Written by Steven Hansen
The Philly Fed Business Outlook Survey again improved strongly and remains solidly in expansion territory for the fifth month. Key elements went the other direction and became less good. Maybe one should not stare too deeply at the internals?
This is a very noisy index which readers should be reminded is sentiment based. The Philly Fed historically is one of the more negative of all the Fed manufacturing surveys.
The market was expecting the index value of +17.0 to +21.0 (consensus 20.0) versus the actual at 28.0. Positive numbers indicate market expansion, negative numbers indicate contraction.
Indicators for the August Business Outlook Survey suggest that the region’s manufacturing sector is continuing to grow. The survey’s indicator for general activity was higher this month, but indicators for new orders, shipments, and employment, while positive, fell from their readings in July. The survey’s broad indicators of future activity increased, suggesting that firms remain optimistic about continued growth over the next six months.
Activity Index at Highest Level Since 2011
The diffusion index of current general activity increased from a reading of 23.9 in July to 28.0 this month. The index has increased for three consecutive months and is at its highest reading since March 2011 (see Chart). The new orders and shipments indexes remained positive but fell to near their levels in June. The new orders index decreased 20 points, while the shipments index decreased 18 points.
The current indicators for labor market conditions suggested continued modest expansion in employment. The employment index remained positive for the 14th consecutive month but declined 3 points from its reading in July. The percentage of firms reporting increases in employment (25 percent) exceeded the percentage reporting decreases (16 percent). The workweek index was positive for the sixth consecutive month and increased 1 point.
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Econintersect believes the important elements of this survey are new orders and unfilled orders . Unfilled orders has now gone into contraction, and new orders are expanding but the rate of expansion of significantly declined.
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 (long dark blue bar) and US Census manufacturing shipments (long pink bar) to the Philly Fed Survey (yellow bar).
Comparing Surveys to Hard Data
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):
Kansas Fed (hyperlink to reports):
Dallas Fed (hyperlink to reports):
Philly Fed (hyperlink to reports):
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New York Fed (hyperlink to reports):
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.