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October 2012 ISM Manufacturing Survey Improves Marginally

Written by Steven Hansen

The ISM Manufacturing survey for October 2012 again shows expansion. The sub-index which historically correlates to the economy also shows expansion.

The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) improved marginally from 51.5 to 51.7 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was above expectations which were between 50.5 and 51.0.

This index has been in a general downtrend since mid 2011 – and this second month of better data showing in October still does not break the downtrend.  This survey showed manufacturing contraction in June, July and August 2012.

Relatively deep penetration of this index below 50 has normally resulted in a recession.

The noisy Backlog of Orders again declined further from 44.0 to 41.5. 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).

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in October for the second consecutive month following three months of slight contraction, and the overall economy grew for the 41st consecutive month, say the nation’s supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®.

The report was issued today by Bradley J. Holcomb, CPSM, CPSD, chair of the Institute for Supply Management™ Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. “The PMI™ registered 51.7 percent, an increase of 0.2 percentage point from September’s reading of 51.5 percent, indicating growth in manufacturing at a slightly faster rate. The New Orders Index registered 54.2 percent, an increase of 1.9 percentage points from September, indicating growth in new orders for the second consecutive month. The Production Index registered 52.4 percent, an increase of 2.9 percentage points, indicating growth in production following two months of contraction. The Employment Index registered 52.1 percent, a decrease of 2.6 percentage points, and the Prices Index registered 55 percent, reflecting a decrease of 3 percentage points. Comments from the panel this month reflect continued concern over a fragile global economy and soft orders across several manufacturing sectors.”

PERFORMANCE BY INDUSTRY

Of the 18 manufacturing industries, eight are reporting growth in October in the following order: Petroleum & Coal Products; Furniture & Related Products; Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Paper Products; Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; Plastics & Rubber Products; and Chemical Products. The eight industries reporting contraction in October — listed in order — are: Primary Metals; Wood Products; Machinery; Fabricated Metal Products; Transportation Equipment; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Computer & Electronic Products; and Nonmetallic Mineral 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.  This subindex also has not broken the downtrend.

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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