Weekly Update

Key Economic Indicators to Watch

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Published August 12, 2022


The article below from Zacks provides a good overview of the key economic indicators to look for as we move into the second half of the year.

“The Federal Reserve is actively trying to curb demand in the economy by raising rates, and all the talk is about whether they can usher a ‘soft-landing’ without triggering a deep recession. So, the Fed will be a key factor to watch in the second half of the year. But I also have three other economic fundamentals investors should put on their watchlists, as they could be key in determining the path of the economy and markets over the next year.

Economic Fundamental #1: The Yield Curve

As a quick refresher, the yield curve represents the difference between long-term and short-term interest rates, which also serves as a proxy for loan profitability for banks. Since banks borrow at short-duration rates and lend at long-term rates (generally speaking), a steep yield curve creates higher net interest margins, which usually results in more credit, loans, and economic activity. On the flip side, an inverted yield curve signals it is more expensive to borrow money short-term than long-term, which means something is likely awry in the credit markets.

Historically, the yield curve has been a good forward-looking indicator for the economy, which is why rapidly rising short-duration U.S. Treasury bond yields are worth watching closely. In the chart below, the yield curve is presented as the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond yield minus the 3-month U.S. Treasury bond yield – the preferred measure. A declining line means the yield curve is flattening, and if the line falls below 0%, it means the yield curve is inverted. As seen below, the yield curve is clearly in a flattening pattern and close to inverting (an inversion shown as below zero on the chart), making it a key indicator to watch in 2022.

The yield curve is in a flattening pattern and close to inverting
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis1

An inverted yield curve signals credit markets could come under strain, but it is not an immediate indicator of recession and/or bear market. There is usually time for investors to act.

Economic Fundamental #2: Leading Economic Indicators

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index is a pretty solid indicator for future economic activity. Because the index measures leading indicators like New Orders, Building Permits, Jobless Claims, Credit Spreads, and the stock market, it offers a comprehensive picture of expectations for future economic activity. A high and rising LEI almost always signals economic expansion ahead.2

In June, however, the LEI fell by 0.8% to an index reading of 117.1. That is still quite high relative to the years leading up to the pandemic; but it also marks four months of consecutive decline. In the first half of the year, the LEI fell 1.8%, which was a reversal from the 3.3% growth posted in the second half of 2021. Whether or not the LEI recovers or continues to decline in the second half will be a key indicator to watch; and could offer the clearest clue of a possible recession later in 2022 or early 2023.

Economic Fundamental #3: Earnings

Finally, there is the ever-important economic fundamental of corporate earnings, which are the single biggest driver of stock market returns, in my view. With roughly half of S&P 500 companies reporting, total earnings are up +1.4% from the same period last year on +11% higher revenues, with 75.5% beating EPS estimates and 65.7% beating revenue estimates. This is a slightly lower beats percentage than we typically see from this group, but the silver lining is that some of the key results were not as bad as many feared – driving stocks to rally.3

Looking ahead, inflationary pressures and supply-chain challenges will continue to factor for companies, but we are also hearing a lot more about the negative impact of the strong US dollar and signs of weakness among lower-income consumers. How these issues continue to impact shifting earnings estimates will be crucial for investors to track.

Bottom Line for Investors

It is important to remember that the stock market is a discounter of future economic conditions – not economic conditions today. That’s why the three economic fundamentals investors should keep an eye on in the second half of 2022 are all leading indicators, not lagging or coincident indicators. Looking ahead, I do not see severe warning signs appearing just yet, but the environment is becoming more challenging.”


Market Update

Investors focused this week on the latest inflation report, due out Wednesday. The week began with a note of caution from semiconductor maker Nvida. The company’s shares slid -6% on the lowered outlook. However, the broad market took the report in stride closing little changed on the day. Another semiconductor warning Tuesday, this time from Micron, sent shares of the Nasdaq index lower by -1.2%. The Wednesday inflation report lit a fire under stocks as the report showed inflation declining for the first time in months. This gave credence to the notion that inflation has peaked and interest rate increases will slow. Stocks zoomed higher after the report to a +2.1% broad-based gain. Of interest, bond yields barely budged on the report. The producer price index, out Thursday, also showed inflation coming down. However, stocks did not build on the prior day’s gains, instead holding flat Thursday. Friday brought more buyers into the market though to send the week to a strong close. Stocks advanced +1.7% on the day.

Stocks posted another strong week, their fourth straight weekly gain, with the S&P 500 rising +3.30% while the Nasdaq 100 (QQQ) pushed higher by +2.69%. Smallcaps took flight with a +5.01% move.

Warm wishes and until next week.