Correlations between real stocks, real commodities, real house prices and treasury yields, together with inflation, interest rates, recessions, unemployment, demographics and sunspots. A more detailed, step by step study of the correlations, using correlation coefficients, whereby +1 means a perfect lockstep relationship between two things and -1 means a perfect inverse relationship, whilst zero would mean no relationship. A reading over +0.5 is considered a strong positive correlation. Note some of the data has been scaled to share the same chart (indicated by, for example, /10 or *3). Also note for US inflation I have used an average of Shadowstats and official CPI since the 1980s, and official CPI before that. You can click on any of the charts to view larger.
Let’s start with a couple of the highest correlations:
Combining the two, 10 year treasury yields, official US interest rates and MZM money velocity all move in almost perfect lockstep. They are currently all together at record lows. If one begins to rally, we should expect all to rally – with implications for the Fed.
Now let’s look at another closely correlated pair:
Real commodity prices and inflation show a strong correlation. There is a feedback looping between the two as rising commodity prices cause price inflation but price inflation spurs money into commodities (hard assets) as an inflation hedge. There was a lot of debate around the 2008 and 2011 commodity spikes as to whether speculators were to blame. The trading of commodity futures has been around for 150 years in the US, and price spikes are more speculator-heavy because of the feedback looping. Regardless of which kicks off the process, the two occur together.
The next chart shows the relationship between US official interest rates and inflation. Most of the time there is a strong correlation, and as the Fed is the sole agent in rate-setting, we can say that the Fed move rates up and down either in response to or in anticipation of inflation, but largely in line with. However the late 1940s and the current period don’t match up as well as the rest.
The picture becomes clearer when we look at real interest rates (net of inflation), and extend further back in time:
We see three clear periods of negative real interest rates – which notably coincided with secular commodities bull markets. Inflation was higher during these periods. If you subscribe to the Shadowstats calculation of inflation (that official inflation stats have been significantly doctored over the last 3 decades) then the purple and red lines would be somewhat higher and lower respectively than shown at the current time. If you take the official CPI data as true, then annual inflation would be currently running around 1.5% which would still maintain the real rates line in the negative. I suggest true inflation is likely somewhere between the two, and thus as shown. As things stand currently, therefore, the environment for the secular commodities bull is still in tact.
Here is another correlation with inflation. US unemployment brought forward two years has a correlation over +0.5 with US inflation:
This is because recessions occur following inflation spikes:
Now let’s draw together unemployment (brought forward 2 years) and inflation, and bring solar sunspot cycles into the picture:
Sunspot solar peaks correlate with inflation peaks, and unemployment brought forward 2 years. This is not a lockstep relationship – it is a correlation specifically related to the solar maxima – and the reasoning for that is the ‘excitement’ that Aleksandr Tchijevsky discovered around solar peaks in human history which is backed up by more recent research revealing bilogical changes in humans at sunspot peaks. If this ‘excitement’ translates into buying and speculation at solar peaks then we can justify spikes in inflation (with subsequent recessions and unemployment spikes).
If it is true that humans are biologically disposed to buying and speculation at solar maxima then a composite of risk assets, namely real stocks, commodities, real estate and treasury yields, should spike up at each solar maximum. Here it is:
The composite uses Schiller real house price data and real SP500 index annual values. Each solar peak is accompanied by a spike in what can be termed risk appetite. There are other spikes inbetween the maxima, but what is key here is whether solar maxima reliably bring about spikes in risk assets, given that we are likely in the year of a solar maximum in 2013.
Within the risk asset composite, there are broadly speaking two pairs:
10 year treasury yields have a distinct relationship with real commodities, whilst real equities and real house prices correlate very positively together:
Yet commodities and stocks display an inverse relationship over time of around -0.5, with the result that the two above pairs are often going separate ways. Indeed, thus far in 2013 we have seen US equities and real estate rallying whilst commodities and treasury yields have been languishing. Is it time for a reversal?
If we bring in demographics at this point, and combine stocks and real estate into a composite, this is what we see:
All three demographic measures – middle to old ratio, middle to young ratio and percentage net investors – are all pointing down for the next couple of years. The stocks and real estate composite has historic correlations with the three measures ranging from +0.54 to +0.7, so all strong positive. It would therefore seem more likely that there is another leg down for real equities and real housing into circa 2015, rather than secular bull upwards action from here. Another leg down in real terms would also help satisfy secular p/e, Q ratio and regression to trend measures for equities, which all call for further washout.
Drawing all the above together, along with my previous analysis, I suggest it remains the most likely scenario that we see an inflationary peak to coincide with the solar maximum (allowing for a reasonable time window), within which commodities and treasury yields rise and stocks and real estate decline in real terms, but due to significant inflation hold up in nominal terms. A recession and peak in unemployment should then follow the inflationary peak. As of around mid-decade demographics improve sufficiently to remove the headwinds for equities and housing, which could enable a new stocks bull, with real interest rates turning positive again.
Once again, your observations and suggestions are welcome, as I believe there is more to be teased out.