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Friday, November 16, 2012 11:13 AM

Weak Regional Manufacturing Surveys: Philly Fed, NY Fed, Dallas Fed; Don't Blame Hurricane Sandy

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Let's take a look at the latest Fed regional economic surveys to catch a glimpse at current business conditions.

Philly Region Back in Contraction

The November 2012 Philadelphia Business Outlook Survey is back in negative territory.

Indicators Suggest Diminished Activity

The survey’s broadest measure of manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, decreased 16 points, to a reading of ‑10.7. The fallback of the general activity index followed a single positive reading in October that was preceded by five negative monthly readings. Nearly 32 percent of firms reported declines in activity this month, while 21 percent reported increases. The demand for manufactured goods, as measured by the current new orders index, declined 4 points from last month and remains in negative territory. Shipments also fell this month: The current shipments index fell 7 points, to ‑6.7. Declines in inventories were also more widespread this month; 31 percent of firms reported declines compared with 21 percent in October.

Labor market conditions at the reporting firms remained weak this month. The current employment index, at ‑6.8, was slightly improved from its negative reading in October (‑10.7) but has remained negative for five consecutive months. The percentage of firms reporting decreases in employment (20 percent) exceeded the percentage reporting increases (13 percent). Firms also indicated fewer hours worked: The average workweek index was virtually unchanged but posted its eighth consecutive negative reading.

Current and Future Business Activity

Don't Blame Sandy

It's tough to pin this all on Hurricane Sandy although many will try.

New York Manufacturing in Contraction Fourth Month

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York Empire State Manufacturing Survey shows manufacturing declines at modest pace.
The November 2012 Empire State Manufacturing Survey indicates that conditions for New York manufacturers declined at a modest pace. The general business conditions index was negative for a fourth consecutive month, but was little changed at -5.2. The new orders index rose above zero for the first time since June, although it was only slightly positive at 3.1.

Labor market conditions were noticeably weaker. The index for number of employees
fell fourteen points to -14.6, a sharp drop to its lowest level since 2009, and the average workweek index drifted down to -7.9.

In a series of supplementary questions, firms were asked about the extent to which their businesses were affected by the “superstorm” Sandy. Among firms based in upstate New York, only 21 percent reported any loss of activity due to the storm—and in most cases, for no more than one day.

Business Conditions Decline Modestly

The general business conditions index was little changed in November and, at -5.2, suggested that activity for New York manufacturers continued to decline at a modest pace. Nineteen percent of respondents reported that conditions had improved over the past month, while 24 percent reported that conditions had worsened.

NY Fed Business Conditions

Expansion Slows in Dallas Region

The Dallas Fed Texas Manufacturing Survey shows manufacturing activity expands at a slower pace.
Texas factory activity increased in October, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, dipped from 10 to 7.9, indicating slightly slower growth.

Most other measures of current manufacturing activity also suggested growth in October, although new orders declined. The capacity utilization index edged up from 9.3 to 11.4, with more than one-quarter of manufacturers noting an increase. The shipments index held steady at 4.7, suggesting shipments rose at about the same pace as in September. The new orders index fell from 5.3 to –4.5, reaching its lowest level this year and indicating a decrease in demand.

Labor market indicators reflected slow but steady labor demand growth and shrinking workweeks. The employment index was 5.2 in October, largely unchanged from last month but well below the higher levels seen earlier in the year. About 15 percent of firms reported hiring new workers, while 10 percent reported layoffs. The hours worked index fell back into negative territory with a reading of –5.9, down from 2.8 in September.
While not outright horrid, the regional manufacturing surveys show renewed weakness that is tough to pin on Hurricane Sandy. I expect conditions to deteriorate further.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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