Is It or Isn’t It a Recession?

ECRI’s Weekly Leading Indicator (WLI) came out Friday at 130.2 — up from 129.6 the week before.  Further, they reported that the index’s annualized growth rate increased from 8.2 the previous week to 8.9% — the highest since May 2010.  I wondered: are they retracting their Sep 2011 recession forecast?  Are things really getting better?



There’s currently an argument raging between various economists and analysts as to whether the US is still in/dipping back into a recession or is on the mend. ECRI is pretty sure we’re in one, while folks like Doug Short and, of course, the mainstream media think not.

There’s no question that we’ve seen an uptick in several economic measures. My own thesis is that most of these have been not secular, but cyclical swings.  In other words, I don’t yet see evidence of a sustainable trend change, only natural swings from one side of a channel or wedge to the other.

Here’s an example I posted last week. Total Confidence has traced out a pretty solid-looking channel, while the Present and Expectations indices have formed expanding wedges (and are nowhere near their upper bounds, especially given the recent downturns.)

underlying chart from


Hardly a day goes by when I don’t second guess myself.  Is all the “good news” just one big, well-coordinated head fake or am I missing something?  I spent much of the weekend studying ECRI’s historical WLI (who says technical analysts don’t live exciting lives!?) and found a lot to think about.  First, a brief primer on Harmonics.



Regular readers of (heck, even the irregular ones) know all about Harmonics and that the corrections experienced in April 2010, May 2011 and Sep 2012 correspond to the important Fib levels of 61.8%, 78.6% and 88.6%.

For the uninitiated, measure the drop from SPX 1576 (Oct 2007) to 666 (Mar 2009) and multiply it by a Fibonacci 61.8% and you get 1228.74.  SPX reached 1219.80 in April 2010 (within 10 points) and promptly sold off by 17% over the next three months.

In May 2011, SPX peaked about 10 points away from the 78.6% Fib level (completing a Gartley Pattern) and plunged 21.6%.  And, in September 2012, SPX reached the 88.6% Fib level (completing a Bat Pattern) and corrected by almost 9%.

Those of us who follow Harmonics were well aware of each of these downturns well in advance [see: HERE, HERE and HERE] and profited nicely from the market’s plunges.  Those who rely solely on fundamentals or [involuntary shudder] the mainstream media…not so much.



While I had noticed the WLI’s channel-like general decline before, I never noticed that it also complied with the rules of Harmonics.  From its all-time high of 143.73 in Jun 2007, the WLI plunged to a low of 105.40 in Mar 2009.

Like SPX, it found its footing (thanks to QE1) and started higher.  Its first big pause was in Oct 2009 at the 61.8% Fib level.  It paused again in Jan 2010 near the 70.7% Fib, and eventually reached the 78.6% level in April — completing a Gartley Pattern as SPX had finally retraced 61.8% of its drop.

One could infer from the mismatched Fib levels that the economy — as measured by ECRI’s leading indicators — was ahead of the market at this point. The WLI had retraced 78.6% of its drop, while SPX had only retraced 61.8%.  In any case, they both suffered from the removal of the QE drip – SPX shedding 17% and WLI 11%.

When the Fed realized their patient would flatline without more QE, they were back with QE2.  The market took off, reaching the 78.6% Fib in May 2011.  This also completed a Crab Pattern, a 161.8% extension of the amount of the Apr-Jul 2010 slide.

The WLI, however, retraced only 78.6% of its slide since its 2010 high.  In other words, the market was now officially ahead of the economy.

Following the expiration of QE2, SPX plunged 21.6% to 1074 through October 2011, while WLI gave up 8.9%.  From there, SPX climbed to 1474 primarily on Fed jawboning and promise of more QE — which it finally delivered the day before the 1474 high.

The timing was no doubt an effort to send the SPX soaring right through the 88.6% Fib retracement of the 1576 – 666 crash.  I seriously doubt that “two points over” was what they had in mind (the market sold off anyway, correcting a respectable 8.8% to 1343.)

The WLI, in the meantime, topped out at 127.77 — only an 88.6% retracement of its decline from its previous high in 2011.  Again, the market was outpacing the economy.



The world of market prognosticators is, as always, divided.  There are those who believe the economy is improving, and the market – as a leading indicator itself – is all the proof we need.  Then, there are those who believe the market is priced well in excess of levels justified by the underlying economy — which remains in or is dipping back into a recession.

Whether QE has “saved” the economy or not, I don’t know of any respected economist or technician who doubts that it has significantly goosed (i.e. “manipulated”) the markets. And, we should pay attention to the disconnect between the markets and the economy as evidenced by the SPX/WLI comparison.

The WLI just hit an important Fib level (88.6%) after demonstrating that it does, indeed, pay attention to such things.  This occurred at the same time that the S&P 500 hit several important Fib levels and is thus, by my reckoning at least, poised to correct [see: Satisfaction.]

We all know the old truism “the market isn’t the economy.” However, another quarter of negative GDP following the tax hikes recently enacted and spending cuts in the works would certainly remind investors that the market and economy are, indeed, joined at the hip.

I care about the economy because I have children.  The Fed’s unprecedented experiment in QE will quite possibly end very badly for the country, for my children and for yours.  But, there ain’t much We the People can do to influence Fed policy.  They don’t answer to us or our political “leaders.” So, we play the cards we’re dealt.

As an investor, my goal is to capitalize on whatever the market throws at us — regardless of how manipulated it might be, and regardless of what economists call the current business cycle. If depression or hyper-inflation come along, we’ll hopefully see it coming and be well-positioned.

Are we still in or dipping back into a recession? Will the current QE4-ever result in another 2009-2011 run, or does the market’s yawn last September signal the end of QE’s effectiveness?  We’ll find out in time.  In the meantime, we have some very good tools at our disposal that have provided excellent returns in a very difficult market.  I’ll continue to call it as I see it, and appreciate having you all along for the journey.

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Is It or Isn’t It a Recession? — 1 Comment