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Empire State Manufacturing Activity Flattens; Huge Divergences Appear – What Does It Mean?

Empire State Manufacturing Activity Flattens; Huge Divergences Appear – What Does It Mean?

Courtesy of Mish 

Inquiring minds are digging into details of the September Federal Reserve Empire State Manufacturing Survey for clues on the economy.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey indicates that conditions held relatively steady in New York’s manufacturing sector in September. The general business conditions index remained positive, although it slipped 3 points to 4.1. The new orders and shipments indexes were both up moderately for the month, at levels signaling stable activity. The prices paid index was positive and little changed from last month, while the prices received index edged up to just above zero. Employment indexes were positive, suggesting that employment levels and the average workweek continued to expand over the month. The degree of optimism about the six-month outlook continued to deteriorate, with the future general business conditions index hitting its lowest level since early 2009.

Business Activity Flattens Out

The general business conditions index remained above zero in September, but inched down three points from August. At 4.1, the index suggests that business activity was little changed over the month. Almost 35 percent of respondents said that conditions had improved over the month—up from the 30 percent who had said so last month, but the percentage that reported worsening conditions increased from 22 percent in August to 31 percent.

Selected Empire State Charts

Current Business Conditions

Expectations Six Months Ahead

Divergences

Current conditions have stabilized while future expectations continue to deteriorate, five consecutive months. Did we just see a "last gasp" in new orders and shipments?

Stabilization?

More interesting yet is the way in which the current conditions index has "stabilized".

A tip of the hat to reader "Ronald" who writes…

In the ten years of data they have on their website, this is the first time I have seen the percentage of businesses showing increases and the number of businesses showing decreases in general activity both increased 2 months running. Moreover, this is the 3rd lowest level of businesses conditions staying at the same level. Finally, when businesses showing deteriorating conditions reached 30 percent, it has typically been during recession and the index has historically been between 0 and -10.

I don’t think this can continue and it looks to me like the number is going to break big up or down.

A quick check shows the following.

July: This month, 27 percent of respondents said that conditions had improved, while 22 percent said that conditions had worsened.

August: Roughly 30 percent of respondents reported that conditions had improved, while 22 percent reported that conditions had worsened.

September: Almost 35 percent of respondents said that conditions had improved over the month—up from the 30 percent who had said so last month, but the percentage that reported worsening conditions increased from 22 percent in August to 31 percent."

The reports actually show consecutive rises in improved conditions with a one month huge rise in deteriorating conditions.

Nonetheless, how long can a third of businesses report better conditions with nearly a third of businesses reporting worsening conditions?

In conjunction with future expectations falling 5 consecutive months to the lowest level since March 2009, I suggest "not long".

Look for these divergences to break to the downside, most likely in a strong way that will surprise the vast majority of economists who never bother to look at the details in these reports.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock


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