December 2014 Philly Fed Manufacturing Survey Declines Retracing Last Month's Spike, Index Remains Relatively Strong.
Written by Steven Hansen
The Philly Fed Business Outlook Survey growth declined but remains well into expansion territory for the tenth month in a row. Key elements remain in expansion.
This is a very noisy index which readers should be reminded is sentiment based. The Philly Fed historically is one of the more negative of all the Fed manufacturing surveys but has been strongly positive this year.
The market was expecting the index value of +20.0 to +36.0 (consensus 25.0) versus the actual at 24.5. Positive numbers indicate market expansion, negative numbers indicate contraction.
Firms responding to the Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey indicated that the pace of regional manufacturing activity remained positive but decreased in December. The survey’s current indicators for general activity, new orders, shipments, and employment suggest growth; however, their values for this month were significantly lower than last month’s. The survey's indicators of future activity show optimism about continued growth over the next six months but declined slightly from last month’s readings.
Indicators Suggest Reduced Activity
The survey’s broadest measure of manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, decreased 16 points, from a reading of 40.8 in November to 24.5 this month (see Chart 1). The new orders and current shipments indexes also weakened significantly. The demand for manufactured goods, as measured by the current new orders index, decreased 20 points, from a reading of 35.7 last month to 15.7 this month. Shipments also fell, with its index falling 16 points to 16.1. Despite these declines from November, all the broad current activity indexes show a positive trend over the course of the current year.
Firms’ responses suggest deterioration in the labor market compared with November. The current employment index fell 15 points, as the percentage of firms reporting an increase in employees fell from 29 percent in November to 17 percent in December. The percentage of firms reporting a longer workweek was greater than the percentage reporting a shorter workweek (20 percent versus 14 percent). Nonetheless, the workweek index fell almost 2 points, to 6.2.
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Econintersect believes the important elements of this survey are new orders and unfilled orders . Unfilled orders continues in expansion, and new orders are showing an improved rate of expansion.
This index has many false recession warnings. However, holding this and other survey’s Econintersect follows accountable for their predictions, the following graph compares the hard data from Industrial Products manufacturing subindex (long dark blue bar) and US Census manufacturing shipments (long pink bar) to the Philly Fed Survey (yellow bar).
Comparing Surveys to Hard Data
In the above graphic, hard data is the long bars, and surveys are the short bars. The arrows on the left side are the key to growth or contraction.
Summary of all Federal Reserve Districts Manufacturing:
Richmond Fed (hyperlink to reports):
Kansas Fed (hyperlink to reports):
Dallas Fed (hyperlink to reports):
Philly Fed (hyperlink to reports):
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New York Fed (hyperlink to reports):
Federal Reserve Industrial Production – Actual Data (hyperlink to report)
Caveats on the use of Philly Fed Business Outlook Survey:
This is a survey, a quantification of opinion – not facts and data. Surveys lead hard data by weeks to months, and can provide early insight into changing conditions. Econintersect finds they do not necessarily end up being consistent compared to hard economic data that comes later, and can miss economic turning points.
This survey is very noisy – and recently showed recessionary conditions. And it is understood from 3Q2011 GDP that the economy was expanding even though this index was in contraction territory. On the positive side, it hit the start and finish of the 2007 recession exactly.
No survey is accurate in projecting employment – and the Philly Fed Business Outlook Survey is no exception. Although there are some general correlation in trends, month-to-month movements have not correlated with the BLS Service Sector Employment data.
Over time, there is a general correlation with real business data – but month-to-month conflicts are frequent.