June 2012 ISM Manufacturing Warns of Sector Contraction

Written by Steven Hansen

The ISM Manufacturing survey for June 2012 (released today) points just fell off of a cliff – and is marginally in contraction, but the sub-index which historically correlates to the economy fell even deeper into contraction territory.

The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) declined from 53.5 to 49.7 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was well below expectations which were between 51.5 and 52.2.

One month of bad data is not a trend, but this index has been in a downtrend – and this poor data showing could be a recession warning.

The noisy Backlog of Orders again declined to 44.5 from 47.0 last month. 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 (although the last few month’s declines did prove accurate).

“The PMI registered 49.7 percent, a decrease of 3.8 percentage points from May’s reading of 53.5 percent, indicating contraction in the manufacturing sector for the first time since July 2009, when the PMI registered 49.2 percent. The New Orders Index dropped 12.3 percentage points in June, registering 47.8 percent and indicating contraction in new orders for the first time since April 2009, when the New Orders Index registered 46.8 percent. The Production Index registered 51 percent, and the Employment Index registered 56.6 percent. The Prices Index for raw materials decreased significantly for the second consecutive month, registering 37 percent, which is 10.5 percentage points lower than the 47.5 percent reported in May. Comments from the panel range from continued optimism to concern that demand may be softening due to uncertainties in the economies in Europe and China.”

PERFORMANCE BY INDUSTRY – Of the 18 manufacturing industries, seven are reporting growth in June, in the following order: Furniture & Related Products; Printing & Related Support Activities; Fabricated Metal Products; Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Machinery; and Primary Metals. The nine industries reporting contraction in June — listed in order — are: Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Paper Products; Plastics & Rubber Products; Chemical Products; Computer & Electronic Products; Petroleum & Coal Products; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; and Transportation Equipment.

It is interesting to note that ISM Manufacturing represents less than 10% of USA employment, and approximately 20% of the business economy. Historically, there is little linkage between real employment and the ISM employment index.

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 (dark blue bar) and US Census manufacturing shipments (lighter blue bar) to the ISM Manufacturing Survey (pink bar).

Comparing Surveys to Hard Data

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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.

The ISM employment index was right in predicting the direction of monthly manufacturing employment growth in 2011 about half the time.

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2 replies on “June 2012 ISM Manufacturing Warns of Sector Contraction”

  1. Customers inventories.

    Not sure of interpretation. To me a higher level of customer inventories means customers are not able to move the product and will reduce orders for the product.

  2. Sig – your interpretation is correct, however the ISM and other surveys have been stuck saying customer inventories are too low for quite a long period. most of the elements of ISM surveys have very poor correlation to hard data.

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