May 2012 ISM Manufacturing Declines, Important Component Strengthens

Written by Steven Hansen

The ISM Manufacturing survey for May 2012 (released today) points to an improving economy, even though the main index declined.

The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) declined from 54.8 to 53.5 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was on the low end of expectations which were between 53.0 and 55.0.

Econintersect sees the new orders sub-index as having a higher and more precise correlation to recessions and the economy then the PMI overall. This subindex has expanded breaking the old declining trend channel, and remains solidly in expansion territory.

The noisy Backlog of Orders again declined to 47.0 from 49.5 last month. Backlog growth is an indicator of improving conditions; a number below 50 indicates contraction.  Backlog accuracy does not have a high correlation against actual data (although last month’s decline did prove accurate).

“The PMI registered 53.5 percent, a modest decrease of 1.3 percentage points from April’s reading of 54.8 percent, indicating expansion in the manufacturing sector for the 34th consecutive month. The New Orders Index continued its growth trend for the 37th consecutive month, registering 60.1 percent in May. This represents an increase of 1.9 percentage points from April and also the highest level recorded by the index since April 2011. The Prices Index for raw materials fell to 47.5 percent in May, dropping 13.5 percentage points from April, indicating lower prices for the first time since December 2011. Comments from the panel generally reflect stable-to-strong orders, with sales showing steady improvement over the first five months of 2012.”

PERFORMANCE BY INDUSTRY – Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 13 are reporting growth in May, in the following order: Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Furniture & Related Products; Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Primary Metals; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Fabricated Metal Products; Machinery; Textile Mills; Paper Products; Computer & Electronic Products; Printing & Related Support Activities; and Chemical Products. The four industries reporting contraction in May are: Plastics & Rubber Products; Petroleum & Coal Products; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; and Transportation Equipment.

It is interesting to note that ISM Manufacturing represents less than 10% of USA employment, and approximately 20% of the business economy. Historically, there is little linkage between real employment and the ISM employment index.

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.


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 jobs growth. The graph below shows BLS manufacturing employment month-over-month gains against the ISM Manufacturing employment index.

The ISM employment index was right in predicting the direction of monthly manufacturing employment growth in 2011 about half the time.

Related Articles

All Articles on Institute of Supply Management Surveys

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