The Weekly Leading Index (WLI) growth indicator of the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) has now 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 of the publicly available data (through September 9) now puts the decline at -7.1, down from last week’s revised -6.6 (previously -6.2). The interim high of 8.0 was set in the week ending April 15.
For a closer look at the movement of this index in recent months, here’s a snapshot of the data since 2000.
Now let’s step back and examine the complete series available to the public, which dates from 1967. The 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.
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 turn 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 negatives were deeper declines. The Crash of 1987 took the Index negative for 34 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 in Q4 of 2009 was a leading indicator of a recession. The published index has never dropped to the -11.0 level we saw 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 eight 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 behaviour 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.
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