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November 2012 ISM Manufacturing Survey Shows Sector Contraction

Written by Steven Hansen

The ISM Manufacturing survey for November 2012 again slid into contraction. The sub-index which historically correlates to the economy barely shows expansion.

The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) fell from 51.7 to 49.5 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was below expectations which were between 50.0 and 51.2.

This index has been in a general downtrend since mid 2011 – and the November data continued to confirm this.

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

The noisy Backlog of Orders again declined further from 41.5 to 41.0. 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 are proving accurate).

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector contracted in November following two months of modest expansion, while the overall economy grew for the 42nd consecutive month, say the nation’s supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®.

“The PMI registered 49.5 percent, a decrease of 2.2 percentage points from October’s reading of 51.7 percent, indicating contraction in manufacturing for the fourth time in the last six months. This month’s PMI™ reading reflects the lowest level since July 2009 when the PMI™ registered 49.2 percent. The New Orders Index registered 50.3 percent, a decrease of 3.9 percentage points from October, indicating growth in new orders for the third consecutive month. The Production Index registered 53.7 percent, an increase of 1.3 percentage points, indicating growth in production for the second consecutive month. The Employment Index registered 48.4 percent, a decrease of 3.7 percentage points, which is the index’s lowest reading since September 2009 when the Employment Index registered 47.8 percent. The Prices Index registered 52.5 percent, reflecting a decrease of 2.5 percentage points. Comments from the panel this month generally indicate that the second half of the year continues to show a slowdown in demand; respondents also express concern over how and when the fiscal cliff issue will be resolved.”

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

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 is in a long term downtrend – and is close to contraction.

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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