ISM Services Index Is Softer in October 2012

Written by Steven Hansen

The October 2012 ISM non-manufacturing (aka services) index continues its 2+ year growth cycle, but declined moderately from 55.1 to 54.2 (above 50 signals expansion). This was slightly below the market forecast of 54.5 to 55.0.

The economically intuitive components of this index remain in expansion territory, and is signalling the economy is not near a recession in October 2012. 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. Both are in expansion territory, however both degraded moderately this month.

The Business Activity sub-index dropped 4.5 points (after expanding 4.3 points the previous month). Although it is in expansion territory – and is at the lower end of the range seen since the end of the recession.

ISM Services – Business Activity Sub-Index

The New Orders Index fell 2.9 points after rising 4.0 points last month. This sub-index is  in expansion territory – and is at the lower end of the range seen since the end of the recession.

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:

“The NMI™ registered 54.2 percent in October, 0.9 percentage point lower than the 55.1 percent registered in September. This indicates continued growth this month at a slightly slower rate in the non-manufacturing sector. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index registered 55.4 percent, which is 4.5 percentage points lower than the 59.9 percent reported in September, reflecting growth for the 39th consecutive month. The New Orders Index decreased by 2.9 percentage points to 54.8 percent. The Employment Index increased by 3.8 percentage points to 54.9 percent, indicating growth in employment for the third consecutive month. The Prices Index decreased 2.5 percentage points to 65.6 percent, indicating prices increased at a slower rate in October when compared to September. According to the NMI™, 13 non-manufacturing industries reported growth in October. The majority of the respondents’ comments reflect a positive but guarded outlook on business conditions and the economy.”

INDUSTRY PERFORMANCE – The 13 non-manufacturing industries reporting growth in October — listed in order — are: Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting; Construction; Other Services; Management of Companies & Support Services; Finance & Insurance; Professional, Scientific & Technical Services; Accommodation & Food Services; Transportation & Warehousing; Real Estate, Rental & Leasing; Health Care & Social Assistance; Information; Educational Services; and Retail Trade. The five industries reporting contraction in October are: Mining; Arts, Entertainment & Recreation; Wholesale Trade; Utilities; and Public Administration.

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

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