Partial recovery will mean new lows for stocks

I have introduced the concept of a technical recovery to describe the anticipated weak recovery period that lies ahead.  Van Hoisington and Lacy Hunt have a different term to remember: Partial recovery.  They see the potential that a partial recovery will end this business cycle, and that’s not bullish for stocks:

Recessions end when the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the official arbiter of such matters, says they end. But sometimes economic conditions suggest that the NBER miscalculated. Economic recovery occurs when these four indicators turn higher at about the same time. If the NBER’s cycle turning dates are aligned with these four indicators they have validity. Regardless of the NBER’s opinion, if the four indicators are not rising, a normal recovery will not occur. This seemingly esoteric point has important implications for the stock market.

In all the recessions from 1967 to 1999, the NBER aligns its recession ending dates very well with the unified recovery in income, production, employment and sales. However, for the 2000-2001 recession the NBER call date for the recovery did not line up with these four coincident indicators. Although the recession officially ended in November 2001, employment and income had not turned higher. In fact, they did not trough until March and August 2003 recording lags of 16 and 21 months, respectively. Thus, the economy was only in a partial recovery, a situation that had huge stock market implications.

The S&P 500 Stock Price Index troughed prior to the end of all the NBER defined recessions from 1967 through 1999, in concert with the four key economic variables. However, in 2001 the S&P bottomed 15 months after the end of the NBER defined recession yet one and six months before the cyclical troughs in income and employment, respectively. In other words, stock prices anticipated the complete, not partial, recovery of these pillars of economic growth. Although all four of these indicators are still falling, the critical event for the financial markets will be when all four finally turn higher. If a complete recovery of these four variables is still far in the future, then the current gains in the stock market cannot be sustained, just as rallies were not sustained in 2001.

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