The stock market is considered a leading economic indicator, and, boy, has it been leading all year long.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index, which is often used as a proxy for the U.S. equity market, is up 16 percent since Dec. 31.

Investors on Tuesday seemed to shake off last week's wariness over just when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will pull back on the central bank's monetary stimulus - wariness that contributed to the first weekly loss by the S&P 500 since the week of April 19.

The Dow Jones industrial average, up more than 200 points around midday, finished with a 106.29-point gain to close at 15,409.39 - its first triple-digit advance since May 17. The S&P 500 rose 10.46 points to close at 1,660.06.

And to what can we attribute this post-Memorial Day weekend euphoria? Apparently, new favorable data about consumer confidence and home prices.

I say "apparently" because it's not possible to ascribe reasons for why the market is up one day and down the next. That doesn't stop investors, market observers, and even journalists from trying.

It is because the U.S. economy is so vast and complex that we hunger for any scrap of information that might indicate whether it is growing, shrinking, or frozen in place.

Still, I'm no fan of consumer confidence data, which are also considered a leading indicator of future economic activity. I like actions (consumer spending) better than words (surveys about spending plans).

Nothing against the Conference Board, which does a fine job surveying 3,000 U.S. households each month about their plans to buy a vacuum cleaner or TV set.  

The Conference Board's most recent report indicated a surge in the consumer mood in May, with the index increasing by 7.2 points, after rising 7.1 points in April. Researchers said that consumer confidence was at its highest level in more than five years.

IHS Global Insight said that consumer confidence data are "very fickle" and the mood tends to fall faster than it rises. "Real consumer spending growth is likely to be about 2.1 percent for the year - relatively respectable, but nothing to write home about," wrote IHS economist Chris G. Christopher Jr. in a note.

The second report issued Tuesday was the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, which showed all 20 cities posting positive year-over-year growth. (Philadelphia is not one of the cities in the index.) Again, this report is one of the best national measures of activity in a corner of the economy that drives all sorts of consumer spending.

And we do tend to feel better about our own financial situation when we know housing prices are on the rise. IHS economist Patrick Newport cited Federal Reserve data that indicated household real estate wealth increased by $1.4 trillion in 2012.

 Economist Joel L. Naroff said in a note that he believes the wealth effect was likely to be limited. "The rising prices will likely make people feel better about things, though I doubt we will see many using their improved wealth position to buy things," he said.

So has the stock market gotten too far ahead of the economy? Or is the U.S. economy humming along at 3 percent growth rate in 2013 with even better days in 2014?

I doubt 10 people in a room would answer those questions the same way. Even if they did, it would matter far more to me what they did: sell some stocks, buy a house, switch jobs, or start a business.

Contact Mike Armstrong
at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or @PhillyInc on Twitter. Read his blog, "PhillyInc," at www.inquirer.com/phillyinc.