Written by Steven Hansen
The ISM Manufacturing survey for February 2014 indicated moderate manufacturing expansion. The New Orders sub-index which historically correlates to the economy improved even more significantly than the prime index.
The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) improved from 51.3 to 53.2 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was at the high end of expectations which were 49.5 to 53.2 (consensus 51.9).
This index had been in a general downtrend since mid 2011. This is the ninth month of expansion. The regional Fed manufacturing surveys were mixed in indicating growth in February, and now the ISM indicates manufacturing shows expansion in February.
Relatively deep penetration of this index below 50 has normally resulted in a recession.
The noisy Backlog of Orders improved from 48.0 to 52.0 – showing growth. 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 February for the ninth consecutive month, and the overall economy grew for the 57th consecutive month, say the nation’s supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®.
“The February PMI® registered 53.2 percent, an increase of 1.9 percentage points from January’s reading of 51.3 percent indicating expansion in manufacturing for the ninth consecutive month. The New Orders Index registered 54.5 percent, an increase of 3.3 percentage points from January’s reading of 51.2 percent. The Production Index registered 48.2 percent, a decrease of 6.6 percentage points compared to January’s reading of 54.8 percent. Inventories of raw materials increased by 8.5 percentage points to 52.5 percent. As in January, several comments from the panel mention adverse weather conditions as a factor impacting their businesses in February. Other comments reflect optimism in terms of demand and growth in the near term.”
Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 14 are reporting growth in February in the following order: Textile Mills; Wood Products; Machinery; Printing & Related Support Activities; Plastics & Rubber Products; Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Transportation Equipment; Paper Products; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Fabricated Metal Products; Furniture & Related Products; Primary Metals; and Chemical Products. The three industries reporting contraction in February are: Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Petroleum & Coal Products; and Miscellaneous Manufacturing.
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.