ISM Manufacturing Index: December PMI Highest in Two Years

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Today the Institute for Supply Management published its monthly Manufacturing Report for December. The latest headline Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) was 54.7 percent, an increase of 1.5 percent from 53.2 previous months and its highest since December of 2014. Today's headline number was above the Investing.com forecast of 53.6 percent.

Here is the key analysis from the report:

“The December PMI® registered 54.7 percent, an increase of 1.5 percentage points from the November reading of 53.2 percent. The New Orders Index registered 60.2 percent, an increase of 7.2 percentage points from the November reading of 53 percent. The Production Index registered 60.3 percent, 4.3 percentage points higher than the November reading of 56 percent. The Employment Index registered 53.1 percent, an increase of 0.8 percentage point from the November reading of 52.3 percent. Inventories of raw materials registered 47 percent, a decrease of 2 percentage points from the November reading of 49 percent. The Prices Index registered 65.5 percent in December, an increase of 11 percentage points from the November reading of 54.5 percent, indicating higher raw materials prices for the 10th consecutive month. The PMI®, New Orders, Production and Employment Indexes all registered new highs for the year 2016, and the forward-looking comments from the panel are largely positive.” [source]

Here is the table of PMI components.

manufacturing December 2016

The ISM Manufacturing Index should be viewed with a bit of skepticism for various reasons, which are essentially captured in a previous Briefing.com "Big Picture" comment on this economic indicator.

This [the ISM Manufacturing Index] is a highly overrated index. It is merely a survey of purchasing managers. It is a diffusion index, which means that it reflects the number of people saying conditions are better compared to the number saying conditions are worse. It does not weight for size of the firm, or for the degree of better/worse. It can therefore underestimate conditions if there is a great deal of strength in a few firms. The data have thus not been either a good forecasting tool or a good read on current conditions during this business cycle. It must be recognized that the index is not hard data of any kind, but simply a survey that provides broad indications of trends.

The chart below shows the Manufacturing Composite series, which stretches back to 1948. The eleven recessions during this time frame are indicated along with the index value the month before the recession starts.

ISM Manufacturing

For a diffusion index, the latest reading of 54.7 is its fourth consecutive month of expansion after a month of contraction in August. What sort of correlation does that have with the months before the start of recessions? Check out the red dots in the chart above.

How revealing is today's 1.5 point change from last month? There are 828 monthly data points in this series. The absolute average month-to-month point change is 2.0 points, and the median change is 1.5 points.

Here is a closer look at the series beginning at the turn of the century.

Since 2000

To reiterate the Briefing.com assessment: "The data have thus not been either a good forecasting tool or a good read on current conditions during this business cycle." The ISM reports nevertheless offer an interesting sidebar to the ongoing economic debate.

Note: This commentary used the FRED USRECP series (Peak through the Period preceding the Trough) to highlight the recessions in the charts above. For example, the NBER dates the last cycle peak as December 2007, the trough as June 2009 and the duration of 18 months. The USRECP series thus flags December 2007 as the start of the recession and May 2009 as the last month of the recession, giving us the 18-month duration. The dot for the last recession in the charts above is thus for November 2007. The "Peak through the Period preceding the Trough" series is the one FRED uses in its monthly charts, as illustrated here.

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