Bedel Barometer

Back in 2009, we identified key areas that have historically been strong indicators of the strength in the U.S. economy. The idea was to use these indicators to determine whether the economy was going to rebound or remain in crisis mode in the year ahead.

In the short run, the Bedel Barometer should be used as a measure of the overall health of the U.S. economy—not as a sign of the health of the stock market. In the long run, the health of the U.S. economy should have a significant impact on the performance of the stock market.

Since its inception, the Bedel Barometer has consistently had a positive score, suggesting the economy was initially moving toward growth and then sustaining that growth.

Here is how each indicator currently stacks up and its importance: 

BEDEL BAROMETER

Last updated September 2018

+7

+6

+5

+4

+3

+2

+1

0

-1

-2

-3

-4

-5

-6

-7

Current Score

+5

What's this?

The Bedel Barometer was developed in 2009 to provide a measure of the overall health of the U.S. economy. To do this, we identified 7 key areas that have historically been strong indicators as to the strength of our economy. Using a score of either positive, negative or neutral, we assign a value to each of these and are able to combine the results and reflect the overall measure that you see today.

How each indicator stacks up today

The Bedel Barometer offers a comprehesive measure of the overall health of the U.S. economy.

Rating: Neutral

Stock Market Performance

Why we watch it:

The stock market tends to be forward looking and it is a leading indicator of economic growth.

Recent Highlights:

Domestic and international equities posted mixed results through the first 8 months of 2018. August was another positive month for domestic equities. The S&P 500 led returns up 3.3%, followed by the DOW up 2.6%. Year-to-date through the end of August, the two indices are up 9.9% and 6.7%, respectively.

The MSCI ACWI ex-US continued in negative territory losing -2.1% in August. Year-to-date, through the end of August, the index is down -3.5%.

Rating: Positive

Consumer Spending

Why we watch it:

Over 70% of the U.S. economy is based on personal consumption. A reduction in consumer spending will cause slower growth in the economy.

Recent Highlights:

Consumer spending increased 0.4% in July, in line with expectations. The second estimate for Q2 consumer spending recorded 3.8%, down from the first estimate of 4.0%.

Personal income rose 0.3% in July, in line with expectations, and the personal savings rate dropped slightly to a strong reading of 6.7%. 

Rating: Positive

Manufacturing Activity

Why we watch it:

The health of the economy is dependent on the health of the manufacturing sector. Historically, it has been the path to development and an important driver of economic growth. Domestic manufacturing activity is tracked by the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) which releases a monthly index while global activity is tracked by J.P.Morgan and IHS Market in association with ISM and IFPSM. The index monitors data like employment, production inventories, new orders and supplier deliveries. It is based on surveys of more than 300 manufacturing firms and it’s considered an important economic measure. The index value ranges between 0 and 100. A value below 50 may indicate a slowdown in the economy, especially if the trend persists over several months. A value above 50 likely indicates a time of economic growth.

Recent Highlights:

ISM manufacturing recorded 58.1 for July, which was below expectations, but still very strong. New orders for July slowed slightly from June’s reading, but still had a strong reading of 60.2.

Global PMI posted an eleven-month low of 53.0 in June, compared to May’s 53.1 reading. Although this reading is comparatively low, it still signals growth in the sector.

Rating: Positive

Consumer Price Stability

Why we watch it:

Mild inflation is good for the economy, because it promotes consumption without destroying the value of people's savings. If you know something will be going up slightly in price down the road, you'll be more likely to purchase it now. If this effect is mild, it doesn't hurt savings rates very much. Deflation, however, punishes an economy because it hurts consumption. If you know something will be cheaper tomorrow or next year, you're more likely to wait until tomorrow to buy it. The Fed’s inflation target is 2 %.

Recent Highlights:

Headline CPI increased 0.2% in July. Over the last 12 months, CPI increased to 2.9% while the core CPI, which excludes food and energy, was above expectations at 2.4%. The annual increase in core CPI is the largest rise since September 2008.

Rating: Neutral

Housing Market

Why we watch it:

The economy typically benefits directly and indirectly from increased housing activity. It is estimated that for every $100 in value resulting from housing construction an extra $40-$80 is added to the economy due to housing-related spending.

Recent Highlights:

Existing home sales fell for the fourth straight month, decreasing -0.7% in July to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.34 million units. July’s drop marked the longest streak of monthly declines since 2013. Sales are now down -1.5% below a year ago. Once again this drop is largely due to supply in the market being well below demand, along with home prices climbing quickly.

The median home price in July is $269,600, down from June’s all time high, but up 4.5% from July 2017. Unsold inventory is at about 4.3 month supply. A three to six-month supply is considered a healthy balance between supply and demand.

New home sales dropped -1.7% in July to a seasonally-adjusted annualized rate of 627,000 units, missing expectations. However, new home sales increased 12.8% from a year ago. In addition, supply started moving into the market, up 2% in July, which is the best showing since 2009. Note that the new home sales report is typically very volatile and the data is frequently revised.

Rating: Positive

Volatility

Why we watch it:

VIX is the symbol for the Chicago Board Options Exchange's volatility index. It’s a weighted mix of the prices for a blend of S&P 500 Index options, from which implied volatility is derived. In other words, it measures how much people are willing pay to buy or sell the S&P 500. The VIX goes up when there’s turmoil in the market, and goes down when investors are content or at ease with the economic outlook.

We like to watch the VIX, because it measures the cost of buying insurance for stock protection (through options). When the cost of protection is high, volatility is usually high and the potential for declining stock values is higher.

Recent Highlights:

The VIX closed at 12.86 on August 31, 2018, well below the historical average of around 18.5. The VIX has been gradually trading lower over the past several months since its high in February at 37.2. We are comfortable with a positive rating.

Rating: Positive

TED Spread

Why we watch it:

The TED Spread is the banks’ cost of borrowing short-term money minus the Treasury’s cost of borrowing short-term money. The difference between the three-month LIBOR interest rate and the three-month Treasury Bill interest rate measures the degree of riskiness of the bank lending market.  When the spread is significant, banks worry about being repaid when loaning money to other banks, thereby creating uncertainty. This can cause slower growth in the economy.

Recent Highlights:

Current spread as of September 4, 2018 is 0.23% (3-Month LIBOR 2.32% – 3-Month Treasury Bill 2.09%). The spread has narrowed significantly over the past several months, posting its lowest of 2018 so far. The current level of 0.23% is well below the historical average spread of 0.58%. We are comfortable with a positive rating at this level after gradual decreases for consecutive months.


While past performance is not a guarantee of future results, the current score for the Bedel Barometer© is +5, which suggests growth in the foreseeable future, but with less certainty.