applications turned neutral this week. Growth in real estate loans remains neutral. Treasuries, mortgage rates, refinance applications, and real M2 are all negative.


Among the short leading indicators, industrial metals, the regional Fed new orders indexes, spreads, financial leverage, the US$, jobless claims, stocks, and gas prices and usage all remain positive. Staffing is weakly positive. Oil prices and the ECRI commodity index are neutral.


Among the coincident indicators, positives included consumer spending, the TED spread, the Baltic Dry Index and Harpex. Rail and steel have now both resolved, as expected, to positives.. LIBOR remains negative. Adjusted tax withholding, after improving to a strong positive last week, returned to being negative this week.


The recent coincident rough patch, as anticipated, ended this week. The short term forecast remains very positive. The long term forecast remains just barely positive, as improvement in real M1 was offset by mortgage applications declining to neutral, and corporate bonds being literally 0.02% away from becoming a neutral.


Have a nice weekend!

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