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posted on 04 February 2015

January 2015 ISM Services Index Improves Marginally

Written by Steven Hansen

The ISM non-manufacturing (aka ISM Services) index continues its growth cycle, and improved marginally from 56.5 to 56.7 (above 50 signals expansion). Important internals likewise strengthened.

This was within the range of market forecasts of 54.5 to 57.5 (consensus 56.5).

There are two sub-indexes in the NMI which have good correlations to the economy - the Business Activity Index and the New Orders Index - and both have good track records in spotting an incipient recession. The Business Activity Index improved and the New Orders Index marginally improved - with both remaining in territories associated with moderate expansion.

This index and its associated sub-indices are fairly volatile - and one needs to step back from the data and view this index over longer periods than a single month.

The Business Activity sub-index improved 2.9 points and now is at 61.5.

ISM Services - Business Activity Sub-Index

The New Orders Index improved 0.3 and is currently at 59.5.

ISM Services - New Orders Sub-Index

The complete ISM manufacturing and non-manufacturing survey table is below.

Econintersect does give serious consideration to this survey as the service sector accounts for 80% of the economy and 90% of employment. However, this an opinion survey and is not hard data.

From the ISM report:

Economic activity in the non-manufacturing sector grew in January for the 60th consecutive month, say the nation's purchasing and supply executives in the latest Non-Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®.

The NMI® registered 56.7 percent in January, 0.2 percentage point higher than the December reading of 56.5 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index increased to 61.5 percent, which is 2.9 percentage points higher than the December reading of 58.6 percent, reflecting growth for the 66th consecutive month at a faster rate. The New Orders Index registered 59.5 percent, 0.3 percentage point higher than the reading of 59.2 percent registered in December. The Employment Index decreased 4.1 percentage points to 51.6 percent from the December reading of 55.7 percent and indicates growth for the eleventh consecutive month. The Prices Index decreased 4.3 percentage points from the December reading of 49.8 percent to 45.5 percent, indicating prices contracted in January when compared to December. According to the NMI®, eight non-manufacturing industries reported growth in January. Comments from respondents vary by industry and company; however, they are mostly positive and/or reflect stability about business conditions.


The eight non-manufacturing industries reporting growth in January — listed in order — are: Accommodation & Food Services; Finance & Insurance; Management of Companies & Support Services; Public Administration; Wholesale Trade; Information; Health Care & Social Assistance; and Retail Trade. The eight industries reporting contraction in January — listed in order — are: Mining; Arts, Entertainment & Recreation; Construction; Other Services; Real Estate, Rental & Leasing; Professional, Scientific & Technical Services; Educational Services; and Transportation & Warehousing.

Caveats on the use of ISM Non-Manufacturing Index:

This is a survey, a quantification of opinion. However, as pointed out above, certain elements of this survey have good to excellent correlation to the economy for as long as it has been in existence. Surveys lead hard data by weeks to months, and can provide early insight into changing conditions.

The main ISM non-manufacturing index (NMI) is so new that it does not have enough data history to have reliable certainty about how it correlates to the economy. Again, two sub-indices (business activity and new orders) do have good correlation for the limited history available.

No survey is accurate in projecting employment - and the ISM Non-Manufacturing Employment Index is no exception. Although there are some general correlation in trends if you stand far enough back from this graph, month-to-month movements have not correlated well with the BLS Service Sector Employment data.

ISM Services Employment Sub-Index vs BLS Non-Farm Services Employment

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