ISM Non-Manufacturing: July Composite at Record High

August 5, 2014

by Doug Short

Today the Institute for Supply Management published its latest Non-Manufacturing Report. The headline NMI Composite Index is at 58.7 percent, up from last month's 56.0 percent and a 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 56.3.

Here is the report summary:

"The NMI® registered 58.7 percent in July, 2.7 percentage points higher than the June reading of 56 percent. This represents continued growth in the Non-Manufacturing sector. This month's NMI® is the highest reading for the index since its inception in January 2008. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index increased to 62.4 percent, which is 4.9 percentage points higher than the June reading of 57.5 percent, reflecting growth for the 60th consecutive month at a faster rate. This is the highest reading for the index since February 2011 when the index registered 63.3 percent. The New Orders Index registered 64.9 percent, 3.7 percentage points higher than the reading of 61.2 percent registered in June. This represents the highest reading for the New Orders Index since August 2005 when it registered 65.3 percent. The Employment Index increased 1.6 percentage points to 56 percent from the June reading of 54.4 percent and indicates growth for the fifth consecutive month. The Prices Index decreased 0.3 percentage point from the June reading of 61.2 percent to 60.9 percent, indicating prices increased at a slightly slower rate in July when compared to June. According to the NMI®, 16 non-manufacturing industries reported growth in July. Respondents' comments indicate that stabilization and/or improving market conditions have positively affected the majority of the respective industries and businesses."

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 62.4 percent is a 4.9 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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