Brexit and the feedback of uncertainty through asset prices

The medium- and long-run consequences of Brexit are unknown, but increased uncertainty in response to the event will likely have real global effects of its own. Individuals are now less confident in their guesses about the future, and this uncertainty changes behavior, increasing risk aversion and decreasing business investment. Global markets reaction to Brexit reflects not only the new average belief about expected future earnings, but also the indirect feedback effects of the higher level of uncertainty.

Medium- and long-term effects unclear

The U.K.’s June 23 vote to leave the European Union, termed ‘Brexit’, surprised many analysts. As the referendum vote neared, markets (representing the average belief of individuals) increasingly expected the ‘remain’ party to win. Some well-educated analysts explained how Brexit would never happen (possibly what Nassim Nicholas Taleb would consider proof of a black swan). The ‘leave’ campaign won with 51.9 percent of the vote, prompting David Cameron’s announced resignation.

The medium-term consequences for the U.K. and E.U. (or anywhere else) are entirely unclear. For example, should unemployment increase and production falter in the U.K. during the next few months, the Bank of England may need to ease monetary policy further and adopt very unconventional tools. However, if the market reaction to Brexit can be fully absorbed by exchange rate adjustment, the Bank of England may need to raise interest rates in response.

On June 24, the pound sterling fell more than eight percent against the dollar (figure 1). In response to the currency depreciation, many here in the U.S. joked about buying goods online from the U.K. or planning vacations. Many others expressed uncertainty about the future of the U.K. and the E.U., and the economic and political implications for the U.S.

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Figure 1. The pound sterling fell against most currencies following the Brexit vote, including by more than eight percent in one day against the U.S. dollar.

Markets reminded of their anxiety issues

Within hours of the ‘leave’ campaign victory, stock prices of some financial services companies, such as Lloyds, fell by 30 percent. Although real changes from the vote may take two years to implement, the average belief about the appropriate cost of equity for these firms changed dramatically overnight. The fundamentals for people and businesses in the U.K. do not immediately change, but their behavior and asset prices do, and this has an indirect feedback effect on the fundamentals

Likewise, the U.S. is clearly not part of the E.U. or U.K., however, it is intimately linked to both markets through trade and investment. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 610 points (3.39%) on Friday in response to the news. The most widely-used measure of market volatility jumped nearly 50 percent (figure 2). The sales revenue of the largest U.S. companies is practically unchanged, however, individuals’ collective behavior has changed in response to uncertainty.

Individuals are repricing the assets that they previously overvalued. However, if the Bank of England is forced to wait to decide which direction its key policy will turn, how well can individuals immediately reprice future earnings? The immediate reaction to Brexit reflects not a new certainty about future earnings but increased uncertainty. Individuals never know what the future will hold, but these large unexpected events make them less confident in all of their guesses, and it changes their behavior.

vix_jun252016
Figure 2. VIX, the CBOE measure of expected near-term equity market volatility, saw an almost 50 percent daily increase following the Brexit result

Searching for safety and the uncertainty feedback loop

When people are less certain about the future, they take fewer risks. For example, business investment falls when equity market volatility is high. Individual and institutional investors also show preference for safe assets during times of increased uncertainty. In an immediate reaction to Brexit, U.S. treasuries, gold, and Japanese Yen saw inflows, while equity markets saw net outflows. Neither business fundamentals nor any rules had changed; people were showing risk aversion.

Investors’ increased aversion to equity investment raises firms’ equity cost of capital. This cost of capital is a major factor in firms’ investment decisions, especially for smaller and less-cash-flush firms. Therefore, the uncertainty induced asset price shock has a feedback mechanism through which it affects the future value of companies. This dangerous feedback mechanism can be procyclical.

What it means for the U.S.

The medium- and long-term direct effects of Brexit on the U.S. are very unclear. Brexit-induced equity market volatility, higher levels of uncertainty, and the negative effects these entail can however be analyzed with attention to the current U.S. macroeconomic environment. Three potential short-run consequences emerge:

1) Continued volatility in equity markets and strong demand for treasuries;

2) More downward pressure on business investment, which was already negative in the first quarter of 2016; and

3) Delay of the next Federal Funds rate hike in response to the above.

While the downward pressure on already weak business investment is worrisome, none of the above are enough to induce major concern. Households, many of which have recently started seeing long-awaited wage and income increases, will play a key role in determining whether recent asset price volatility will spill into consumer sentiment and awake a much worse set of feedback mechanisms.

Check out the dashboard and please leave feedback

Nearly 100 freshly updated charts:

U.S. Macro and Markets Dashboard (Updated June 26, 2016)

References and additional reading

Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World by David Easley and Jon Kleinberg

Nick Bloom comment on Brexit 

BBC: The UK’s EU referendum: All you need to know

 

Dashboard update: bond yields fall with renewed demand for safe assets and lower interest rate expectations

Monitor more than 80 economic indicators with the macro and markets dashboard:

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United States Macroeconomic and Markets Dashboard: Updated June 11, 2016

Dashboard weekly update summary:

The latest labor market data show continued overall improvement in wages and low levels of new jobless claims, offering some consolation after the surprisingly weak May jobs report (see last week’s update). Equity market volatility increased, however, as already lackluster global growth forecasts were revised down by the World Bank. Domestic and foreign investors are shifting their portfolio of assets to fixed streams of income. Global bond yields, including on U.S. government and corporate debt, fell considerably during the past week’s rally. Investors are searching for higher returns on safe assets and responding to lower interest rate expectations.

Wages grow faster than productivity

Narrowing a long and persistent gap between productivity and wage growth, recent data suggest wages have been increasing in many industries. For most of the past decade, worker’s productivity (the output for each hour of work) grew more rapidly than their wages. The gap was in part from technology making work more efficient, but it also came from a weak labor market. An economy in which there are many qualified workers for each opening makes workers less likely to quit and more likely to accept no or small increases in wages. Companies simply do not need to rely on pay increases as a motivation when fear of unemployment is very strong.

While wage growth crawled along for a decade, productivity growth remained strong. Recent data suggest, however, that the long upward trend in productivity may be facing at least a hiccup. Meanwhile, overall measures show wages have been growing at a reasonable pace since mid-2014. Revised first quarter 2016 index data on wages and productivity shows the former nearly catching the latter.

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When oil prices fall, for example, there is a transfer of wealth from the stakeholders of oil producers (who face a fall in revenue) to households (who spend less on fuel and energy). Likewise, a fall or stagnation in corporate profits can result in an increase in worker’s relative share of output. Wages, unlike commodity or stock prices, tend not to be cut. Where the past year has seen labor markets and workers’ bargaining power improve, it has seen productivity and corporate profits stagnate.

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Additionally, data for the week of June 4 on new claims of joblessness was strong, with only 264,000 such claims. Overall, reasonable wage increases, an increasing labor share of output, and low headline unemployment paint a better picture for households and aggregate demand than the last jobs report’s payroll growth and participation rate data suggest. That said, labor market improvements are traditionally slow and gradual, while deterioration is rapid and steep. The June jobs report should therefore have major implications for the Fed’s rate hike decision.

Equity market volatility climbs

U.S. equity markets gains over the first four trading days of the week were erased on Friday by a large sell off. The CBOE volatility index, VIX, increased to 17 from 13.5 a week earlier. The bond rally described below suggests that there has been a flight to safety. Investors have been adjusting in part to new forecasts of generally lower global growth. Likewise, there are several large events on the horizon (brexit, elections, central bank policy divergence, etc.) suggesting fluctuations and jumps in equity markets (as well as debt and forex markets).

vix_jun112016

Bond markets rally as investors seek safe assets and interest rate expectations fall

Over the past week, U.S. treasury bonds, t-bills, and corporate bond yields fell. Elsewhere, ten-year German bund yields are nearly negative and Japanese ten-year government bond yields have fallen to -0.13%. People’s tolerance for extremely low returns is limited, and U.S. government debt offers a relatively higher return. During the past week, ten-year U.S. treasury bonds reached a four year low, partially as a result of strong foreign demand.

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The spread between 10-year and 2-year treasuries sits currently at a nine-year low. Potential causes for the flat yield curve include the following: 1) investor search for return driving driving down long- and medium-duration bond yields, 2) investor fear of a business cycle downturn and a near future need for monetary easing, and 3) lower interest rate expectations as a result of recent data taking June (and potentially July) rate hikes off the table.

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Check out the full dashboard for more than 80 indicators of U.S. economic activity:

U.S. Macroeconomic and Markets Dashboard, June 11, 2016

I also updated the dashboard for Japan:

Japan Macroeconomic and Markets Dashboard, June 11, 2016

 

 

U.S. economy added surprisingly few jobs in May, likely delaying the next Fed funds rate hike

Monitor more than 80 economic indicators with the macro and markets dashboard:

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United States Macroeconomic and Markets Dashboard: Updated June 4, 2016

Dashboard update summary:

The employment summary released on Friday was surprisingly weak, with only 38,000 new jobs added to the U.S. economy during May and previous month figures revised down. The BLS estimate was dramatically below consensus forecasts. Many macroeconomic indicators remain positive and in line with Fed targets; households have been spending and investing more and inflation is above one percent. However, the surprise job growth weakness is sufficient to delay the expected timetable for Fed interest rate hikes.

payrolls_jun052016

Macro: GDP revised upward but business investment still strongly negative

In the second estimate, 2016 Q1 U.S. real gross domestic product (GDP) growth was revised upward to 0.8 percent from 0.5 percent. Private inventory investment did not decrease as much as previously estimated. Gross domestic investment from businesses remains strongly negative, following negative corporate profits in 2015 Q4 and very low profits in 2016 Q1. Slow real GDP growth is a result of the offset of negative business investment on sound household data. Household incomes increased in April, while expenditures decreased slightly in real terms but remain strong.

gdi_jun052016

Jobs day disappoints

Economists’ consensus view that between 100,000 to 200,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in May was met on Friday with a surprisingly paltry 38,000 increase estimate from the BLS. The weak data was surprising enough to cause large immediate jumps in bond and foreign exchange markets.

Meanwhile, the headline unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent from 5.0 percent, the largest decrease in several months. The fall in the headline rate had more to do with people “leaving the labor force” than with the addition of new jobs, unfortunately. The labor force participation rate fell to 62.6 percent in May. Many of those who left the labor force had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more and where therefore discouraged enough to stop trying to find a job.

civpart_jun052016

Bond and FX markets react

Treasury bill and bond constant maturity yields fell in response to the expected delay of interest rate hikes. The yield curve (see below a simple visualization) remains relatively low and flat. The real yield on a five year treasury, for example, fell to -0.22 percent on Friday, June 3. Foreign exchange markets saw an almost universally stronger U.S. dollar in response to the jobs report. The dollar closed roughly two percent weaker against the Euro, Yen, Australian Dollar, Krone (2), Krona, and Ruble, roughly one and a half percent weaker against the Swiss Franc, Real, Lira, and Ringgit, and more than three percent against the Rand.

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Rate hike delay

Where U.S. macroeconomic data has not been thrilling, labor market strength and wage increases were, in the previous few months, supportive of a June Fed Funds target rate increase of a quarter point, to 0.5-0.75 percent. The new jobs report, therefore, softens the strongest pillar. Markets have basically taken a June hike off the table. The next jobs report will be watched very closely and will likely determine whether a July hike is appropriate. Given the timing of Fed meetings and the expected gradual increase rate, it is more likely that we only see one rate hike during 2016.

See more than 80 indicators in the Dashboard:

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Dashboard update: Fed minutes and recent data advance interest rate hike expectations

Monitor more than 80 economic indicators with the macro and markets dashboard:

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United States Macroeconomic and Markets Dashboard: Updated May 21, 2016

Dashboard update summary:

New data continue to strengthen the U.S. macroeconomic picture. Minutes from the most recent meeting of the Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee (FOMC) signal that the U.S. central bank may increase its key federal funds interest rate target by 25 basis points in June. Markets have responded by increasingly pricing higher interest rate expectations into the bond and foreign exchange markets.

Industrial production stronger than expected

The Federal Reserve publishes an index of U.S. industrial production that goes back to 1919. The monthly index data for April was released on Tuesday, and showed greater-than-expected industrial sector output. This was a result largely of a month-over-month spike in production in the utilities sector, which had previously been hard hit by declines in both demand for utilities and commodity prices (see below). The index had declined each month so far during the year, and rebounded by seven tenths of a percent from March to April.

ip_may212016

Jobless claims drop to less alarming level

Data from the week of May 7 on the number of new claims of joblessness hit a recent high, drawing some attention. New data for the week of May 14 were better, with 278,000 new jobless claims during that week.

Inflation low and steady but pointed higher

April data on inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, was released on Tuesday. Annualized inflation for all items was 1.1 percent in April, while the Core CPI (the CPI excluding food & beverage, and energy) grew by 2.1 percent. Healthcare continues to grow at the fastest rate of any major item category in the basket. Energy and transportation costs are still below their previous year level, but less so than in March (see below).

cpi_may212016

FOMC minutes suggest June hike more likely

On Wednesday, the Fed released minutes from the FOMC meeting at the end of April. The minutes indicate that if new labor market data shows continued strengthening, and inflation continues toward two percent, then the committee will likely raise the federal funds target rate in June.

fomc_may212016

An increase in the federal funds rate causes other short-term (and to a lesser extent long-term) interest rates to rise. In essence, the fed funds target rate should act as a floor on the cost of risk-free borrowing of U.S. dollars.

Reaction of markets

Expectations about future interest rates play a major role in finance. Short term interest rate increases, like those from fed funds rate increases, generate broad effects, including on long term interest rates, the demand for money in the real economy, the propensity to save and invest, and bond and foreign exchange markets. Markets react today to changes today in expectations about the future. This happened following the release of the FOMC minutes; U.S. treasury bond prices fell immediately. The yield on ten- and two-year treasury bonds jumped, closing the week at 1.85% and 0.89% respectively.

tyield_may212016

See more indicators, as well as foreign exchange rates, in the dashboard:

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Dashboard update: consumer-side improvement and other reasons not to worry

Dashboard PDF file:

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (May 14, 2016)
Dashboard Update Summary

Surprisingly good April retail sales growth and preliminary signs of strong May consumer sentiment suggest a continued strengthening of consumer spending. Higher wages and low but rising inflation expectations boost individuals’ willingness to make discretionary purchases. Recent quarterly earnings data suggest that these purchases are increasingly taking place through Amazon and online retailers rather than department stores. Equities were lower over the past five trading days, partially as a result of poor earnings data from the latter. Jobless claims increased in the first week of May, but remain within a reasonable range. The yield curve flattened during the week as the spread between ten-year treasury bonds and three-month t-notes fell to its lowest level since February. The dollar appreciated against most major currencies.

Consumer sentiment and spending rising

Retail sales excluding food increased year over year by 2.7 percent in April. This is the second largest increase since January 2015 (the largest in the past 15 months was in February). In April, Retails sales overall were up three percent over the previous year and up a surprising 1.3 percent over the previous month. Many online retailers, including Amazon, had their strongest-ever quarter in Q1. Meanwhile, this week’s earnings releases from Nordstrom, Kohl’s, and Macy’s shows a continuation in consumers’ pivot away from U.S. department stores. U.S. equities closed lower on the week, with the S&P down half a percent, the Nasdaq down 0.4 percent, and the Dow down 1.2 percent.

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Prices remain low with some hills on the horizon

The uptick in retail sales can be attributed in part to higher wages for consumers, as evidenced in recent labor market data. Additionally, fuel prices remain low, yet there is some sign that movement is towards increasing price levels, which incentivizes spending today, especially given a very low return on savings. The April producer price index (PPI), which measures how prices of the inputs to production change, was released this week. The PPI for all commodities (intermediate demand) increased to a -4 percent year over year change, from -4.8. Energy prices fell less dramatically in the twelve month period ending in April. Oil prices climbed 3.5 percent during the past week, but remain below $50 a barrel, at $46.21.

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Jobless claims rise

The number of new jobless claims during the week of May 7 was higher at 294,000. While the highest level of new jobless claims since February of 2015 may seem startling, the level is still low and the increasing bargaining power of labor makes voluntarily leaving a job less scary.

weeklyjobless_may132016

Yield curve flattens as foreign investors avoid negative yields

Another potentially startling indicator is the flattening of treasury yield curves, but again, there is an explanation to assuage concern. The yield spread between ten-year treasuries their three-month t-bill counterpart fell to 1.43 on Friday, from 1.6 a week earlier, as ten-year yields fell and three-month yields rose. Likewise, the spread between ten- and two-year treasuries fell. While this indicator is a potential bad omen, we must remember that foreign inflows to treasury auctions have been increased by negative interest rates in many EU countries and Japan. For example, as ten-year Japanese Government Bond yields remain negative, Japanese investors increasingly shift portfolios to the U.S. government equivalent.

yieldspread_may132016

Dollar appreciates against trading partners

Lastly, the U.S. dollar was stronger against most major currencies during the past week. The dollar appreciated by 1.4 percent against the Yen, by 3.5 percent against the Rand, by 0.85 percent against the Euro, and by half a percent against the British Pound.

I’ve redesigned the exchange rates table to be quicker to read, and include it below.

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Rates above as of May 13, 2016

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Dashboard update: Inaction has reactions

Dashboard PDF file:

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (April 30, 2016 — PDF)

Dashboard update summary:

Markets closed down slightly on the week following inaction from both the Fed and Bank of Japan. Oil and Yen both still became five percent more expensive in dollar terms. Advance estimate 2016 Q1 real GDP growth was weak at 0.6 percent, but in line with expectations. Labor markets continue to be a bright spot, with eyes on next Friday’s April jobs report.

rgdpgrowth_apr302016

Real GDP ticked up 0.6 percent in log terms in the first quarter of 2016. Personal consumption expenditures and residential fixed investment helped to keep GDP growth positive despite a decrease in nonresidential fixed and inventory investment, and growth in the trade gap. The personal savings rate also increased slightly, in quarterly terms, to 5.2 percent in Q1 from 5.0 percent the previous quarter.

FOMC meeting statement changes are kindly highlighted by the Wall Street Journal and include removal of the language about global risks and, some suggestion in my view, based on labor market growth, household income, and consumer sentiment, of a June rate hike. This would depend on continued labor market strength and price pressure plus an upward revision of Q1 GDP.

pcecomp_apr302016

Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) continued to increase in Q1, led by higher spending on services. However, monthly data on PCE as a share of GDP decreased slightly in March over its February level. PCE on durable goods as a percentage of GDP was also down slightly in March, to 7.3 percent from 7.4 percent in February.

Labor market data continues to be spotless. The weekly 257,000 new jobless claims is still near the multi-decade low. Next Friday is jobs day. Both the labor force participation rate and wages should continue to improve.

nasdaq_apr302016

Disappointing earnings data from Apple includes the first decline in iPhone sales nearly since its introduction and a slowdown in sales in China. This hit the Nasdaq particularly hard, as the composite index was down 2.7 percent while the S&P 500 and Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.3 percent each during the week.

oil_apr302016

Oil prices still managed to climb five percent over the past five days. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil was trading above $46 a barrel at several points during the week. Two recent stories reminded me how oil price fluctuations cause enormous transfers of wealth between countries. Jamaica was praised in this week’s Alphachat series on sovereign debt, while noting that their recent fiscal fortune is aligned with lower prices on their fuel imports. Likewise, a recent IMF publication noted that oil exporting economies in the middle east and central Asia have enacted powerful fiscal stimulus measures to keep their economies moving while they suffer the oil revenue slowdown. Those who believe in the resource curse might note that government measures to shift the economy away from oil are both important and difficult to achieve.

Lastly, the Yen had a volatile week, closing with a five percent appreciation against the dollar. The Brazilian real appreciated nearly four percent during the week, the Swiss franc and Turkish lira appreciated nearly two percent each, the pound sterling nearly one and a half percent and the Canadian dollar nearly one percent.

The full dashboard is here: Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (April 30, 2016 — PDF)

Dashboard update: oil rally

Dashboard PDF file:

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (April 23, 2016 — PDF)

Dashboard update summary:

Oil prices continue to play a dominant role in other markets’ movements. As mentioned in previous updates, corporate earnings expectations are depressed, so even dismal performance (GS Q1 earnings fell 60% for example) can lead individual stocks higher. However, recovery in energy and commodity markets pushes investors from uncertainty-safe investments into riskier pools. This past week was relatively quiet on the macroeconomic data side, and market volatility was low, however, next week offers both Q1 GDP first estimates and an FOMC meeting, and volatility may tick back up.

While Doha talks set expectations for a fall in oil prices, markets actually pushed prices up by 8.4% during the past week (as measured by front-month contracts of WTI crude). Analysts expected further downward pressure from labor strikes in Kuwait, however, prices continued to climb, suggesting we may be on the other side of the bottom. WTI closed at $43.73 on Friday (see below).

oil_apr232016

Yields on U.S. treasuries of various durations climbed during the week. Two-year treasury bond yields were up to 0.84 percent, more than 13 percent above their previous week level. Ten-year treasury yields climbed more than seven period during the week. Corporate bond yields fell during the week, from the AAA level to the junk-bond level.

Equities were mixed on the week, with the Nasdaq down six-tenths of a percent following disappointing earnings at Google, and the Dow and S&P 500 up a hair more than half a percentage point, each.

twoten_apr232016

Exchange rates also continue to fluctuate from week-to-week. The pound sterling appreciated by more than a percent against the dollar, the Canadian dollar by more than two percent, and the Rand by more than 2.5 percent. Meanwhile, the Yen depreciated by more than 1.3 percent against the dollar during the one-week period. The Euro-dollar spot rate was unchanged on the week.

fx_apr232016

 

Dashboard update: lowered expectations

Dashboard PDF file:

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (April 16, 2016 — PDF)

Dashboard update summary:

Much of the past week’s macroeconomic news offered disappointment, yet markets dismissed the weak data as a result of what seems like lowered expectations. Retail sales, business inventories, and industrial production reports showed weakness in March (though labor market continues to look good). Corporate earnings have been quite soft in the first quarter, and GDP figures are likely to reflect the first quarter slowdown in output. Investors, however, seem relatively more risk-on, despite the weak macroeconomic data. Their expectations about earnings have fallen low enough to not only absorb the recent results, but to react positively in some cases. These investors are also faced with fewer high-earning alternatives, given sluggish and slowing growth abroad.

CPI and PPI data show little change, while oil prices continue to rebound. Currency markets are quite active, especially on the emerging markets side, where the dollar is weaker, partially as a result of the commodity price rebound.

Macro and Labor Market Indicators

Industrial production and total capacity utilization both fell in March. The industrial production index was down 0.6 points, largely stemming from decreases in production in mining and utilities market groups. This was magnified in the total percentage of capacity utilized figure, which fell to its lowest level since 2010. Mining capacity grew 1.6 percent year over year, despite a simultaneous 12.9 percent fall in production.

tcu_apr162016

The inventories to sales ratio ticked up in February, as a result of a fall in sales of 1.4 percent and an increase of inventories by 1.2 percent over their February 2015 levels. The most recent week’s data on new jobless claims showed the fewest new claims since 1973.

Equities and Fixed Income

Despite the weak data from the corporate side, equity markets were up and corporate bond yields down during the week. The Nasdaq and Dow were up 1.8 percent on the week, while the S&P 500 climbed 1.6 percent. Yields on U.S. Treasury bonds at all maturities, and U.S. corporate bonds at all maturities and credit ratings, have fallen over the past month, pushing prices higher.

Prices and Currency Markets

This week brought the release of March PPI and CPI data. Both were largely unchanged, as the PPI for all commodities increased slightly and the CPI fell slightly, over their February year over year percentage change levels. There was a surprise in CPI apparel prices, which fell 0.6 percent over their March 2015 levels, despite an increase in February. The data continue to reflect the very low prices of energy and moderate prices increase in healthcare and housing.

prices_apr162016

Currency markets were busy during the past week. The dollar strengthened against the Euro (0.91 percent), Yen (0.81 percent), and Swiss Franc (1.06 percent), while, as pointed out by FT’s hard currency, the dollar weakened further against the four R’s, the ruble, real, ringgit, and rand. These four currencies have seen a dramatic change in direction over the past month, appreciating against the dollar by more than 3.5 percent each and more than 5 percent in the case of the rand.

Note:

I try to gradually improve the dashboard and how I summarize changes. Any feedback would be much appreciated. Please feel free to leave a comment, or send me an email at brianwdew@gmail.com.

Dashboard update: signs of price pressure

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (April 9, 2016 — PDF)

The first full week of April saw active but net slightly down equity markets. While new economic data during the week was positive, expectations about corporate profits and output levels in the first quarter of 2016 are low. In light of solid fundamentals, and increasing aggregate demand, pessimists (including on the campaign trail) seem to be overreacting. Price data shows signs of upward pressure after an extended decline, and may soon join labor market and equity market indicators in signalling accelerating economic expansion.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 1.3 percent on the week, while both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.2 percent. Volatility, as measured by the VIX, closed Friday 17 percent above its previous week level. The Shiller index of price to earnings ratios climbed in March to 25.5. Expectations about first quarter earnings are very weak.

pe_apr092016

Prices data showed a continuation of upward pressure in March from commodity and food prices. Oil prices climbed more than eight percent during the past week. U.S. oil inventory fell for the first time in eight weeks. March CPI data, due out next week, should reflect the rising fuel and commodity prices.

wti_apr092016

World food prices, measured by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, showed an uptick in March from a jump in sugar prices. This is only the second material increase in the world food price index since early 2014.

ffpi_apr092016

The trade-weighted dollar index continues to show a depreciation in the U.S. dollar. To the frustration of the Bank of Japan, the Yen appreciated nearly three percent against the dollar during the past week, which is not included in the lagged trade-weighted index. The dollar did appreciate against many emerging market currencies, pound sterling, and the Canadian dollar, during the past week.

fx_apr092016

Dashboard update: green shoots in March

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (April 2, 2016 — PDF)

The final week of March capped off a month of solid equity market gains and encouraging macroeconomic data. New data shows a continued strengthening of labor markets and a reduction in volatility. Bond yields fell during the week, and the dollar depreciated against most major currencies.

All three major U.S. equity market indices were up more than 6.5 percent on the month, while the Nasdaq composite index climbed nearly three percent during the week ending April 1. Volatility, as measured by the VIX, fell to its lowest level since August 2015. Indeed, nearly all major U.S. asset classes posted gains during the month, following a bearish January and February. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices jumped 13.6 percent in March, though they declined more than 2.5 percent during the most recent week.

manpmi_apr022016

Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) data for March from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) suggests improvement in manufacturing conditions (see above chart). The PMI, which can be thought of as the weighted percentage of purchasing managers who report positively (above 50 suggests growth), posted its first increase in six months. As a bonus, this monthly report comes with possibly the most pithy explanation accompanying any statistic:

PMI® at 51.8%

New Orders and Production Growing
Employment and Inventories Contracting
Supplier Deliveries Slower

The U.S. economy added 215,000 jobs in March, while unemployment figures ticked up slightly to five percent. However, as evidenced in the dashboard and in previous posts, an increase in the labor force participation rate tells a more complex story than an increase in the unemployment rate. A strong labor market will attract people who are otherwise not participating (someone without a job but not looking for work is not considered unemployed under the headline unemployment figure from the BLS). The labor force participation rate has experienced its first six consecutive months without decline since 2005, as people are being drawn into a decent labor market.

unemp_apr022016

Across the board, U.S. bond yields fell during the past week. The real yield curve on a five-year U.S. treasury pushed negative, reaching further than a quarter point into the red (see below). The yield on a ten-year treasury fell to 1.79 percent on Friday, from 1.91 a week earlier. Corporate bond yields in all credit segments were also down during the one-week period.

fiveyearrealyield_apr022016

Touching on some additional data, personal and personal disposable income both increased by 0.2 percent in February. The personal savings rate ticked up to 5.4 percent in February, from 5.3 percent in January. As expected, the net international investment position of the United States continued to deteriorate in Q4 of 2015. The economic policy uncertainty monthly index fell nearly 22 percent in March, providing further evidence for a reduction in uncertainty-related volatility.

Lastly, over the past week the U.S. dollar depreciated against all major non-pegged currencies. Notably, the greenback weakened by more than two percent against the Swiss franc and Canadian dollar, more than one and a half percent against the Yen, and around one percent against the Yuan during the five-day period.