August 2012 ISM Manufacturing Survey Again Declines

Written by Steven Hansen

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

The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) declined statistically little from 49.8 to 49.6 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was at expectations which were between 49.0 and 50.0.

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 43.0 to 42.5. 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 49.6 percent, a decrease of 0.2 percentage point from July’s reading of 49.8 percent, indicating contraction in the manufacturing sector for the third consecutive month. This is also the lowest reading for the PMI™ since July 2009. The New Orders Index registered 47.1 percent, a decrease of 0.9 percentage point from July, indicating contraction in new orders for the third consecutive month. The Production Index registered 47.2 percent, a decrease of 4.1 percentage points and indicating contraction in production for the first time since May 2009. The Employment Index remained in growth territory at 51.6 percent, but registered its lowest reading since November 2009 when the Employment Index registered 51 percent. The Prices Index increased 14.5 percentage points from its July reading to 54 percent. Comments from the panel generally reflect a slowdown in orders and demand, with continuing concern over the uncertain state of global economies.”

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

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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