Today’s release of the publicly available data from ECRI (Economic Cycle Research Institute) puts its Weekly Leading Index (WLI) at 133.0, up 0.5 from the previous week. The WLI annualized growth indicator (WLIg) is at 0.7, an increase of 1.4 from the previous week, and well off its interim low of -4.7 last February.
Lakshman Achuthan restates ECRI’s stance on a recession: “…we are not on the cusp of recession, but to be clear, the cycle also isn’t about to turn up.” According to ECRI, economic growth will continue to slow and the cyclical slowdown will continue in the coming months.
The ECRI Indicator Year-over-Year
Below is a chart of ECRI’s smoothed year-over-year percent change since 2000 of their weekly leading index. The latest level is just above where it was at the start of the last recession.
RecessionAlert has launched an alternative to ECRI’s WLIg, the Weekly Leading Economic Indicator(WLEI), which uses 50 different time series from various categories, including the Corporate Bond Composite, Treasury Bond Composite, Stock Market Composite, Labor Market Composite, and Credit Market Composite. An interesting point to notice — back in 2011, ECRI made an erroneous recession call, while the WLEI did not trigger such a premature call. However, both indicators are now in negative territory.
Appendix: A Closer Look at the ECRI Index
The first chart below shows the history of the Weekly Leading Index and highlights its current level.
For a better understanding of the relationship of the WLI level to recessions, the next chart shows the data series in terms of the percent off the previous peak. In other words, a new weekly high registers at 100%, with subsequent declines plotted accordingly.
As the chart above illustrates, only once has a recession ended without the index level achieving a new high — the two recessions, commonly referred to as a “double-dip,” in the early 1980s. Our current level is still off the most recent high, which was set back in June of 2007. We’ve exceeded the previously longest stretch between highs, which was from February 1973 to April 1978. But the index level rose steadily from the trough at the end of the 1973-1975 recession to reach its new high in 1978. The pattern in ECRI’s indictor is quite different, and this has no doubt been a key factor in their business cycle analysis.
The WLIg Metric
The best known of ECRI’s indexes is their growth calculation on the WLI. For a close look at 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. ECRI’s WLIg metric has had a respectable record for forecasting recessions and rebounds therefrom. The next chart shows the correlation between the WLI, GDP and recessions.
Year-over-Year Growth in the WLI
Here is a snapshot of the year-over-year growth of the WLI rather than ECRI’s previously favored method of calculating the WLIg series from the underlying WLI (see the endnote below). Specifically the chart immediately below is the year-over-year change in the 4-week moving average of the WLI. The red dots highlight the YoY value for the month when recessions began.
The WLI YoY is just in positive territory after 11 negative months and is now at 0.16% to two decimal points, up 0.34 from last week. The latest level is lower than at the start of two of the last seven recessions. This indicator has only rarely dipped below its recent interim low outside recessionary periods: Lower levels occurred in 1988 and also during the economic volatility following the last recession.