Leading Economic Indicators
A contraction of 3% or more in the LEI’s six-month annualized rate-of-change has always been associated with a recession, with an average lead time of four months. Using that guideline, the most recent recession warning was triggered in June 2022, and the lead time is now approaching the longest ever recorded (16 months in 2006-07). If today’s lead time matches the 2006-07 experience, the business-cycle peak will occur in October.
The Fed’s June announcement of a pause with further rate hikes to come has extended the uncertainty of whether an inverted curve and persistent policy tightening will ultimately lead to a recession. The business cycle is a critical investment issue because the relative returns of many assets depend on the state of the macro economy. This study examines the Consumer Discretionary (CD) sector’s behavior in recessionary times, with the goal of understanding the typical performance pattern during economic lows in order to help investors position their portfolios for a potential recession.
The hostile monetary backdrop makes recent stock market exuberance even more irrational than in early 2021. Yet, this is the middle of a seasonal window that historically boasts an elevated level of craziness: It is the year preceding a presidential election—a time when monetary and fiscal stimulus are ramped up.
Frequently, there’s money to be made in the stock market in the months following the initial curve inversion. After the inversions of August 2006 and June 2019, the S&P 500 rallied another 23% and 19%, respectively, into its final bull market high. If this cycle plays out in textbook fashion, the business-cycle peak would arrive in September.
The LEI’s 3.6% six-month annualized loss through September 2006 was the largest decline not followed almost immediately by a recession. This year, the LEI contracted by 3.7% over the six months through June—if a recession is avoided in the current experience, it would be the most misleading signal in the history of the LEI as currently constructed.
We always do our own work and draw our own conclusions. Lately, though, we’ve wondered what the late “Monetary Marty” Zweig might say about the stock market’s current liquidity backdrop.
The consensus view is that the stock market will be fine as long as there’s no recession in sight.The same LEI that has displayed a fine GDP forecasting record has shown essentially no relationship with S&P 500 forward twelve-month performance. In fact the regression line shows a slight negative slope!