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The Unemployment Rate and the Stock Market

The U.S. Unemployment Rate has moved down to 3.9%, its lowest level since December 2000. If you ask the average person on the street what that means for the stock market, they would likely say it’s a bullish sign. What does it actually mean? Let’s take a look…

Data Source for all charts/tables herein: FRED, Bloomberg, Robert Shiller

We have data on the Unemployment Rate going back to 1948. Breaking the data up into quintiles, we observe the following:

  • A positive correlation between the level of unemployment and forward stock market returns. In general, the lower the unemployment rate, the lower the forward stock market returns and vice versa. In the current quintile (2.5% to 4.4% unemployment), the average S&P 500 return over the following year is 5.6% versus and average of 12.7% in all periods. The best returns historically have come after periods of high unemployment.

  • Lower odds of a positive S&P 500 return with lower unemployment rates. In the current quintile (2.5% to 4.4% unemployment), the S&P 500 has been positive 64% of the time over the following year versus 79% in all periods.

What’s driving this counterintuitive relationship? Valuation. On average, lower unemployment rates tend to be associated with higher valuations and vice versa.

Why? Because when there’s good news in the economy (low unemployment), people are willing to pay a higher multiple for a given level of earnings than when there’s bad news (high unemployment). That’s important when it comes to stocks because higher valuations tend to be associated with below average forward returns.

Note: Above table uses CAPE Ratio.

In January, the S&P 500’s valuation hit the 97th percentile, higher than every period in history with the exception of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Historically, the combination of higher valuations and lower unemployment has been unfavorable for stocks, with negative returns on average over the following 1-year through 5-year periods.

Does that mean that the S&P 500 has to go down from here? No, these are just probabilities and tendencies; there are always exceptions.

But it does mean that investors probably shouldn’t view a low Unemployment Rate as a bullish sign for stocks. The evidence seems to suggest that the opposite may be true.

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Related Posts:

The Uncertainty Principle in Markets

CHARLIE BILELLO, CMT

Charlie-Bilello

Charlie Bilello is the Director of Research at Pension Partners, LLC, an investment advisor that manages mutual funds and separate accounts. He is the co-author of four award-winning research papers on market anomalies and investing. Charlie is responsible for strategy development, investment research and communicating the firm’s investment themes and portfolio positioning to clients. Prior to joining Pension Partners, he was the Managing Member of Momentum Global Advisors and previously held positions as a Credit, Equity and Hedge Fund Analyst at billion dollar alternative investment firms.

Charlie holds a J.D. and M.B.A. in Finance and Accounting from Fordham University and a B.A. in Economics from Binghamton University. He is a Chartered Market Technician (CMT) and also holds the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate.

In 2017, Charlie was named the StockTwits Person of the Year. He has been named by Business Insider and MarketWatch as one of the top people to follow on Twitter and his work has been featured in Barron’s, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal.

You can follow Charlie on twitter here.

Disclosures:

Pension Partners, LLC is a federally registered investment adviser under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply a certain level of skill or training. The oral and written communications of an adviser provide you with information about which you determine to hire or retain an adviser. For more information about Pension Partners please visit: https://adviserinfo.sec.gov/ and search for our firm name.

The information herein was obtained from various sources. Pension Partners does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information provided by third parties. The information given is as of the date indicated and believed to be reliable. Pension Partners assumes no obligation to update this information, or to advise on further developments relating to it.

Past performance is not indicative nor a guarantee of future results.

This writing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell, a solicitation to buy, or a recommendation regarding any securities transaction, or as an offer to provide advisory or other services by Pension Partners, LLC in any jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The information contained in this writing should not be construed as financial or investment advice on any subject matter. Pension Partners, LLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken based on any or all of the information on this writing.

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