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posted on 17 March 2016

March 2016 Philly Fed Manufacturing Survey Also Returns To Expansion

Written by Steven Hansen

The Philly Fed Business Outlook Survey returned to expansion. Key elements improved. Both manufacturing surveys released so far for this month are 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 more positive then the others recently.

The index improved from -2.8 to +12.4. Positive numbers indicate market expansion, negative numbers indicate contraction. The market expected (from Bloomberg) -4.0 to 0.9 (consensus -1.4).

Firms responding to the Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey reported an improvement in business conditions this month. The indicator for general activity rose sharply in March to its first positive reading in seven months. Other broad indicators offered similar signals of growth: The indexes for shipments and new orders also rose notably. Firms continued to report overall weak employment. With respect to the manufacturers' forecasts, the survey's future indicators also showed significant improvement this month.

Current Indicators Reflect a Pickup in Activity

The diffusion index for current activity increased from a reading of -2.8 in February to 12.4 this month, its first positive reading in seven months (see Chart 1). Both the current new orders and shipments indexes also showed improvement this month. The current new orders index returned to positive territory, increasing 21 points to 15.7. Nearly 37 percent of the firms reported an increase in new orders this month. The current shipments index rose 20 points, to 22.1. The unfilled orders and delivery time indexes showed notable improvement, increasing 11 points and 16 points, respectively. While the unfilled orders remained slightly negative, the delivery time index reached its first positive reading in 11 months. Firms continued to report overall declines in inventories.

The survey's indicators of employment improved but suggest continued weakness. The employment index increased 4 points but remained slightly negative at -1.1. About 67 percent of the firms reported no change in employment this month, and the percentage reporting decreases (17 percent) was slightly larger than the percentage reporting increases (16 percent). Firms reported a slight rise in average work hours: The workweek index increased 19 points and was at its first positive reading in three months.

z philly fed1.PNG

Econintersect believes the important elements of this survey are new orders and unfilled orders . Both new orders and unfilled orders improved but unfilled orders remain in contraction.

This index has many false recession warnings.

Summary of all Federal Reserve Districts Manufacturing:

Richmond Fed (hyperlink to reports):

z richmond_man.PNG

Kansas Fed (hyperlink to reports):

z kansas_man.PNG

Dallas Fed (hyperlink to reports):

z dallas_man.PNG

Philly Fed (hyperlink to reports):

z philly fed1.PNG

New York Fed (hyperlink to reports):

z empire1.PNG

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

Holding this and other survey's Econintersect follows accountable for their predictions, the following graph compares the hard data from Industrial Products manufacturing subindex (dark blue bar) and US Census manufacturing shipments (lighter blue bar) to the Philly Fed survey (yellow 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.

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.

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