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Top 10 Market and Economic Variables to Watch…and 3 to Ignore – Part IV

Refresh yourself on the entire Top 10 market and economic variables you should be watching closely: part 1part 2part 3.

Now it’s time to tell you the three things we think you should ignore! While there aren’t any variables that are truly ignored, perhaps the value of these three variables isn’t worth the attention they often get.


3. The Noise: Data vs. Information

This is a classic case of data versus information. Data consists of facts, which become information, as it conveys meaning to investors. For example, computers process data without any understanding of what the data represents. Similarly, investors are bombarded with headlines, facts and figures — in other words, data. Without the proper context behind the numbers and headlines being thrown at them, it just becomes noise.  When investors attempt to process all of this, it makes it hard to decipher what data is giving them the information they need to make investment decisions. Investors would be wise to focus on a few key variables (like the ones we told you about earlier), and filter out all of the other noise.

2. Headline Unemployment Rate

The headline unemployment rate, specifically, the primary measurement: U3, does not accurately reflect the employment picture. The official unemployment rate, which measures the proportion of the civilian labor force 16 years or older that are jobless but actively seeking employment, can be either overstated or understated. This could be due to discouraged workers, part-time workers and unreported legal or illegal employment. Taken together, these measurement problems suggest that the official unemployment rate is likely understated during business-cycle contractions and overstated during business-cycle expansions.

The unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in 2009 and then trended lower down to the current 6.3 percent. However, in the same period, the participation rate, a measure of the active portion of an economy’s labor force also came crashing down from 65.7 percent to an all-time low of 62.8 percent. It appears that most of the drop in the unemployment rate may be attributed to a falling participation rate—less people searching for a job rather than new jobs being created. This particular headline statistic is one that should probably be ignored.

1. What the Federal Reserve Says

Forecasting interest rates is extremely difficult. The Federal Reserve has a difficult time with it too.  In the past, the Fed has under promised and then over delivered. In 1994, 1999 and 2004, the Fed’s projection of Fed funds was not as accurate as one would expect. In each of those years listed, Fed funds were higher than the Fed had forecasted. Last year, the Fed began to taper its bond-buying activity, also known as quantitative easing. Having reduced their activity each month, we expect them to continue doing this until the program is terminated. Hiking interest rates is also being talked about, but we think that is noise in the markets. All in all, we recommend watching what they do, not what they talk about.

With all of the data investors could consume on any given day, at any given hour, this top 10 list of market and economic indicators and 3 to ignore, is a guide to cutting the clutter to get to the information needed to best understand today’s economic environment.


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