Is the Fed a Leading or Lagging Indicator?

That’s the question for today:  Is the Fed an Indicator that leads the market, or do they lag?

That question was provoked by this rather interesting graphic, courtesy of Gary B. Smith at

click for flaming monkees to sing and dance


chart courtesy of Real Money

What I believe this chart reveals is that the Fed’s action trails the prior market cycle, but can lead the next cycle.

For example, the Fed was steady in the mid-to late 1990s, while the market rallied higher.  (They cut a few times to deal with LTCM, but that was rather brief). The Fed started hiking in 1999, and kept tightening straigh thru early 2001. They were clearly late to the party in trying to rein in both inflationary pressures and the 1999 exuberence. That rate hiking cycle lagged.

If you are a bit of a contrarian, then you may wish to consider the Fed’s tightening as an early warning that the cycle was long in the tooth. Shorting into a Fed tightening — when you get the approriate technical confirmations — ain’t a bad strategy.   

In the 1999 cycle, for example, the market were way ahead of the Fed, and had already anticipated a slowdown. By the time the Fed started cutting rates, we were already deep into a recession.

The next tightening cycle began in June 2004. But as the chart makes clear, the markets had already rock-n-rolled: Waiting for the Fed means you missed the big lift off of 2003.

Indeed, what a Fed rate cutting cycle should suggest to you is that thigns already are el-stinko, and you want to begin looking for when to step back into the market.

So the answer to a query — Does the Fed lead or lag? — is Yes, a little of both.


Don’t Fret the Fed
Gary B. Smith, 5/3/2005 8:30 AM EDT

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Mark Thoma commented on May 3

    As I understand it, the evidence on bi-directional causality between money, i-rates, and real output is mixed. I haven’t looked into this for awhile, but last time I did there was no clear answer in the econometric results I looked at. Starting with Sims, there was evidence of single direction causality, but the RBC people made a persuasive case for reverse causality (needed at the time to explain money-income correlations). I am sympathetic to output rising causing money demand to rise argument and so long as the Fed accomodates, as it does with an i-rate target. In such a case, policy will appear to lag if the policy shokcs themselves are not isolated from the income shocks driving the reverse causality.

    But the shocks can also run from policy to output and the transmission stories for this, rigid wages and prices currently, are abundant in the literature.

    So, in the end I agree, a raw look at the M data or the i-rate data may make it appear as though causality runs both ways. To examine this more formally the policy shocks must somehow be separated from the other shocks affecting m and i.

  2. jill commented on May 3

    When looking at “Existing Home Sales” keep in mind that the way this data is reported was recently changed by David Lereah, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors.

    Previously, the NAR reported three categories of Existing Sales: Single Family; Condo; and Co-op.

    Effective April 1, 2005 these sales were consolidated into one single Existing Home Sales and the historical data has also been changed. Last month we heard about the change in “Existing (single-family) Home Sales” and this month we are hearing about the change in “Existing (single-family, condo, co-op) Home Sales”.

  3. Bob commented on May 4

    According to paper by the Romers( the economists at UC Berkeley, husband and wife), the feds lead. That was published I think in 99 so perhaps the relationship has changed. I think they attributed to asymmetrical information. That is, the feds have better info, but this may not be the case anymore.

  4. spencer commented on May 4

    From 1958 to 1995 fed funds were a great leading -concurrent indicator of the stockmarket PE — the correlation was -0.66. But from 1995 to 2000 the tight fit between fed funds and S&P 500 PE broke down — the correlation was only -0.25. In recent years the tight fit seems to be reemerging.

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