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posted on 17 February 2015

February 2015 Empire State Survey's Noisy Index Declines Slightly

Written by Steven Hansen

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey slightly declined from last month but remains in expansion. Key internals were mixed - but new orders are barely in expansion territory.

  • Expectations were for a reading between 6.0 and 14.0 (consensus 5.0) versus the +7.8 reported. Any value above zero shows expansion for the New York area manufacturers.
  • New orders sub-index of the Empire State Manufacturing Survey is barely in expansion (in contraction 2 of the last 5 months), whilst unfilled orders marginally strengthened but remains in contraction.
  • This noisy index has moved from +4.5 (February 2014), +5.6 (March), +1.3 (April), +19.0 (May), +19.3 (June), +25.6 (July), +14.7 (August), +27.5 (September), +6.2 (October), +10.2 (November), -3.6 (December), +10.0 (January 2015) - and now 7.8.

As this index is very noisy, it is hard to understand what these massive moves up or down mean - however this regional manufacturing survey is normally one of the most pessimistic.

Econintersect reminds you that this is a survey (a quantification of opinion). Please see caveats at the end of this post. However, sometimes it is better not to look to deeply into the details of a noisy survey as just the overview is all you need to know.

From the report:

The February 2015 Empire State Manufacturing Survey indicates that business activity continued to expand at a modest pace for New York manufacturers. The headline general business conditions index edged down two points to 7.8. The new orders index fell five points to 1.2—evidence that orders were flat—while the shipments index climbed to 14.1. Employment indexes pointed to an increase in employment levels and little change in the average workweek. The prices paid index inched up two points to 14.6, indicating continued moderate input price increases, while the prices received index fell nine points to 3.4, suggesting a slowdown in selling price increases. Indexes for the six-month outlook, while generally positive, conveyed markedly less optimism than in recent months, with the index for future general business conditions falling twenty-three points. The capital spending index shot up eighteen points to 32.6, its highest level in more than three years.

z empire1.PNG

The above graphic shows that when the index is in negative territory that is not a signal of a recession: of 5 times in negative territory only one occurred with a recession. Conversely, a positive number is likely to be indicating economic expansion. However, when it does make a correct negative prediction it can be timely. This index was only two months late in going negative after what was eventually determined to be the start of the 2007 recession.

This survey has a lot extra bells and whistles which take attention away from the core questions: (1) are orders and (2) are unfilled orders (backlog) improving? Econintersect emphasizes these two survey points.

Respondents believe the level of unfilled orders (backlog) is has been negative since 2011. Unfilled order contraction can be a signal for a recession - and went back into contraction this month.

Holding this and other surveys 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 Empire State Survey (short darker green bar).

Comparing Surveys to Hard Data

z survey1.png

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:

z richmond_man.PNG

Kansas Fed:

z kansas_man.PNG

Dallas Fed:

z dallas_man.PNG

Philly Fed:

z philly fed1.PNG

New York Fed:

z empire1.PNG

Federal Reserve Industrial Production - Actual Data (hyperlink to report)

Caveats on the use of Empire State Manufacturing 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.

According to Bloomberg:

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey is a monthly survey of manufacturers in New York State conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Participants from across the state in a variety of industries respond to a questionnaire and report the change in a variety of indicators from the previous month. Respondents also state the likely direction of these same indicators six months ahead. April 2002 is the first report, although survey data date back to July 2001. Each month, new data will be released and the previous month's data will be revised slightly. Once per year, all data will undergo a benchmark revision.

This Empire State Survey is very noisy - and has shown recessionary conditions throughout the second half of 2011 - and no recession resulted. Overall, since the end of the 2007 recession - this index has indicated two false recession warnings.

No survey is accurate in projecting employment - and the Empire State Manufacturing 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 manufacturing data - but month-to-month conflicts are frequent.

Related Articles

All posts on Manufacturing



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