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 January 2019

+7

+6

+5

+4

+3

+2

+1

0

-1

-2

-3

-4

-5

-6

-7

Current Score

+3

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: Negative

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 did not fare well to end the year. The S&P 500 was down -9.0% in December. In 2018, the index was down -4.4%.

The MSCI ACWI ex-US was down -4.5% in December. In 2018, the index was down -14.2%

In the U.S. and around the world, stock markets experienced more volatility in December due to fears of slowing growth, trade wars and higher interest rates. Corporate earnings and job data have remained positive, although many companies are lowering growth forecasts for 2019. The Federal Reserve has made statements about interest rates being close to neutral and that they are expecting two rate hikes in 2019. The back-and-forth on trade is still a negative headline risk, as well as the unknowns regarding European politics and geopolitical issues. However, we are still seeing underlying strength in U.S. economic data. Internationally, Eurozone economic data has not been nearly as strong as in the U.S., so there is not as much underlying economic strength.

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 November, in line with forecasts. Q3 consumer spending recorded a 3.5% increase, which was the main driver in the Q3 GDP recording of 3.4%.

Personal income rose 0.2% in November and the personal savings rate decreased slightly to 6.0%–the lowest since March 2013.

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 54.1 for December, down from 59.3 in November, the lowest showing since November 2016. New orders slowed by 10 points to 51.1, very close to the neutral mark of 50.

Global PMI posted a reading of 52.7 in December, a 27-month low as rates of growth in output and new orders continued to weaken. Although this reading is comparatively low, it still signals growth in the sector. The headline index has now remained above the neutral 50.0 mark for 75 consecutive months.

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 was flat for the month of November. Over the last 12 months, CPI reported 2.2%, down slightly from October’s 2.5% rise. Core CPI in November, which excludes food and energy, reported a 2.2% increase.

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 increased 1.9% in November to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.32 million units. Sales are down -7.0% from a year ago.

The median home price in November was $257,700, up 4.2% from November 2017. This marks the 81st straight month of year-over-year gains. Unsold inventory is at about 3.9 month supply. A three to six-month supply is considered a healthy balance between supply and demand.

New home sales have not been reported for November due to the government shutdown.

Rating: Neutral

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 25.42 on December 31, 2018, above the historical average of around 18.5. The VIX picked up in December, hitting its highest reading of 2018 in the middle of the month, at 30.11.

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 January 2, 2019 is 0.42% (3-Month LIBOR 2.79% – 3-Month Treasury Bill 2.37%). The spread continued to increase for the third straight month, but remains very low. The current level of 0.42% is below the historical average spread of 0.58%. We are comfortable with a positive rating at this level.


While past performance is not a guarantee of future results, the current score for the Bedel Barometer© is +3, which suggests growth in the foreseeable future, though with less certainty.