Written by Steven Hansen
The ISM Manufacturing survey for January 2014 showed the expansion again declined. The New Orders sub-index which historically correlates to the economy declined and now is barely in expansion.
The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) declined from 56.5 to 51.3 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was well below expectations which were 56.0 to 57.0.
This index had been in a general downtrend since mid 2011. This is the eighth month of expansion after four months of decline. All Fed surveys and now the ISM shows manufacturing improved in January (an unusual event which is becoming usual).
Relatively deep penetration of this index below 50 has normally resulted in a recession.
The noisy Backlog of Orders declined from 51.5 to 48.0 – showing contraction. 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.
Economic activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in January for the eighth consecutive month, and the overall economy grew for the 56th consecutive month, say the nation’s supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®.
The January PMI® registered 51.3 percent, a decrease of 5.2 percentage points from December’s seasonally adjusted reading of 56.5 percent. The New Orders Index registered 51.2 percent, a significant decrease of 13.2 percentage points from December’s seasonally adjusted reading of 64.4 percent. The Production Index registered 54.8 percent, a decrease of 6.9 percentage points compared to December’s seasonally adjusted reading of 61.7 percent. Inventories of raw materials decreased by 3 percentage points to 44 percent, its lowest reading since December 2012 when the Inventories Index registered 43 percent. A number of comments from the panel cite adverse weather conditions as a factor negatively impacting their businesses in January, while others reflect optimism and increasing volumes in the early stages of 2014.
Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 11 are reporting growth in January in the following order: Plastics & Rubber Products; Primary Metals; Textile Mills; Wood Products; Printing & Related Support Activities; Fabricated Metal Products; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Transportation Equipment; Machinery; Furniture & Related Products; and Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products. The seven industries reporting contraction in January — listed in order — are: Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Petroleum & Coal Products; Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Chemical Products; Paper Products; and Computer & Electronic 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.
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 (blue bar) and US Census manufacturing shipments (red bar) to the ISM Manufacturing Survey (purple bar).
Comparing Surveys to Hard Data
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.