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.

Dashboard update: noisy week

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (February 6, 2016 — PDF)

Modest U.S. macroeconomic data continues to pour in, yet equity markets tumbled, possibly pricing in a steeper trajectory for the fed funds rate. JP Morgan Funds’ chief strategist, David Kelly noted in his weekly podcast that the noisy week was “unlikely to resolve issues troubling markets”.

Yesterday’s jobs report showed an increase in non-farm payrolls of 151,000 workers, bringing the unemployment rate down to 4.9%. The number of long-term unemployed was basically unchanged. The civilian labor force participation rate improved by a tenth of a percent to 62.7. Wages also improved slightly; average hourly earnings are 2.5 percent higher than a year ago.

unemp_Jan_2016

A new note from Francisco Blanch of Bank of America Merrill Lynch reminded that the oil price collapse generates an enormous wealth transfer from oil producers to consumers. Over time, this type of transfer may show up in personal savings rate or personal consumption expenditure data, however, the December personal savings rate was unchanged at 5.5 percent.

January manufacturing PMI data was practically unchanged at 48.2, however the index of non-manufacturing business activity fell more than 9 percent to 53.9.

nmi_Jan_2016

Major U.S. equity market indicators were down on the week, and tech stocks were hit particularly hard on Friday. The S&P 500 was down more than three percent during the week, and the Nasdaq composite index dropped more than five percent. Oil, as measured by front month contracts of WTI, closed Friday at $30.89 a barrel.

The dollar depreciated against most major currencies during the week, providing some relief for U.S. exporters (and policymakers). The dollar weakened more than four percent against the Brazilian Real, more than three percent against the New Zealand Dollar, and more than two percent against the Euro, Yen, Canadian Dollar, and Swiss Franc. The dollar was down roughly 1.7 percent against sterling.