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posted on 21 March 2017

March 2017 Chemical Activity Barometer: Optimism Reflected in Increased Chemical Industry Activity

from the American Chemistry Council

The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB) posted its strongest year-over-year gain in nearly seven years. The 5.5 percent increase over this time last year reflects elevated consumer and business confidence and an overall rising optimism in the U.S. economy.

Speaking last week, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen also referenced a "confidence in the robustness of the economy" as a reason to move forward with an interest rate hike.

The barometer posted a 0.5 percent gain in March, following a 0.5 percent gain in February and 0.4 percent gain in January. All data is measured on a three-month moving average (3MMA). Coupled with consecutive monthly gains in the fourth quarter of 2016, the pattern shows consistent, accelerating activity. On an unadjusted basis the CAB climbed 0.4 percent in March, following a 0.4 percent gain in February and a 0.6 percent increase in January.

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.

In March, production-related indicators were positive, with U.S. exports improving. Equity prices and inventory indicators were also positive while product prices remained stable. Overall the barometer suggests accelerating gains in U.S. business activity through the fourth quarter.

z chemical_activity_barometer.png

Caveats on the Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB):

The definition of the CAB:

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 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. 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 2012 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.

The CAB is designed and prepared in compliance with ACC's Antitrust Guidelines and FTC Safe Harbor Guidelines; does not use company-specific price information as input data; and data is aggregated such that company-specific and product-specific data cannot be determined.

Note: Every effort has been made in the preparation of this publication to provide the best available information. However, neither the American Chemistry Council, nor any of its employees, agents or other assigns makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any liability or responsibility for any use, or the results of such use, of any information or data disclosed in this material.

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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