Empire State Survey Shows Manufacturing Growth Shrunk in June 2012

Written by Steven Hansen

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey (manufacturing in New York State) in June 2012 continued its seventh month of expansion – but just barely.  Manufacturing expansion is indicated by positive numbers to this index:

  • This noisy index has moved from 20.2 (March) to 6.6 (April) to 17.1 (May) to a barely positive 2.3 in June.
  • Expectation was for a readings of 10.0 to 13.5

As this index is very noisy, it is hard to understand what these massive moves up or down mean.

Econintersect reminds you that this is a survey (a quantification of opinion). Please see caveats at the end of this post. However, sometimes it is better not to look to deeply into the details of a noisy survey as just the overview is all you need to know.

From the report:

The June Empire State Manufacturing Survey indicates that manufacturing activity expanded slightly over the month. The general business conditions index fell fifteen points, but remained positive at 2.3. The new orders index declined six points to 2.2, and the shipments index fell a steep nineteen points to 4.8. Price indexes were markedly lower, with the prices paid index falling eighteen points to 19.6 and the prices received index dropping eleven points to 1.0. Employment indexes also retreated, though they still indicated a small increase in employment levels and a slightly longer average workweek. Indexes for the six-month outlook were generally lower than last month’s levels, suggesting that optimism was waning somewhat, with the future general business conditions index falling to 23.1, its fifth consecutive monthly decline.

The above graphic shows that when the index is in negative territory that is not a signal of a recession: of 5 times in negative territory only one occurred with a recession. Conversely, a positive number is likely to be indicating economic expansion. However, when it does make a correct negative prediction it can be timely. This index was only two months late in going negative after what was eventually determined to be the start of the 2007 recession.

There is a high probability that the economy is expanding based on this index.

This survey has a lot extra bells and whistles which take attention away from the core questions: (1) are orders and (2) are unfilled orders (backlog) improving? Econintersect emphasizes these two survey points.

Respondents do not believe the level of unfilled orders (backlog) is increasing; it has been negative all 2011 (and now into 2012). Unfilled order contraction can be a signal for a recession, but new order increase is a sign of an expanding economy (even though new orders were barely positive).

However, it must be noted that subsequent hard data has been showing mixed results in unfilled orders where this index is showing contraction.

However, the current Empire Survey value overall is above levels associated with past recessions. It is likely looking too closely at the detail may be counterproductive.

Caveats on the use of Empire State Manufacturing 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.

According to Bloomberg:

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey is a monthly survey of manufacturers in New York State conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Participants from across the state in a variety of industries respond to a questionnaire and report the change in a variety of indicators from the previous month. Respondents also state the likely direction of these same indicators six months ahead. April 2002 is the first report, although survey data date back to July 2001. Each month, new data will be released and the previous month’s data will be revised slightly. Once per year, all data will undergo a benchmark revision.

This Empire State Survey is very noisy – and has shown recessionary conditions throughout the second half of 2011 – and no recession resulted. Overall, since the end of the 2007 recession – this index has indicated two false recession warnings.

No survey is accurate in projecting employment – and the Empire State Manufacturing 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 manufacturing data – but month-to-month conflicts are frequent.

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