February 2014 ISM Services Index Disappoints

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The February 2014 ISM non-manufacturing (aka services) index continues its growth cycle, but declined from 54.0 to 51.6 (above 50 signals expansion).  Important internals were soft.

This was below the range of market forecasts of 52.5 to 55.0 (consensus 53.5).

There are two sub-indexes in the NMI which have good correlations to the economy – the Business Activity Index and the New Orders Index – and both have good track records in spotting an incipient recession. The Business Activity Index declined and the New Orders Index improved – and both remained in expansion territory.

This index and its associated sub-indices are fairly volatile – and one needs to step back from the data and view this index over longer periods than a single month.

The Business Activity sub-index lost 1.7 points (gained 2.0 points in the previous reporting month) and now is at 54.6.

ISM Services – Business Activity Sub-Index

The New Orders Index gained 0.4 and is currently at 51.3.

ISM Services – New Orders Sub-Index

The complete ISM manufacturing and non-manufacturing survey table is below.

Econintersect does give serious consideration to this survey as the service sector accounts for 80% of the economy and 90% of employment. However, this an opinion survey and is not hard data.

From the ISM report:

Economic activity in the non-manufacturing sector grew in February for the 49th consecutive month, say the nation’s purchasing and supply executives in the latest Non-Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®.

The NMI® registered 51.6 percent in February, 2.4 percentage points lower than January’s reading of 54 percent. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index decreased to 54.6 percent, which is 1.7 percentage points lower than the reading of 56.3 percent reported in January, reflecting growth for the 55th consecutive month and at a slower rate. The New Orders Index registered 51.3 percent, 0.4 percentage point higher than the reading of 50.9 percent registered in January. The Employment Index decreased 8.9 percentage points to 47.5 percent from the January reading of 56.4 percent and indicates contraction in employment for the first time after 25 consecutive months of growth. The Prices Index decreased 3.4 percentage points from the January reading of 57.1 percent to 53.7 percent, indicating prices increased at a slower rate in February when compared to January. According to the NMI®, ten non-manufacturing industries reported growth in February. The majority of respondents’ comments indicate a slowing in the rate of growth month over month of business activity. Some of the respondents attribute this to weather conditions. Overall respondents’ comments reflect cautiousness regarding business conditions and the economy.

INDUSTRY PERFORMANCE – The 10 non-manufacturing industries reporting growth in February — listed in order — are: Other Services; Management of Companies & Support Services; Public Administration; Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting; Finance & Insurance; Utilities; Transportation & Warehousing; Educational Services; Professional, Scientific & Technical Services; and Information. The eight industries reporting contraction in February — listed in order — are: Mining; Arts, Entertainment & Recreation; Real Estate, Rental & Leasing; Retail Trade; Accommodation & Food Services; Wholesale Trade; Construction; and Health Care & Social Assistance.

Caveats on the use of ISM Non-Manufacturing Index:

This is a survey, a quantification of opinion. However, as pointed out above, certain elements of this survey have good to excellent correlation to the economy for as long as it has been in existence. Surveys lead hard data by weeks to months, and can provide early insight into changing conditions.

The main ISM non-manufacturing index (NMI) is so new that it does not have enough data history to have reliable certainty about how it correlates to the economy. Again, two sub-indices (business activity and new orders) do have good correlation for the limited history available.

No survey is accurate in projecting employment – and the ISM Non-Manufacturing Employment Index is no exception. Although there are some general correlation in trends if you stand far enough back from this graph, month-to-month movements have not correlated well with the BLS Service Sector Employment data.

ISM Services Employment Sub-Index vs BLS Non-Farm Services Employment

Related Articles

All Articles on Institute of Supply Management Surveys

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