Monthly Archives: June 2010

Updates On Economic Indicators

Here is an update on various indicators that are supposed to predict and/or depict economic activity.  These indicators have been discussed in previous blog posts:

The June Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI)(pdf) updated as of June 28, 2010:

The Consumer Metrics Institute Contraction Watch:

The USA TODAY/IHS Global Insight Economic Outlook Index:

An excerpt from June 23, 2010:

“The June update of the USA TODAY/IHS Global Insight Economic Outlook Index shows real GDP growth, at a six-month annualized growth rate, slowing from 4.1% in April to 3.1% in November. Increased consumer and business equipment and software spending fueled strong growth in the spring, but tight credit, high debt and continuing high unemployment will slow growth in the second half of the year.”

The ECRI WLI (Weekly Leading Index):

As of 6/18/10 the WLI was at 122.9 and the WLI, Gr. was at -6.9%.  A chart of the Weekly Leading and Weekly Coincident Indexes:

An excerpt from a June 25 Reuters article: “”After falling for six weeks, the uptick in the level of the Weekly Leading Index suggests some tentative stabilization, but the continuing decline in its growth rate to a 56-week low underscores the inevitability of the slowdown,” said Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of ECRI.”

The Dow Jones ESI (Economic Sentiment Indicator):

The Indicator as of June 1 was at 39.4.  An excerpt from the June 1 Press Release:

““Overall, the ESI has been flat during recent months. This likely reflects the failure of a significant pickup in underlying employment trends and suggests that while the U.S. economy is no longer in recession, its recovery is subdued,” Dow Jones Newswires “Money Talks” Columnist Alen Mattich said. “The modest rise of the Dow Jones ESI in May is largely due to a reversal of April’s slight downward distortion caused by coverage of the Congressional inquiry into Goldman Sachs.”

The Aruoba-Diebold-Scotti Business Conditions (ADS) Index:

Here is the latest chart, updated through 6-19-10:

The Conference Board Leading (LEI) and Coincident (CEI) Economic Indexes, as of June 17, 2010:

The LEI was at 109.9 and the CEI was at 101.3 in May.

An excerpt from the June 17, 2010 Press Release:

““The LEI for the United States has been rising since April 2009, and though its growth rate has slowed in 2010, it is well above its most recent peak in December 2006,” says Ataman Ozyildirim, economist at The Conference Board. “Correspondingly, current economic conditions, as measured by The Conference Board Coincident Economic Index® (CEI) for the United States, have been improving steadily since November 2009, thanks to gains in payroll employment and industrial production.”

“New Financial Conditions Index”

I had a post of this index on 3/10/10.  There is currently no updated value available.

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I post various indicators and indices because I believe they should be carefully monitored.  However, as those familiar with this blog are aware, I do not necessarily agree with what they depict or imply.

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SPX at 1041.24 as this post is written

Is This A Depression?

Although almost everyone believes we are in an economic recovery, it behooves us to at least consider whether instead we are in a continuing Depression, as I have previously written.  Beginning on June 22, 2009, I wrote a series of four blog posts that examined various aspects of our economic situation and whether we were in, or heading into, a Depression.

As I wrote on January 19, “Of course, over the last few months there have been signs of economic recovery – or at least a lessening of economic weakness.  However, I believe that these signs represent the type of intermittent economic strength that is often seen during periods of prolonged economic weakness.”

Let’s assume, for a moment, that we are in a continuing Depression, as opposed to an economic recovery as almost everyone believes.  How could virtually everyone be wrong on such a prominent issue?

I believe the answer is complex and lengthy.  However, there are at least three basic underpinnings of such a mistaken belief.

First, judging the sustainability of economic strength after a steep economic decline seems challenging.  During the 1930’s, there were many prominent people who believed that the Depression was over, only to have the economy relapse into further weakness.

Second, since the late 1920s, this country has had very few periods of Depressions or prolonged recessions, as defined.  Due to this lack of “experience,” it may be very difficult to discriminate between continual Depression characteristics, during which intermittent economic strength manifests, and that of a new economic recovery that follows a definite end of economic weakness.  As well – and this is of critical importance – how should government, business and citizens act during a Depression?  Needless to say, how these parties should act during a continual Depression will vary greatly as opposed to that of an economic recovery.   Acting as if one is in a sustainable recovery, when in fact one is in a continuing Depression, would prove devastating.

Third, as I have written of previously, do we, as a nation (and by extension the world) really understand our present economic environment?  We, as a nation, failed (some examples are found here) to predict  the severe economic weakness of late ’08 and early ’09.  Was this failure a “one-time” event – i.e. a fluke not to worry about – or the early “innings” of what will prove to be a colossal, long-running economic misinterpretation?  Before one can flippantly dismiss this concern – as I’m sure most will be tempted to do – one should heed the existence (often mentioned in this blog) of many negative “outliers” during this purported sustainable economic recovery.  Perhaps most noticeable among these outliers is unemployment issues that are proving rather intractable.

Of course, the hope is that we are avoiding a Depression.  However, if we are actually in one, it would strongly behoove us to acknowledge such and act accordingly.

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SPX at 1047.61 as this post is written

Raghuram Rajan Interview – Noteworthy Comment

A June 17 2010 Raghuram Rajan interview contained several interesting viewpoints.

While I don’t necessarily agree with what he says in this interview, I found it to be well worth reading.

Of particular note was the following comment, which I found provocative – if not very much so – and thought-provoking, as its implications, if the statement is true, are rather far-reaching:

“We have long understood that it is not income that matters, but consumption. A smart or cynical politician knows that if somehow the consumption of middle-class householders keeps up, if they can afford a new car every few years and the occasional exotic holiday, perhaps they will pay less attention to their stagnant monthly paychecks.”

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SPX at 1076.76 as this post is written

MacroMarkets June 2010 Home Price Expectations Survey

On Wednesday (June 23) MacroMarkets released its June Home Price Expectations Survey results.

Here is the Press Release (pdf); the accompanying chart is seen below:

As one can see from the above chart, the expectation is that not only has the residential real estate market hit a “bottom” as far as pricing; but that steady yet mild appreciation will occur through 2014.

The survey detail is interesting.  The most “bearish” of the forecasters is seen as Gary Shilling, with a forecast of 18.78% cumulative price decline through 2014.  A couple of other forecasters are close to this forecast, including John Brynjolfsson, with a forecast of a 18.08% cumulative price decline through 2014; and Mark Hanson with -17.37%.  Of note, all three of these most “bearish” forecasters see the preponderance of losses “front-loaded” (i.e. occurring over the nearest years, 2010-2012).

For a variety of reasons, I believe that even these “most bearish” of forecasts will prove too optimistic in hindsight.  Although an 18% decline is substantial, from a longer-term historical perspective such a decline is rather tame in light of the wild excesses that have occurred over the years.

I have written extensively about the residential real estate situation.  For a variety of reasons, it is exceedingly complex.  While many people have an optimistic view at this time regarding future residential real estate pricing trends, in my opinion such a view is unsupported on an “all things considered” basis.  Furthermore, there exists outsized potential for a price decline of severe magnitude, unfortunately.

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SPX at 1073.69 as this post is written

Macroeconomic Advisers On Possibility Of Double Dip

I found this June 10 blog post, titled “The Chances of a ‘Double-Dip’ are Essentially Nil” by Macroeconomic Advisers to be notable.

Of course, I am not in agreement with those that believe any material further economic weakness will be avoided.  However, many economists feel differently; as I have noted in the post of June 14 concerning the latest Wall Street Journal Economic Survey, “The economists in the survey put the odds of a double-dip recession at 19%.”

Some of my other thoughts on the idea of a “Double-Dip” scenario can be found at this March 8, 2010 post.

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SPX at 1082.98 as this post is written

ECRI On Frequency Of Recessions

I recently came across a notable excerpt in ECRI’s “U.S. Cyclical Outlook” of December 2009 (pdf):

“The bottom line is that long expansions are needed after severe recessions to undo the damage.  After the 1932-33 depression, not even four years of expansion were quite enough, despite 10% annual GNP growth.  This time trend growth is likely to be far lower, and the danger of frequent recessions accordingly higher.”

my comment:

I find the above excerpt interesting and notable.   While I don’t necessarily agree with ECRI’s current forecast or economic interpretations, the concept of Sustainable Prosperity is one that I have frequently written of, and it is imperative that we, as a nation, should consider our longer-term economic plight as we seek to improve our current economic  condition.

Larry Summers On The Economy

Saturday’s (June 19) Boston Globe contained an interview with Larry Summers on the state of the economy.

I found the phrasing in a couple of his statements, as seen below, notable:

“Summers, the former Harvard University president and Treasury secretary under President Clinton, presented a cautious, measured view of economic conditions. For example, after expressing confidence that European policy makers would contain the government debt crisis and avoid another global financial crisis, he added that the assessment was “my best guess, and I could be wrong.’’

Or, when asked if the nation had achieved a self-sustaining recovery, Summers responded, “I think that’s the right presumption and my expectation. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to be certain.’’”

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SPX at 1117.51 as this post is written

S&P500 Price Projections

The June 9, 2010  Livingston Survey (pdf) contains, among its various forecasts, a S&P500 forecast.  It shows the following price forecast for the dates shown:

June 30, 2010   1115.0
Dec. 31, 2010    1187.6
June 30, 2011   1243.5
Dec. 30, 2011    1280.0

These figures represent the median value across the 40 forecasters on the survey’s panel.

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I post various economic forecasts because I believe they should be carefully monitored.  However, as those familiar with this blog are aware, I do not agree with many of the consensus estimates and much of the commentary in these forecast surveys.

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SPX at 1117.48 as this post is written

Total Household Net Worth As Percent Of GDP 1Q 2010

The following chart is from the CalculatedRisk Blog of June 10, 2010.  It depicts Total Household Net Worth as a Percent of GDP.  The underlying data is from The Federal Reserve Flow of Funds 1Q2010 report:

click on chart to enlarge image

As seen in the above-referenced CalculatedRisk blog post:

“According to the Fed, household net worth is now off $11.4 Trillion from the peak in 2007, but up $6.3 trillion from the trough in Q1 2009. A majority of the decline in net worth is from real estate assets with a loss of about $6.4 trillion in value from the peak. Stock market losses are still substantial too.”

My comments:

As one can see, the first outsized peak was in 2000, and attained after the stock market bull market / stock market bubbles and economic strength.  The second outsized peak was in 2007, right near the peak of the housing bubble as well as near the stock market peak.

As seen on the chart, the Total Household Net Worth is making an upturn, but is significantly below the prior 2007 peak.

I could extensively write about various interpretations that can be made from this chart.  One way this chart can be interpreted is a gauge of “what’s in it for me?” as far as the aggregated wealth citizens are gleaning from economic activity, as measured compared to GDP.

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SPX at 1114.73 as this post is written

ECRI WLI Interpretation & Commentary

The recent steep fall in the ECRI WLI has been widely commented upon.

I’ve recently run across two items, an article and an interview, that I think are very notable with regard to interpreting the WLI.

The first is an article ( “Is ECRI Growth Rate Index Signaling A Double Dip?”) that discusses the predictive history and interpretation of the WLI.  The second is a June 11 CNBC interview of ECRI’s Lakshman Achuthan about the recent drop in the WLI and how he believes it should be interpreted.

Although I indicate the level of the ECRI WLI on a monthly basis (“Updates On Economic Indicators”), my only previous commentary on ECRI and the ECRI WLI can be found at this post of July 15, 2009.

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SPX at 1115.23 as this post is written