Written by Steven Hansen
The ISM Manufacturing survey for September 2012 (released today) shows expansion – after two months in contraction. The sub-index which historically correlates to the economy also shows expansion.
The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) improved significantly from 49.6 to 51.5 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was well above expectations which were between 49.2 and 49.7.
This index has been in a general downtrend since mid 2011 – and this better data showing in September still does not break the downtrend.
Relatively deep penetration of this index below 50 has normally resulted in a recession.
The noisy Backlog of Orders again declined further from 42.5 to 44.0. 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 51.5 percent, an increase of 1.9 percentage points from August’s reading of 49.6 percent, indicating a return to expansion after contracting for three consecutive months. The New Orders Index registered 52.3 percent, an increase of 5.2 percentage points from August, indicating growth in new orders after three consecutive months of contraction. The Production Index registered 49.5 percent, an increase of 2.3 percentage points and indicating contraction in production for the second time since May 2009. The Employment Index increased by 3.1 percentage points, registering 54.7 percent. The Prices Index increased 4 percentage points from its August reading to 58 percent. Comments from the panel reflect a mix of optimism over new orders beginning to pick up, and continued concern over soft global business conditions and an unsettled political environment.”
PERFORMANCE BY INDUSTRY – Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 11 are reporting growth in September in the following order: Textile Mills; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; Printing & Related Support Activities; Wood Products; Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Paper Products; Petroleum & Coal Products; Primary Metals; Fabricated Metal Products; Furniture & Related Products; and Miscellaneous Manufacturing. The six industries reporting contraction in September — listed in order — are: Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Transportation Equipment; Machinery; Chemical Products; 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 – however the correlation is not strong when looking at trends.
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
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.