The Weekly Leading Index (WLI) growth indicator of the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) dropped further into negative territory after oscillating in a narrow range (1.5 to 2.1) from late June through the first week of August. Today’s update, data through August 19, now puts the decline at -2.9, down from last week’s -0.1. The interim high of 8.0 was set in the week ending on April 15.
The Published Record
The published ECRI WLI growth metric has had a respectable record for forecasting recessions and rebounds therefrom. The next chart shows the correlation between the WLI, GDP and recessions.
For a better look at this movement of this index in recent months, here’s a snapshot of the data since 2000.
A significant decline in the WLI has been a leading indicator for six of the seven recessions since the 1960s. It lagged one recession (1981-1982) by nine weeks. The WLI did turned negative 17 times when no recession followed, but 14 of those declines were only slightly negative (-0.1 to -2.4) and most of them reversed after relatively brief periods.
Three other three negatives were deeper declines. The Crash of 1987 took the Index negative for 68 weeks with a trough of -6.8. The Financial Crisis of 1998, which included the collapse of Long Term Capital Management, took the Index negative for 23 weeks with a trough of -4.5.
The third significant negative came near the bottom of the bear market of 2000-2002, about nine months after the brief recession of 2001. At the time, the WLI seemed to be signaling a double-dip recession, but the economy and market accelerated in tandem in the spring of 2003, and a recession was avoided.
The question had been whether the WLI decline that began the the Q4 of 2009 was a leading indicator of a recession. The published index has never dropped to the -11.0 level in July 2010 without the onset of a recession. The deepest decline without a recession onset was in the Crash of 1987, when the index slipped to -6.8. The ECRI managing director correctly predicted that we would avoid a double dip. The seven quarters of positive GDP since the end of the last recession supports the ECRI stance.
The WLI Versus Other Macroeconomic Indicators
For additional perspective on the performance of this indicator, see Comparing the ECRI Weekly Leading Index with Two Key Competitors, which highlights the curious behavor of the WLI following the 2008 Financial Crisis.
The ECRI Weekly Leading Index appears to be more sensitive to upturns than either the Philly Fed’s ADS Business Conditions Index (ADS) or the Chicago Fed’s Current Activity Index.
ECRI Weekly Leading Index.
Images: Flickr (licence attribution)
About The Author
My original dshort.com website was launched in February 2005 using a domain name based on my real name, Doug Short. I’m a formerly retired first wave boomer with a Ph.D. in English from Duke. Now my website has been acquired byAdvisor Perspectives, where I have been appointed the Vice President of Research.
My first career was a faculty position at North Carolina State University, where I achieved the rank of Full Professor in 1983. During the early ’80s I got hooked on academic uses of microcomputers for research and instruction. In 1983, I co-directed the Sixth International Conference on Computers and the Humanities. An IBM executive who attended the conference made me a job offer I couldn’t refuse.
Thus began my new career as a Higher Education Consultant for IBM — an ambassador for Information Technology to major universities around the country. After 12 years with Big Blue, I grew tired of the constant travel and left for a series of IT management positions in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. I concluded my IT career managing the group responsible for email and research databases at GlaxoSmithKline until my retirement in 2006.
Contrary to what many visitors assume based on my last name, I’m not a bearish short seller. It’s true that some of my content has been a bit pessimistic in recent years. But I believe this is a result of economic realities and not a personal bias. For the record, my efforts to educate others about bear markets date from November 2007, as this Motley Fool