The Economic Indicators Data Briefing For April 2018, revealed some important indices data included new and existing home sales, both down; durable goods, down; core durable goods up; and the of consumer sentiment index, down.
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 telegraph the maintenance or change in the economy well before monthly or quarterly data available.  They are also an excellent way to “mark your beliefs to market.”
In general I go in order of leading indicators, then short leading indicators, then coincident indicators.
NOTE that I include 12 highs and lows in the data in parentheses to the right.

Interest rates and credit spreads

  • BAA corporate bond index 4.82% down -.12% w/w (1 yr range: 4.15 – 4.94)
  • 10 year treasury bonds 2.93% down -.13% w/w  (2.05 – 3.11) (new 7 year high intraweek)
  • Credit spread 1.89% up +.01% w/w (1.56 – 2.30)
Yield curve, 10 year minus 2 year:
  • 0.45%, down -0.06% w/w (0.43 – 1.30)
30 year conventional rate
  • 4.61%, down -0.17% w/w (3.84 –  4.79)

BAA Corporate bonds remain neutral. If these go above 5%, they become a negative.  rates and treasury bonds are still both negatives. The spread between corporate bonds and treasuries now gone above 1.85%, and so I have switched it positive to neutral. The only remaining positive the yield curve.

Housing

  • Down -0.3% w/w
  • Up +3.6% YoY ( 3.3 – 6.5) (re-benchmarked, adding roughly +0.5% to prior comparisons)

Refi been dead for some . Purchase were strong almost all last year, but began to falter YoY in late December, frequently turning neutral (under 3%) and even negative for one . But they made new expansion highs one ago.

With the re-benchmarking of the last year, the growth rate of loans changed neutral to positive. If the YoY rate falls below +3.25%, I downgrade back to neutral.

Money supply

M1

  • +1.0% w/w
  • -0.4% m/m
  • Up +0.7% Real M1 last 6 months
  • +1.6% YoY Real M1 (1.6 – 6.9) (new multiyear low)
M2
  • +0.2% w/w
  • +0.3% m/m
  • +1.1% YoY Real M2 (0.9 – 4.1)

Since 2010, both real M1 and real M2 were resolutely positive.  Both decelerated substantially in 2017. Real M2 growth fallen below 2.5% and thus a negative.  Real M1 growth this week was again below 3.5% YoY, but returned to positive on a 6 basis. I have thus upgraded it back to weakly positive. As I noted last week, I some whipsawing, but the decelerating trend seems clear.

Credit conditions ( the Chicago Fed)

  • Conditions Index down -0.02 to -0.83
  • Adjusted Index (removing background economic conditions) down -.03 at -0.58
  • Leverage subindex up +.02 to -0.47
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 presently show looseness and so are positives for the economy.

Trade-weighted US$

  • up +1.55 to 122.16 w/w -0.8% YoY (last week) (broad) (116.42 -128.62)
  • Up +0.60 to 94.26 w/w, -3.23% YoY (yesterday) ( 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

JoC ECRI 

  • Up +0.96 to 110.35 w/w
  • Up +4.99 YoY
BBG Industrial Metals ETF
  • 135.42 down -0.22 w/w, up +20.80% YoY (108.00 – 149.10)

Commodity prices bottomed near the end of 2015. After briefly turning negative, metals also surged higher after the 2016 presidential election.  ECRI has been neutral for many months.  On the other , industrial metals have been strongly positive and recently made a new high.Stock prices S&P 500

  • Up +0.3% w/w at 2721.33
Stock prices are a neutral, having not made either a new 3 month high or low in the last three months.  They made a string of new all- highs beginning in summer 2016.

Regional Fed New Orders Indexes

(*indicates report this week) 

  • Empire State up +7.0 to +16.0
  • Philly up +22.2 to +40.6
  • *Richmond up +25 to +16
  • * up +1 to +38
  • Dallas up +19.6 to +27.9
  • Month over month rolling average: up +5 to +28
The regional average has been more volatile than the ISM manufacturing index, but has accurately forecast its month over month direction. Last month there was a pause, but this month it is very strongly positive.

Initial jobless claims

  • 234,000 up +12,000
  • 4 week average 219,750 up +6,500

Initial claims have recently made several 40+ year lows and so are very positive. The YoY% change in these had been decelerating but is now back on its multi-year pace.

The American Staffing Association Index

  • Up +1 to 97 w/w
  • Up +2.3% 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 at the beginning of this year, but has returned to a positive.

Tax Withholding

  • $176.3 B for the last 20 reporting days vs. $178.3 B one year ago, down -$2.0 B or -1.1%
  • 20 day rolling average adjusted for tax cut [+$4 B]: up +$2.0 B or +1.1%

With the exception of the month of and late November, this was positive for almost all of 2017. It has generally been negative since the effects of the recent tax cuts started in February.

I have discontinued the intramonth metric for the remainder of this year, since the kludge to guesstimate the impact of the recent tax cuts it too noisy to be of real use.

I have been adjusting based on Treasury Dept. estimates of a decline of roughly $4 Billion over a 20 day period. Until we have YoY comparisons, we have to take this measure with a big grain of salt.

Oil prices and usage 

  • Oil down -$3.89 to $67.50 w/w,  up +39.0% YoY
  • Gas prices up +$.05 to $2.92 w/w, up $0.52 YoY
  • Usage 4 week average up +1.0% YoY

The price of gas bottomed over 2 ago at $1.69.  With the exception of last 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. I suspect we won’t get a consumer reaction, however, until gas goes over $3/gallon, a mark it reached by some measures on Friday. Because the YoY change has gone back down to under 40%, the rating has changed from negative to neutral.

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. This year the TED spread has also turned negative, but in the past few weeks it returned to being a positive.

Consumer spending 

  • Johnson Redbook up +3.2 YoY

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

Transport

Railroad transport

  • Carloads up +1.2 YoY
  • Intermodal units up +5.9% YoY
  • Total loads up +3.6% 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. After some weakness in January and February this year, rail has returned 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. Early this year it declined but has reversed course again.

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 +1.6% w/w
  • Up +3.3% YoY

Steel production improved from negative to “ bad” to positive in 2016 and with the exception of early summer, remained generally positive in 2017. It turned negative in January and early February, but with the exception of one week has been positive since then.

SUMMARY: 

The was a rebound among the leading indicators this week. Positives include purchase mortgage , the more leading Chicago Fed Conditions Indexes, and loans, rejoined this week by real M1. Corporate bonds are neutral. Mortgage rates, Treasuries, refinance applications, and real M2 are all negative.

Among the short leading indicators, industrial metals, the regional Fed new orders indexes, leverage, the US$, jobless claims, staffing, and gas prices and usage all remain positive (gas prices very weakly so). Stock prices, the ECRI commodity index, and the spread between corporate and Treasury bonds are all neutral, rejoined this week by oil prices.

Among the coincident indicators, positives include consumer spending, Harpex, steel, rail, tax withholding, and the TED spread. The Baltic Dry Index is neutral. LIBOR remains negative.

Both the nowcast remains and the short-term forecast remains positive. Manufacturing appears particularly strong. This appears primarily as a rebound in the Oil patch as revealed by the and Texas regional Fed .

Although the -term indicators rebounded a this week based primarily on a retreat in bond yields, several housing indicators — purchase mortgage applications and real estate loans — edged closer to neutrality, so while the forecast remains slightly positive, the slow trend towards at very least neutrality has continued.