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posted on 22 September 2015

September 2015 Chemical Activity Barometer Says Economy Will Continue to Slow

from the American Chemistry Council

The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), dropped 0.4 percent in September, following a revised 0.2 percent decline in August. The pattern shows a marked deceleration, even reversal, over second quarter activity. It is unlikely that growth will pick up through early 2016.

Data is measured on a three-month moving average (3MMA). Accounting for adjustments, the CAB remains up 1.2 percent over this time last year, also a deceleration of annual growth. In September 2014, the CAB logged a 4.1 percent annual gain over September 2013. Said ACC Chief Economist Kevin Swift:

Business activity cooled off in September. Chemical, other equity, and product prices all continued to suffer, signaling a likely slowdown in broader economic activity. One bright spot continues to be plastic resins, particularly those used in light vehicles. Sales of light vehicles are on track to record a banner year, the best since 2000. Light vehicles are a key end use market for chemistry, containing nearly $3,500 of chemistry per vehicle.

The Chemical Activity Barometer has four primary components, each consisting of a variety of indicators: 1) production; 2) equity prices; 3) product prices; and 4) inventories and other indicators. During November, the components were mixed, with production flat, equity prices up, production down, and inventories continuing to improve.

z chemical_activity_barometer.png

Caveats on the Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB):

The definition of the CAB:

Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB) is a leading economic indicator derived from a composite index of chemical industry activity. The chemical industry has been found to consistently lead the U.S. economy's business cycle given its early position in the supply chain, and this barometer can be used to determine turning points and likely trends in the wider economy. Month-to-month movements can be volatile so a three-month moving average of the barometer is provided. This provides a more consistent and illustrative picture of national economic trends.

Applying the CAB back to 1919, it has been shown to provide a longer lead (or perform better) than the National Bureau of Economic Research, by two to 14 months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2007 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve's Industrial Production Index.

This index is a mixture of monetary / non-monetary elements with an analysis methodology which is not transparent - and does include some non-chemical industry elements such as the ISM manufacturing index and residential building permits. The composition and concept of the CAB according to the authors:

The CAB comprises indicators relating to the production of chlorine and other alkalies, pigments, plastic resins and other selected basic industrial chemicals; chemical company stock data; hours worked in chemicals; publicly sourced, chemical price information; end-use (or customer) industry sales-to-inventories; and several broader leading economic measures (building permits and new orders). Each month, ACC provides a barometer number, which reflects activity data for the current month, as well as a three-month moving average. The CAB was developed by the economics department at the American Chemistry Council.

The Chemical Activity Barometer is a leading economic indicator derived from a composite index of chemical industry activity. The chemical industry has been found to consistently lead the U.S. economy's business cycle given its early position in the supply chain, and this barometer can be used to determine turning points and likely trends in the wider economy. Month-to-month movements can be volatile so a three-month moving average of the barometer is provided. This provides a more consistent and illustrative picture of national economic trends.

Applying the CAB back to 1919, it has been shown to provide a longer lead (or perform better) than the National Bureau of Economic Research, by two to 14 months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2007 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve's Industrial Production Index.

As this is a relatively new leading index, our biggest concern is backward revision (which degrades real time accuracy). Thankfully (providently?) backward revisions have been relatively small to date.

No single economic forecasting index has proven to have all the answers, as the reason the economy recesses is a combination of changing dynamics. Econintersect will continue to review this leading index and others as part of our monthly economic forecast.


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