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Leading Indicators: Definition and How Theyre Used by Investors

For most of the 21st century, housing and real estate have been leading economic indicators. In some cases, companies focus too much on lagging indicators and miss important opportunities to influence outcomes by adjusting the actions that will impact the leading indicators. Leading indicators are data that indicate a likely or potential future outcome.

  • Here we define a leading indicator and give examples of some good ones.
  • Some investors may respond by selling equities when interest rates are on the rise, or they may buy when rates start to fall.
  • All businesses track their own bottom lines and balance sheets, but such data are lagging indicators, meaning they’re produced by events that have already happened.

However, it’s important to have leading and lagging metrics in place to build an accurate understanding of performance. The objective was to determine measurable indicators that if monitored could predict the ups and downs of the economy in the future. If the number of mortgage defaults begin to increase that’s a warning signal (a leading indicator) that the economy might also head for negative changes. Other leading economic indicators for the economy include manufacturing activity, the stock and housing markets, consumer confidence, and the number of new businesses entering the market. To find the right balance between leading and lagging indicators, you develop a performance framework. There might be some financial goals such as we want to make this much money or this much profit, but you also want to look at your customers.

Leading indicators may be harder to measure but the offer valuable insight about the future. They work with lagging indicators to create a number of metrics that are key performance indicators of future growth. The Gross Domestic Product report, is forex trade profitable also known as GDP, measures the change in the total value of all goods and services produced in a country during a specific period of time. The GDP report is the broadest measure of economic activity and an important coincident indicator.

What is a “Lagging Indicator”

There are also internal processes, service delivery, and product quality that are leading indicators for customer satisfaction. You should also have indicators for your employees, such as are you attracting the right people and recruiting them to create a quality mass index indicator product in the future. I assert that managing the performance of your organization is one of the (if not THE most important) things you should do as a leader. In business, examples of leading indicators might be consumer confidence or customer satisfaction.

But cheating the system misses the point of measuring performance through indicators. By having the combo of leading and lagging indicators helps your team better understand performance and—very important—find ways to improve performance in the future. It’s a combination of the insights you get from looking back (your lagging indicators) along with those that are forward-looking (leading indicators). Leading indicators are one of the three main types of broader economic indicators. The others are lagging indicators (which reflect past activity) and coincident indicators (which reflect current activity).

That way, managers don’t get focused on cultivating better leading indicator outcomes rather than using them to make decisions about the bottom line. Setting leading indicators allows managers to get a preview of how the forex swing trading signals financial statements could look. And it provides them with the potential to improve profits without significant overhauls to processes or personnel. A leading indicator means that one variable will move before another.

  • This quit rate is a strong indicator of consumer confidence at large.
  • This would mean entering the market once the trend is confirmed, as you would with a lagging indicator.
  • These can be measures of the activities you need to perform to achieve your goals and results, or they can be signals or measures of conditions, such as consumer behaviours or market trends.
  • Genuine progress indicator (GPI) is a metric used to gauge a country’s rate of economic growth.
  • Markets are constantly looking for signs that indicate that the current economic climate is about to change.

Last but not least, stock indices can also be used as a leading indicator of the economy. When companies are doing well and earnings beat forecasts, stock markets usually rally. This is considered a leading indicator, as a higher rate of capacity utilization usually means a higher rate of future production and higher employment levels. A housing report that comes in better than expected is considered good for the economy, while a decrease in the number of new housing starts can spark recession fears. It’s also important to note that this is a cyclical indicator, as there are more new housing starts during summer months than during winter months.

For example, the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) is based on the Consumer Confidence Survey by the Conference Board, which reflects business conditions and potential future developments. Leading indicators help you build a broad understanding of performance, but they aren’t always accurate. Leading indicators express what might happen, not what definitely will happen. They are also usually unique to your company so they can be a bit more challenging to build, measure and benchmark.

Businesses and investors can use the index to help plan their activities around the expected performance of the economy and protect themselves from economic downturns. Transparency is how we protect the integrity of our work and keep empowering investors to achieve their goals and dreams. And we have unwavering standards for how we keep that integrity intact, from our research and data to our policies on content and your personal data. You can come up with indicators that would tell you these things and help you improve your future employee satisfaction.

Composite Index of Leading Indicators: Definition and Uses

Common technical analysis indicators are the moving average convergence-divergence (MACD) indicator and the relative strength index (RSI). Beware of leaning too heavily on economic indicators to make investment decisions. Economic data is usually far from perfect and still needs to be analyzed and interpreted correctly. Lagging indicators are often the same as the metrics for your company’s goals and targets. They are often, but not always, very similar across businesses regardless of the industry.

Coincident Indicators

You are unfamiliar with the business climate and purchasing culture for your products. And you really shouldn’t be concerned with them, because lead indicators may stifle innovation. They’re great at telling you what you should be doing; but if you’re being innovative, you want people to experiment and try new things—so leading indicators would do more harm than good. A pharmaceutical company may have their research and innovation process down pat, and thus may be able to benefit from using some lead indicators. But as a general rule of thumb, steer clear of them if you want to give people the freedom to experiment and determine what works in a changing environment.

Understanding Lagging and Leading Indicators

Many focus on those indicators directly related to the stock market. These can include the housing market, retail sales, building permits, business startups, and more. The Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) measures 10 economic indicators. The unemployment rate, or weekly claims for unemployment, is a lagging indicator.


The LEI is intended to give an overall indication of the near-term future performance of the U.S. economy. It includes key economic data points that are logically connected to the economic conditions that influence things like consumer spending and business investment. If you look at your lagging and leading indicators—and question them on a regular basis—you can begin to drive better than average performance. And you can start to predict whether you’re going to meet the end-of-year (or five-year) targets.

The yield curve, durable goods orders, the stock market, manufacturing orders, and building permits are some of the best indicators to use when trying to determine where the economy is headed. On-balance volume (OBV) is another leading momentum-based indicator. It looks at volume to enable traders to make predictions about the market price – OBV is largely used in shares trading, as volume is well documented by stock exchanges. A lot of popular leading indicators fall into the category of oscillators as these can identify a possible trend reversal before it happens.

In his best-selling book, The Lean Startup, Eric Ries explains this concept. If you can demonstrate that your idea is moving forward by using validated learning to prove problems exist, then customers will show interest before you even have a product to sell. Likewise, as Dantar P. Oosterwal demonstrated in his book, The Lean Machine, a pattern of purchase orders can be a leading indicator of product development and market success.

No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of the above information. IG accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result. Any research provided should be considered as promotional and was prepared in accordance with CFTC 1.71 and designed to promote the independence of investment research. Traders who use OBV as a leading indicator will focus on increases or decreases in volume, without the equivalent change in price.

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