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Weekly Indicators: Economy Resilient In The Face Of Hurricanes Edition

By New Deal Democrat

September data started out with a strongly positive Chicago PMI.

August data included a decline in new homes sales and a real decline in personal spending. Real personal income was flat. Nominally both were positive. Durable goods orders were positive. Two measures of consumer confidence diverged somewhat, with one flat and the other 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.

Interest rates and credit spreads

  • BAA corporate bond index 4.36% +0.04% w/w (12 mo. high 4.90%. 12 mo. low 4.15%)

  • 10-year Treasury bonds 2.34% +0.08% w/w

  • Credit spread 2.02%, down -0.04% w/w

Yield curve, 10 year minus 2 year:

30-year conventional mortgage rate

Yields on Treasuries and mortgage rates made new 12-month highs in December and revisited that high earlier this year, but the trend for most of this year has been a decline to improving neutrals. Corporate bonds remain neutral. Spreads remain very positive. The yield curve remains positive also.

Housing

Mortgage applications

  • Purchase applications up +3% w/w

  • Purchase applications up +4% YoY

  • Refinance applications down -4% w/w

Real estate loans

Purchase mortgage applications have been surprisingly positive for most weeks this year while refi applications have remained near multi-year lows. Purchase mortgages, which were only up 2% YoY last week, returned to being a positive this week.

Real estate loans had been firmly positive for over 3 1/2 years, but the rate of growth (of this cumulative measure) declined sufficiently for the last few months for loans to become a neutral.

Money supply

M1

  • -1.0% w/w

  • -0.2% m/m

  • +4.8% YoY Real M1

M2

  • -0.1% w/w

  • +0.3% m/m

  • +3.2% YoY Real M2

Both real M1 and real M2 were positive almost all last year. Both recently decelerated substantially, but remain positives. If the trend this year continues, however, by about the end of the year, real M2 will be neutral, if not negative.

Credit conditions (from the Chicago Fed)

  • Financial Conditions Index down -0.03 to -0.89

  • Adjusted Index (removing background economic conditions) down -0.02 to -0.62

  • Leverage subindex down -0.04 to -0.55

The Chicago Fed updated and changed the Adjusted Index several weeks ago, so that its break-even point appears to be -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 +0.70 to 118.06 w/w, -3.3% YoY (one week ago) (Broad)

  • Up +0.94 to 93.08 w/w, -2.5% 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. With a few exceptions as to major currencies, it was neutral for about five months before turning positive several months ago.

Commodity prices

JoC ECRI

  • Down -0.25 to 108.87 w/w

  • Up +13.42 YoY

BBG Industrial metals ETF

Commodity prices bottomed near the end of 2015. After briefly turning negative, metals also surged higher after the election. ECRI briefly turned down enough to be downgraded to neutral, but both are again positive.

Stock prices S&P 500

Stock prices are positive, having made a string of new all-time highs beginning over one year ago.

Regional Fed New Orders Indexes

(*indicates report this week)

  • Empire State up +4.3 to +24.9

  • Philly up +9.2 to +29.5

  • *Richmond up +3 to +20

  • *Kansas City down -15 to +10

  • *Dallas up +4.3 to +18.6

  • Month-over-month rolling average: unchanged at +21

The regional average has been more volatile than the ISM manufacturing index, but has accurately forecast its month-over-month direction. These have turned more positive in the last two months.

Employment metrics

Initial jobless claims

  • 272,000, up +13,000

  • Four-week average 277,750, up +9,000

  • Hurricane-adjusted (one week ago) up +8.000 to 237,000

Despite the hurricane-related increase in the last several weeks, initial claims remain well within the range of a normal economic expansion, as does the four-week average.

The American Staffing Association Index

  • Up +1 to 97 w/w

  • Up +1.89 YoY

This index was generally neutral from May 2016 until the end of the year, and has been positive with a few exceptions since the beginning of this year.

Tax Withholding

  • $177.5 B for the first 19 days of September 2017 vs. $167.1 B one year ago, up +$10.4 B or +6.2%

  • $182.1 B for the last 20 reporting days vs. $170.0 B one year ago, up +$12.1 B or +7.1%

After being positive through most of 2014, these decelerated and even occasionally were negative in late 2015 through the first part of 2016. With the exception of August, 2017 has shown marked improvement.

Oil prices and usage

  • Oil up +$1.01 to $51.64 w/w, down -0.5% YoY

  • Gas prices down -$0.05 to $2.58 w/w, up +$0.36 YoY

  • Usage four-week average up +0.6% YoY

The price of gas bottomed about 21 months ago at $1.69. With the exception of July, prices generally went sideways with a slight increasing trend for the last year. Usage turned negative in the first half of this year, but subsequently improved, and for most of the last two months turned positive again. Prices appear still to be affected by Hurricane Harvey, although that is receding somewhat.

Bank lending rates

Both TED and LIBOR rose since the beginning of last year to the point where both were usually negatives, although there were some wild fluctuations. Of importance is that TED was above 0.50 before both the 2001 and 2008 recessions. The TED spread has turned very positive for the last several months. Meanwhile LIBOR has generally turned more and more negative.

Consumer spending

  • Johnson Redbook up +4.0% YoY

  • Goldman Sachs down -1.3% w/w, up +0.5% YoY

Both the Goldman Sachs and Johnson Redbook Indexes progressively weakened in pulses during 2015, before improving somewhat in 2016, and more markedly so in the last several months. Both were positive again this week, although Goldman Sachs just barely so.

Transport

Railroad transport

Shipping transport

Rail turned negative in 2015 and fell even more sharply in spring 2016. Since summer 2016, rail improved to neutral and then generally positive since November 2016. Over the last two months, it has been more mixed. It has probably also been affected by the hurricanes.

Harpex recently declined to repeated multi-year lows, then came back all the way to positive, declined again, but in the last several months has come all the way back to positive again. BDI also surged back to being a positive, declined back to neutral earlier this year, but recently turned up again, and one week ago made a three-year high. 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 -1.4% w/w

  • Up +8.1% YoY

Steel production had generally been in a decelerating uptrend through early 2014, then gradually worsened through the end of 2015. It improved from negative to “less bad” to positive in 2016 and has generally remained positive this year, although during early summer, it alternated between positive and negative. It has been more positive in the last several months.

Summary

Corporate bonds, Treasury yields, and mortgage rates have all remain neutral, as does growth in real estate loans. The yield curve, money supply, and the two more leading Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Indexes remain positive. Refinance mortgage applications are the sole negative. Purchase mortgage applications returned to positive this week vs. neutral last week.

Short leading indicators, including stock prices, industrial metals, the regional Fed new orders indexes, spreads, financial conditions, staffing, the US$, and oil and gas prices are all positive. Jobless claims nominally are neutral, but adjusted for the impact of Harvey remain very positive. Gas usage has been back and forth between positive and negative recently, and flipped back to positive.

Among the coincident indicators, positives included consumer spending, steel, the TED spread, tax withholding, the Baltic Dry Index and Harpex. LIBOR remains negative. Rail was mixed this week.

There has been very little trend variation among all of the indicators in the last few months. In the present and the near term future, the economy appears in very good shape. Over the longer term, it is neutral to positive, with what appears to be a slowly decaying trend.

New Deal Democrat, XE.com

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