Now that Super Bowl LVIII is over and the Kansas City Chiefs won, many people are predicting it will be a down year for the stock market.

According to the “Super Bowl Indicator,” if the team from the AFC (American Football Conference) wins the Super Bowl, then the Dow Jones Industrial Average
will decline over the coming year.

However, there’s no proof that the indicator actually works. The AFC’s Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl both this year and in 2023; last year, the Dow gained more than 13%, while the S&P 500
rose more than 24%. 

Opening the cardboard-box indicator

Instead of watching fun but statistically insignificant market predictors such as the Super Bowl Indicator (and many other wacky ones), there is one indicator that you may want to follow: the “cardboard-box indicator,” which a number of stock-market experts see as valuable. 

This interesting indicator relies on the fact that tons of items are shipped in cardboard boxes. Therefore, the more goods that factories ship in cardboard boxes, the better it should be for the economy (because manufacturing is increasing). On the other hand, if factories ship fewer cardboard boxes, it means that the economy may be faltering (because manufacturing is slowing down). 

Jeffrey Kleintop, managing director and chief global investment strategist at Charles Schwab, uses the cardboard-box indicator as a clue on where the stock market may be headed. “Things that we make or ship tend to go in cardboard boxes,” Kleintop said. “I look at demand for corrugated fiberboard, which is what most cardboard boxes are made of. During the last three or four recessions over the last 30 years, demand for cardboard boxes fell by 10 to 15%.”

During the 2008 recession, for example, cardboard-box manufacturers’ operating revenues fell by more than 50%, along with shipments. Kleintop calls these events “cardboard-box recessions.” He said that in 2023, cardboard-box shipments were weak as economies in the U.S. and around the world suffered. 

Previously, Kleintop tracked polyethylene (i.e., plastic packaging), but he found that cardboard boxes were much better at predicting potential recessions.  

What is the cardboard-box indicator saying now?

According to Kleintop, the cardboard-box recession that began last year is coming to an end. “Demand for corrugated fiberboard on a year-over-year basis has recovered, [after being] down over 10% last year,” Kleintop said. “These are some of the weakest numbers we’ve seen in a long time. Now, it has come all the way back.” 

How, then, could the U.S. stock market move higher last year even with weak manufacturing numbers? “In 2023, a handful of ‘Magnificent Seven’ stocks that are not manufacturing lifted the market higher,” Kleintop explained. “We had a dichotomy between the seven stocks going higher while the rest of the market wasn’t doing too well.” 

Bottom line: The cardboard-box indicator is telling us that last year’s mild recession is nearing an end. Even though the stock market went up because of the Magnificent Seven, don’t be surprised if several of these stocks reverse while manufacturing stocks rally. According to the cardboard-box indicator, this is what will happen.

Where do you find the cardboard-box indicator? 

The Fiber Box Association publishes cardboard-box data every month on its website. You can also find this information by entering “corrugated fiberboard data” into your search engine. The Federal Reserve also tracks how many cardboard boxes are being shipped; in fact, many Fed watchers say that former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan tracked the cardboard-box indicator — one of the reasons the indicator became famous.  

How the cardboard-box indicator can help with your portfolio   

Kleintop said that “investors should look for a change in [market] leadership as we look to the year ahead. Last year, manufacturing-focused businesses did somewhat poorly, both in terms of earnings and stock prices.” 

“However,” he continued, “the service sector did really well. What I call the ‘Taylor Swift’ economy — travel, summer tours and entertainment — boomed. That seems to be reversing now while manufacturing businesses are picking up momentum.” He added that the industrials, materials and energy sectors should outperform.

Kleintop noted that other countries such as Germany and Japan, which are manufacturing-based economies, are beginning to see signs of outperformance this year. “Japan is actually the best-performing stock market in the world right now,” he said.

While the Super Bowl Indicator is fun to watch, the cardboard-box indicator actually gives us relevant information. Right now, it appears as if demand for cardboard boxes is increasing — what Kleintop termed a “cardboard-box recovery.”  This is good news for the bulls, especially those invested in the manufacturing sector.

Michael Sincere ( is the author of “Understanding Options,” “Understanding Stocks,” and the forthcoming “Help Your Child Build Wealth” (Wiley, 2024). 

More: Stock-market investors should still brace for ‘70s-style ‘stagflation’, warn strategists

Also read: Fed officials more worried about cutting rates too fast than moving too slow, minutes show

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