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May 2013 Philly Fed Business Outlook Goes Negative

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The Philly Fed Business Outlook Survey fell into negative (contraction) – after two months in positive territory. This survey has been negative for 9 of the last 13 months. Key element new orders slipped further into contraction territory.

This is a very noisy index which readers should be reminded is sentiment based. The Philly Fed historically is one of the most negative of all the Fed manufacturing surveys.

The market was expecting the index value of 2.0 to 2.5 (actual was -5.2). Positive numbers indicate market expansion, negative numbers indicate contraction.

Manufacturing firms responding to the monthly Business Outlook Survey suggest that regional manufacturing activity weakened this month. All of the survey’s broadest current indicators were negative this month, indicating weaker conditions compared with April. The survey’s indicators of future activity improved, however, and suggest that firms expect overall growth over the next six months.

Indicators Suggest Weakening

The survey’s broadest measure of manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, decreased from 1.3 in April to -5.2 this month. The current activity index has shown no pattern of sustained growth over the past seven months, generally alternating between positive and negative readings (see Chart). The number of firms reporting decreased activity this month (29 percent) edged out those reporting increased activity (24 percent).

Other current indicators showed similar weakness this month. The demand for manufactured goods remained weak, with the current new orders index declining from -1.0 to -7.9. The shipments index also indicated weakness, decreasing more sharply from 9.1 to -8.5. Firms reported a notable increase in inventories this month: The current inventories index increased from -22.2 to 4.1.

Labor market conditions showed continued weakness, with indexes suggesting lower employment overall. The employment index decreased 2 points to -8.7, its second consecutive negative reading. The percentage of firms reporting employment decreases (22 percent) exceeded the percentage reporting increases (14 percent). The workweek index declined 10 points to -12.4, remaining negative for the fifth consecutive month.

/images/z philly fed1.PNG

Econintersect believes the important elements of this survey are new orders and unfilled orders . Both New Orders and Unfilled orders are “more bad”.

This index has many false recession warnings. 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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