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posted on 01 April 2015

March 2015 ISM Manufacturing Survey Again Declines But Remains in Expansion

Written by Steven Hansen

The ISM Manufacturing survey continues to indicate manufacturing growth expansion - however this index has been declining since November 2014. The key internal new orders also modestly declined (but still remains slightly in expansion). Backlog of orders returned to contraction.

The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) declined from 52.9 to 51.5 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was within expectations which were 50.9 to 54.1 (consensus 52.5).

This index had been in a general uptrend since mid 2013, the three month trend is now clearly in decline. This is the 27th month of expansion. The regional Fed manufacturing surveys indicated little growth or contraction in March, and now the ISM indicates manufacturing shows expansion.

Relatively deep penetration of this index below 50 has normally resulted in a recession.

The noisy Backlog of Orders declined from 51.5 to 49.5 - and is now in contraction. Backlog growth should be an indicator of improving conditions; a number below 50 indicates contraction. Backlog accuracy does not have a high correlation against actual data.

Excepts from the ISM release:

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in March for the 27th consecutive month, and the overall economy grew for the 70th consecutive month, say the nation's supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®.

The March PMI® registered 51.5 percent, a decrease of 1.4 percentage points from February's reading of 52.9 percent. The New Orders Index registered 51.8 percent, a decrease of 0.7 percentage point from the reading of 52.5 percent in February. The Production Index registered 53.8 percent, 0.1 percentage point above the February reading of 53.7 percent. The Employment Index registered 50 percent, 1.4 percentage points below the February reading of 51.4 percent, reflecting unchanged employment levels from February. Inventories of raw materials registered 51.5 percent, a decrease of 1 percentage point from the February reading of 52.5 percent. The Prices Index registered 39 percent, 4 percentage points above the February reading of 35 percent, indicating lower raw materials prices for the fifth consecutive month. Comments from the panel refer to continuing challenges from the West Coast port issue, lower oil prices having both positive and negative impacts depending upon the industry, residual effects of the harsh winter, higher costs of healthcare premiums, and challenges associated with the stronger dollar on international business.

Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 10 are reporting growth in March in the following order: Paper Products; Wood Products; Transportation Equipment; Fabricated Metal Products; Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Machinery; Chemical Products; Primary Metals; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; and Computer & Electronic Products. The seven industries reporting contraction in March — listed in order — are: Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Textile Mills; Petroleum & Coal Products; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Plastics & Rubber Products; and Furniture & Related Products.

It is interesting to note that ISM Manufacturing represents less than 10% of USA employment, and approximately 20% of the business economy. Historically, it could be argued that the production portion of ISM Manufacturing leads the Fed's Industrial Production index - however the correlation is not strong when looking at trends.

New orders have direct economic consequences. Expanding new orders is a relatively reliable sign a recession is NOT imminent. However, New Orders contraction have given false recession warnings twice since 2000.

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 (blue bar) and US Census manufacturing shipments (red bar) to the ISM Manufacturing Survey (purple bar).

Comparing Surveys to Hard Data

z survey1.png

Caveats on the use of ISM Manufacturing Index:

This is a survey, a quantification of opinion - not facts and data. However, as pointed out above, certain elements of this survey have good to excellent correlation to the economy. Surveys lead hard data by weeks to months, and can provide early insight into changing conditions.

Many use ISM manufacturing for guidance in estimating manufacturing employment growth. Econintersect has run correlation coefficients for the ISM manufacturing employment and the BLS manufacturing employment data series above going back to 1988, using quarterly data. The coincident correlations are actually negative, but poor (r = -0.2 to -0.4 for various time periods examined). See here for definitions.

Before 2000 the ISM employment data had a weak positive correlation to the BLS data 4 to 7 quarters later (r values above 0.6). Since 2000 the correlations for ISM manufacturing employment as a leading indicator for the BLS manufacturing employment have been between 0 and 0.3 for r (correlation coefficient). These values define correlations as none to poor.

In other words, ISM employment index is not useful in understanding manufacturing jobsgrowth. The graph below shows BLS manufacturing employment month-over-month gains against the ISM Manufacturing employment index.

Indexed to Jan 2000 - Comparison of the ISM Manufacturing Employment Subindex (blue line) to BLS Manufacturing Employment (red line) - all data seasonally adjusted

The ISM employment index appears useful in predicting turning points which can lead the BLS data up to one year.

Related Posts:

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