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By New_Deal_democrat September 3, 2016 9:33 am
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Weekly Indicators: some wobbles appear edition

August data started out with a decent but not great employment report, a contraction in the ISM manufacturing index, and a decline in vehicle sales.  Consumer confidence rose sharply. July data included increases in personal income, spending, and factory orders. House prices continued to rise, but construction spending was flat. 


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

  • 4.19% BAA corporate bonds down -.01%
  • 1.58% 10 year treasury bonds up +.02%
  • 2.61% credit spread between corporates and treasuries down -.03%
Yield curve, 10 year minus 2 year:
  • 0.78%, down -.02% w/w
30 year conventional mortgage rate:
  • 3.42%, up +.01% w/w

Yields on corporate bonds and treasuries recently made new lows, strongly suggesting that the expansion will continue through mid-2017.  On the other hand, mortgages have failed to make a new low for over 3 years, thus turning yellow (caution or neutral vs. positive) as a recession indicator.  Spreads remain neutral. Yields are still normally positive.




Mortgage applications


  • purchase applications up +1% w/w
  • purchase applications up +5% YoY
  • refinance applications up +4% w/w
Real Estate loans
  • Up +0.2% w/w
  • Up +7.3% YoY

Mortgage applications turned up early in 2015 in response to very low rates.  Refinancing briefly  spiked in response to low rates following the Brexit vote, but both refinance and purchase applications have backed off since then enough to go from positive to neutral.

Real estate loans have been firmly positive for 3 years.


Money supply


  • +0.8% w/w
  • +3.5% m/m 
  • +9.2% YoY Real M1
  • +0.2% w/w   
  • +0.8% m/m
  • +6.5% YoY Real M2 

Real M1 decelerated markedly in January to the point where it was a very weak positive, and has fluctuated since then.   Real M2 also decelerated, but has been more firmly positive.  Both have been very positive for the last three months.


Trade weighted US$

  • Up +0.44% to 120.63 w/w, up +0.4% YoY (one week ago) (Broad) 
  • Up +0.38 to 95.88 w/w, down -0.4% YoY (yesterday) (major currencies)


The US$ appreciated about 20% between mid-2014 and mid-2015.  It has gone mainly sideways since then, and for the last 6 months has generally been neutral or a positive.


Commodiy prices


  • Up +0.54 to 94.66 w/w
  • Up +3/05 YoY
BBG Industrial metals ETF
  • 97.47 down -0.19 w/w, down -3.7% YoY

Commodity prices as measured by industrial metals bottomed last November. ECRI subsequently turned up as well, enough so that both turned positive.  Industrial metals, however, have had a spot of weakness and are now back to neutral.


Stock prices S&P 50

  • Up +0.5% w/w 2180 vs. 2169
Stock price have become a positive since making new all-time highs during the last few months.

Regional Fed New Orders Indexes

(*indicates report this week)

  • Empire State up +2.9 to +1.0
  • Philly down -19.0 to -7.2
  • Richmond down -35 to -20
  • Kansas City down -2 to -7
  • *Dallas up +13.3 to +5.3
  • Month over month rolling average: up +3 to -6
In March and April, the turning up of these indexes forecast the positive readings in the ISM.  Then in May and June there was a serious divergence between the two, but in July the regional indexes became on balance positive, again forecasting the positive ISM.  In August there was a serious downdraft which again forecast the poor ISM.  It is interesting, however, that the indexes in the two regions most heavily affected by commodities (Kansas City and Dallas) are now no worse than the others.


Employment metrics

 Initial jobless claims

  • 263,000 up +2,000
  • 4 week average 263,000 down -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 

  • Unchanged at 95 w/w
  • Down -0.88 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 11 weeks has either been positive YoY, or so close as to be a neutral.


Tax Withholding

  • $192.9 B for the month of August vs. $176.2 B one year ago, up +$16.7 B or +9.5%
  • $161.0 B for the last 20 reporting days vs. $158.6 B one year ago, up $2.4 B or +1.5%

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.  For me to think it has reached a turning point, it would have to show less than +2% growth YoY on a consistent basis.


Oil prices and usage

  • Oil down -$3.09 to  $44.20 w/w
  • Gas prices up +$.05 to $2.24 w/w 
  • Usage 4 week average up +1.8% YoY


The price of gas bottomed last winter at $1.69.  Usage turned briefly negative at the beginning of the year, but has been positive ever since.  Gas prices have risen slightly in the past two weeks, but remain well off their annual high from early summer.


Bank lending rates

 Both TED and LIBOR were already rising 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 have now reached that level.


Consumer spending


Both the Goldman Sachs and Johnson Redbook Indexes progressively weakened in pulses during 2015, before improving somewhat since the beginning of last November.  Redbook has recently turned very weak (reflecting a secular decline in brick-and-morter sales?) while Goldman has turned more positive.  Gallup has been very positive for the vast majority of this year, but was negative this week.



Railroad transport

  • Carloads down -7.3% YoY
  • loads ex-coal down -3.1% YoY
  • Intermodal units down -5.1% YoY
  • Total loads down -6.2% YoY

Shipping transport

Rail traffic turned negative and then progressively worse in pulses 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). It has been trending incrementally less awful except for the last two months, even scoring neutral 3 weeks ago.  It has deteriorated again since then.

After rising briskly last spring, both the BDI and Harpex recently declined again to new multi-year lows. BDI has improved enough since then to score a neutral, while Harpex has recently resumed a slight decline. 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 -0.8% w/w
  • Down -4.9% 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 turned positive several months ago, but recently turned negative again.  This appears to be due to renewed global Chinese "dumping."




There were a few wobbles in the previously positive data this week.


With one exception, all long leading indicators are either positive or neutral.  Interest rates for corporate bonds, treasuries, the yield curve, real money supply, real estate loans, and mortgage rates are positive. Both purchase and refinance applications are neutral.  Since corporate and treasury interest rates made new lows, this resets the long leading indicator clock so far as they are concerned.  On the other hand, mortgage rates still have not made new lows for over 3 years, so this remains a big negative in the longer term forecast. 


Short leading indicators are almost all either positive or neutral.  Stock prices, jobless claims, oil and gas prices, gas usage, and the US$ against major currencies are positive. The spread between corporates and treasuries, and the broad US$ are neutral. This week industrial commodities also turned from positive to neutral. Only the volatile regional Fed averages are negative.


The coincident indicators remain mixed. Consumer spending as measured by Goldman Sachs is positive, while Johnson Redbook and Gallup were negative. Temp staffing is neutral.  Steel, the Harpex shipping index, and bank rates remain negative.  The BDI is neutral. Rail turned more negative this week.


The recent paradigm of positive leading and mixed to negative coincident indicators  wobbled some this week.  Mortgage applications, industrial commodities, and several measures of consumer spending went from positive to neutral or from neutral to negative.  This may just be weekly noise, but it bears further watching.


Have a nice weekend!

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