ISM Non-Manufacturing: August Composite at Another Record High

September 4, 2014

by Doug Short

Today the Institute for Supply Management published its latest Non-Manufacturing Report. The headline NMI Composite Index is at 59.6 percent, up from last month's 58.7 percent and another record high for this relatively new indicator, which goes back to January 2008, the second month of the Great Recession. Today's number came in well above the Investing.com forecast of 57.5.

Here is the report summary:

"The NMI® registered 59.6 percent in August, 0.9 percentage point higher than the July reading of 58.7 percent. This represents continued growth in the Non-Manufacturing sector. The August reading of 59.6 percent is the highest for the composite index since its inception in January 2008. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index increased to 65 percent, which is 2.6 percentage points higher than the July reading of 62.4 percent, reflecting growth for the 61st consecutive month at a faster rate. This is the highest reading for the index since December of 2004 when the index also registered 65 percent. The New Orders Index registered 63.8 percent, 1.1 percentage points lower than the reading of 64.9 percent registered in July. The Employment Index increased 1.1 percentage points to 57.1 percent from the July reading of 56 percent and indicates growth for the sixth consecutive month. The Prices Index decreased 3.2 percentage points from the July reading of 60.9 percent to 57.7 percent, indicating prices increased at a slower rate in August when compared to July. According to the NMI®, 15 non-manufacturing industries reported growth in August. Respondents' comments vary by business and industry. The majority of the comments reflect continued optimism in regards to business conditions. Some respondents indicate that there may be some tapering off in the recent strong rate of growth in the non-manufacturing sector."

Like its much older kin, the ISM Manufacturing Series, I have been reluctant to focus on this collection of diffusion indexes. For one thing, there is relatively little history for ISM's Non-Manufacturing data, especially for the headline Composite Index, which dates from 2008. The chart below shows Non-Manufacturing Composite. We have only a single recession to gauge is behavior as a business cycle indicator.

In my view, the more interesting and useful subcomponent is the Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index. The latest data point at 65.0 percent is a 2.6 increase from the previous month.

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For a diffusion index, this can be an extremely volatile indicator. Thus I've added a six-month moving average to assist us in visualizing the trend, which has been relatively range bound for the past two years, and we're currently at the bottom of the range.

Theoretically, I believe, this indicator will become more useful as the timeframe of its coverage expands. Manufacturing may be a more sensitive barometer than Non-Manufacturing activity, but we are increasingly a services-oriented economy, which explains my intention to keep this series on the radar.

Here is a table showing trend in the underlying components.


Here is a link to my coverage of the latest ISM Manufacturing report.

Note : I use 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 as 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 are 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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