Consumer Metric Institute's Growth Index
June 17, 2010
The thumbnail chart shown here is the Consumer Metrics Institute's Daily Growth Index with an overlay of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is one of the most interesting data series I follow, and I recommend bookmarking the Institute's website. Their page of frequently asked questions is an excellent introduction to the service.
The three charts below focus on the 'Trailing Quarter' Growth Index, which is computed as a 91-day moving average for the year-over-year growth/contraction of the Weighted Composite Index. The index gives a nearly real-time daily snapshot of consumer behavior across a wide variety of consumption categories. The 91-day period is useful for comparison with key quarterly metrics such as GDP. Since the consumer accounts for over two-thirds of the US economy, one would expect that a well-crafted index of consumer behavior would serve as a leading indicator. As the chart suggests, during the five-year history of the index, it has generally lived up to that expectation. Actually, the chart understates the degree to which the Growth Index leads GDP. Why? Because the advance estimates for GDP are released a month after the end of the quarter in question, so the Growth Index lead time has been substantial.
Has the Growth Index also served as a leading indicator of the stock market? The next chart is an overlay of the index and the S&P 500. The Growth Index clearly peaked before the market in 2007 and bottomed in late August of 2008, over six months before the market low in March 2009.
The most recent peak in the Growth Index was around the first of September, 2009, almost eight months before the interim high in the S&P 500 on April 23rd. Since its peak, the Growth Index has declined dramatically and is now well into contraction territory.
It's important to remember that the Growth Index is a moving average of year-over-year expansion/contraction whereas the market is a continuous record of value. Even so, the pattern is remarkable. The question is whether the latest dip in the Growth Index is signaling a substantial market decline like in 2008-2009 or a buying opportunity like in June 2006.
The next chart is a three-way overlay — the 91-day Growth Index, GDP and the S&P 500. I've also highlighted the recession that officially began in December 2007 and unofficially ended last summer. As a leading indicator for GDP, the Growth Index also offers an early warning for possible recessions.
The Consumer Metrics Institute's Growth Index hasn't been in operation very long, but thus far it has been an effective leading indicator of GDP. As such, the prospect of a double-dip recession, something that's happened only once since the Great Depression, appears to be a distinct possibility. With the end of the various government stimulus efforts, the potential contagion of the financial stress in Europe, and the ongoing environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, another round of consumer belt-tightening increases the odds of recession.
(c) Doug Short