As we head into the fall and we look forward toward next year, it is important to take a look at the general econimc landscape, assess the data that we have access to, and develop our views on the performance of our investments going forward.
The following are three high-level economic data points that we can use, along with our other tools, to further assist us determining our views on equity market investments.
1.) U.S. Housing
As the root of the credit crisis, healing in the U.S. housing market is a precondition for sustainable recovery. Recent data has confirmed that the worst is behind us and the residential real estate market is stabilizing.
The inventory of unsold houses while still high is heading in the right direction towards clearing and sales of existing homes have recently turned positive on a year-over-year basis. And an index which measures year-over-year price changes of houses in 20 major U.S. cities (the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index) plunged 33.6% from its June 2006 peak to the April 2009 trough, but has now climbed 1.9% over the past two months.
2.) The U.S. Consumer
The resurgence of the U.S. consumer will be key to watch as recovery unfolds since consumption is 70% of the American economy. Despite the ‘hit’ that the housing crisis has exacted on their net worth, American household balance sheets are still in relatively better shape than they’ve been in the past due to the tremendous growth net worth over the last decade.
However, the process of deleveraging (winding down debt) has begun and this will impact spending patterns in the near-term.
3.) The U.S. Manufacturing
The level of manufacturing has historically followed an inverse path to the Fed funds rate but on a 6-month lagged basis – as the fed funds rate drops, six months later, manufacturing activity picks up.
However, in fall 2008, although rates declined to historically low rates, the credit crunch intensified and that typical relationship between low interest rates and increased manufacturing activity did not materialize. More recently, credit channels have opened up and the ISM (gauge of manufacturing activity) has improved, indicating the economy is finally responding to massive stimulus after a long lag.
And further improvement just yesterday with the latest ISM level better than expected at 52.9 – the first reading above 50 since January 2008 and hit the highest level since June 2007. This is further indication that while not yet normal, the economic environment is normalizing.
These are three key areas of the market to watch when assessing the high-level economic situation and it’s relationship to the stock market trends and valuations.
Of course this isn’t the be all and end all of data you should include in your due diligence, but it certainly plays a role as you calculate your risk tolerance moving forward.