November 2012 Philly Fed Survey Drops Deep Into Contraction

Written by Steven Hansen

The Philly Fed Business Outlook Survey slid back into negative territory – and now has been negative for 7 of the last 8 months. Additionally, unfilled orders and new orders both fell deeper in negative territory.

This is a very noisy index which readers should be reminded is sentiment based. This month may be an outfall out Hurricane Sandy’s effect on the region.

The market was expecting the index value of -0.2 to 0.0 (actual was -10.7). Positive numbers indicate market expansion, negative numbers indicate contraction.

Firms responding to the November Business Outlook Survey reported declines in busibusiness activity this month following the disruptive effects of Hurricane Sandy on the region. The survey’s indicators for general activity, which had shown improvement in October, fell back into negative territory this month. Firms reported slight declines in shipments, employment, and hours worked.

Indicators for the firms’ expectations over the next six months were near their levels in the previous month, but expectations for future employment and capital spending have weakened in the last two months.

Indicators Suggest Diminished Activity

The survey’s broadest measure of manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, decreased 16 points, to a reading of ‐10.7. The fallback of the general activity index followed a single positive reading in October that was preceded by five negative monthly readings (see Chart). Nearly 32 percent of firms reported declines in activity this month, while 21 percent reported increases.

The demand for manufactured goods, as measured by the current new orders index, declined 4 points from last month and remains in negative territory. Shipments also fell this month: The current shipments index fell 7 points, to ‐6.7. Declines in inventories were also more widespread this month; 31 percent of firms reported declines compared with 21 percent in October.

Labor market conditions at the reporting firms remained weak this month. The current employment index, at ‐6.8, was slightly improved from its negative reading in October (‐10.7) but has remained negative for five consecutive months. The percentage of firms reporting decreases in employment (20 percent) exceeded the percentage reporting increases (13 percent). Firms also indicated fewer hours worked: The average workweek index was virtually unchanged but posted its eighth consecutive negative reading.

/images/z philly fed1.PNG

Econintersect believes the important elements of this survey are new orders and unfilled orders. The number of respondents who thought new orders were improving declined.

This index has many false recession warnings, it is currently near levels associated with past recessions. 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 Philly Fed Survey (yellow bar).

Comparing Surveys to Hard Data

/images/z survey1.png

In the above graphic, hard data is the long bars, and surveys are the short bars. The arrows on the left side are the key to growth or contraction.

Summary of all Federal Reserve Districts Manufacturing:

Richmond Fed (hyperlink to reports):

/images/z richmond_man.PNG

Kansas Fed (hyperlink to reports):

/images/z kansas_man.PNG

Dallas Fed (hyperlink to reports):

/images/z dallas_man.PNG

Philly Fed (hyperlink to reports):

/images/z philly fed1.PNG

New York Fed (hyperlink to reports):

/images/z empire1.PNG

Federal Reserve Industrial Production – Actual Data (hyperlink to report)

Caveats on the use of Philly Fed Business Outlook 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.

This survey is very noisy – and recently showed recessionary conditions. And it is understood from 3Q2011 GDP that the economy was expanding even though this index was in contraction territory. On the positive side, it hit the start and finish of the 2007 recession exactly.

No survey is accurate in projecting employment – and the Philly Fed Business Outlook 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 business data – but month-to-month conflicts are frequent.

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