July 2012 ISM Manufacturing Survey Remains Terrible

Written by Steven Hansen

The ISM Manufacturing survey for July 2012 (released today) remains in negative territory.  The sub-index which historically correlates to the economy also remains in negative territory.

The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) improved statistically little from 49.7 to 49.8 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was well below expectations which were between 49.0 and 50.1.

One month of bad data is not a trend, but this index has been in a downtrend – and this poor data showing could be a recession warning.

Relatively deep penetration of this index has normally resulted in a recession.

The noisy Backlog of Orders again declined further from 44.5 to 43.0.  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 the last few month’s declines did prove accurate).

“The PMI registered 49.8 percent, an increase of 0.1 percentage point from June’s reading of 49.7 percent, indicating contraction in the manufacturing sector for the second consecutive month, following 34 consecutive months of expansion. The New Orders Index registered 48 percent, an increase of 0.2 percentage point from June and indicating contraction in new orders for the second consecutive month, but at a slightly slower rate. Both the Production Index and the Employment Index remained in growth territory, registering 51.3 percent and 52 percent, respectively. The Prices Index for raw materials registered 39.5 percent, an increase of 2.5 percentage points from the June reading of 37 percent, indicating lower prices on average for the third consecutive month. A growing number of comments from the panel this month reflect a slowdown in their businesses and general concern over increasing economic uncertainty.”

PERFORMANCE BY INDUSTRY – Of the 18 manufacturing industries, seven are reporting growth in July in the following order: Plastics & Rubber Products; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Primary Metals; Petroleum & Coal Products; Fabricated Metal Products; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; and Furniture & Related Products. The 11 industries reporting contraction in July — listed in order — are: Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Wood Products; Textile Mills; Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Chemical Products; Transportation Equipment; Printing & Related Support Activities; Paper Products; Machinery; and Computer & Electronic Products.

It is interesting to note that ISM Manufacturing represents less than 10% of USA employment, and approximately 20% of the business economy. Historically, it could be argued that the production portion of ISM Manufacturing leads the Fed’s Industrial Production 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.

However, 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 ISM Manufacturing Survey (pink bar).

Comparing Surveys to Hard Data

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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.

Indexed to Jan 2000 – Comparison of the ISM Manufacturing Employment Subindex (blue line) to BLS Manufacturing Employment (red line) – all data seasonally adjusted

The ISM employment index appears useful in predicting turning points which can lead the BLS data up to one year.

Related Articles

All Articles on Institute of Supply Management Surveys

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