November 2013 Empire State Survey Surprise Contraction

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Sadly, the Empire State Manufacturing Survey in November 2013 contracted after five months in a row of expansion.

  • Expectation was for a reading of 3.0 to 4.3 versus the -2.2 reported
  • New orders sub-index of the Empire State Manufacturing Survey fell sharply into contraction territory, and unfilled orders contracted even more.
  • This noisy index has moved from -5.2 (November 2012), -8.1 (December), -7.8 (January 2013). 10.0 (February) , 9.2 (March), 3.1 (April), -1.4 (May), 7.8 (June), 9.5 (July), 8.2 (August), 6.3 (September), 1.5 (October) – and now -2.2.

As this index is very noisy, it is hard to understand what these massive moves up or down mean – however this regional manufacturing survey is normally one of the most pessimistic.

Econintersect reminds you that this is a survey (a quantification of opinion). Please see caveats at the end of this post. However, sometimes it is better not to look to deeply into the details of a noisy survey as just the overview is all you need to know.

From the report:

The November 2013 Empire State Manufacturing Survey indicates that manufacturing conditions weakened somewhat for New York manufacturers. The general business conditions index fell four points to -2.2, its first negative reading since May. The new orders index also entered negative territory, falling thirteen points to -5.5, and the shipments index moved below zero with a fourteen-point drop to -0.5. The prices paid index fell five points to 17.1, indicating a slowing of input price increases. The prices received index fell to -4.0; the negative reading was a sign that selling prices had declined — their first retreat in two years. Labor market conditions were also weak, with the index for number of employees falling four points to 0.0, while the average workweek index dropped to -5.3. Despite the negative readings registered by many of the indexes for current activity, indexes for the six-month outlook continued to convey a strong degree of optimism about future business conditions.

Supplementary questions in the latest survey focused on recent and expected changes in the prices paid by firms for several major budget categories, including wages, employee benefits, insurance, energy, and other commodities. Manufacturers, on average, predicted that prices paid for most budget categories would increase at a somewhat faster rate in calendar 2014 than in 2013. Prices paid overall were reported to have risen 3.4 percent on average in 2013 and were expected to increase 4.0 percent in 2014. When asked about expected changes in the prices they charge, firms predicted an average increase of 1.8 percent in 2014. For more details, see the full supplemental report.

/images/z empire1.PNG

The above graphic shows that when the index is in negative territory that is not a signal of a recession: of 5 times in negative territory only one occurred with a recession. Conversely, a positive number is likely to be indicating economic expansion. However, when it does make a correct negative prediction it can be timely. This index was only two months late in going negative after what was eventually determined to be the start of the 2007 recession.

This survey has a lot extra bells and whistles which take attention away from the core questions: (1) are orders and (2) are unfilled orders (backlog) improving? Econintersect emphasizes these two survey points.

Respondents believe the level of unfilled orders (backlog) is trending down (looking at a 3 month rolling average; it has been negative since 2011. Unfilled order contraction can be a signal for a recession.

Holding this and other surveys 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 Empire State Survey (darker green 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 Empire State Manufacturing 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.

According to Bloomberg:

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey is a monthly survey of manufacturers in New York State conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Participants from across the state in a variety of industries respond to a questionnaire and report the change in a variety of indicators from the previous month. Respondents also state the likely direction of these same indicators six months ahead. April 2002 is the first report, although survey data date back to July 2001. Each month, new data will be released and the previous month’s data will be revised slightly. Once per year, all data will undergo a benchmark revision.

This Empire State Survey is very noisy – and has shown recessionary conditions throughout the second half of 2011 – and no recession resulted. Overall, since the end of the 2007 recession – this index has indicated two false recession warnings.

No survey is accurate in projecting employment – and the Empire State Manufacturing 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 manufacturing data – but month-to-month conflicts are frequent.

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