John Hussman: Sequential Signals
John Hussman of www.hussmanfunds.com puts out a Weekly Market Comment (which I highly encourage you to read every week). Per usual, this is another good article.
Sep 20, 2010
John P. Hussman, Ph.D.
Last week, we got a fresh set of economic indications from the Philadelphia Fed Survey. While the market evidently took relief from the modest uptick in the composite index to -0.7, a quick look at the component indices suggests a worsening of economic conditions in the latest report. Specifically, the Philly Fed new orders component fell to -8.1 from -7.1, which is the third month in negative territory. While there was a slight uptick in the index for number of employees (to 1.8 from -2.7), the better leading measure is the average employee workweek, where the index weakened to -21.6 from -17.1.
As I've emphasized in recent weeks, the U.S. economy is still in a normal "lag window" between deterioration in leading measures of economic activity and (probable) deterioration in coincident measures. Though the lags are sometimes variable, as we saw in 1974 and 2008, normal lags would suggest an abrupt softening in the September ISM report (due in the beginning of October), with new claims for unemployment softening beginning somewhere around mid-October. It's possible that the historically tight relationships that we've reviewed iin recent weeks will not hold in this particular instance, but we have no reasonable basis to expect that. Indeed, if we look at the drivers of economic growth outside of the now fading impact of government stimulus spending, we continue to observe little intrinsic activity.
The strongest forces driving economic expansion during a post-recession recovery phase is expansion in credit-sensitive expenditures such as housing, durable goods (such as autos) and gross investment, and in particular, inventory rebuilding. While capital expenditure for upgraded information technology is the clearest bright spot in recent GDP reports, it also represents a very small share of the economy. Other credit-sensitive classes of expenditure continue to face strong headwinds.
It is also important to understand that while consumption represents roughly 70% of economic activity, it is by far the least volatile component of GDP, particularly when durable goods are excluded. The main sources of fluctuation in GDP growth are credit-sensitive expenditures and inventories. Given the recent buildup of inventories and the expenditures on autos and home buying that were brought forward by programs such as cash-for-clunkers and the first-time homebuyers' credit, we are likely on the downside of those bursts of spending. For that reason, it appears likely that the positive growth of GDP in recent quarters will have relatively poor follow-through. A careful examination of sub-components of GDP growth leaves little reason to expect actual economic activity to deviate from what is already suggested by weak leading indicators.