Philly Fed Business Outlook: Modest Growth, A Bit Below Expectations

March 19, 2015

by Doug Short

The Philly Fed's Business Outlook Survey is a monthly report for the Third Federal Reserve District, covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware.

The latest gauge of General Activity came in at 5.0, essentially unchanged from last month's 5.2 and the lowest reading since the -2.0 contraction in February of last year. The 3-month moving average came in at 5.5, down from 11.9 last month. Since this is a diffusion index, negative readings indicate contraction, positive ones indicate expansion. The Six-Month Outlook was little unchanged at 32.0 versus the previous month's 29.7.

Today's 5.0 came in below the 7.1 forecast at Investing.com.

Here is the introduction from the Business Outlook Survey released today:

Manufacturing activity in the region increased at a modest pace in March, according to firms responding to this month's Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. The survey's current indicators for general activity and new orders were positive and remained near their low readings in February. Firms reported overall declines in shipments and in work hours, while overall employment increased only slightly. Firms reported more widespread price reductions in March, although most firms continued to report steady prices. The survey's indicators of future activity showed mixed results but continued to suggest that the manufacturing sector is expected to continue growing over the next six months. (Full PDF Report)

The first chart below gives us a look at this diffusion index since 2000, which shows us how it has behaved in proximity to the two 21st century recessions. The red dots show the indicator itself, which is quite noisy, and the 3-month moving average, which is more useful as an indicator of coincident economic activity. We can see periods of contraction in 2011 and 2012 and a shallower contraction in 2013. The indicator is now above its post-contraction peak in September of last year.

Click to View
Click for a larger image

In the next chart we see the complete series, which dates from May 1960. The average absolute monthly change across this data series is 7.8, which shows that the 18 point change from last month is a an outlier.

Click to View
Click for a larger image

The next chart is an overlay of the General Activity Index and the Future General Activity Index — the outlook six months ahead.

Click to View
Click for a larger image

Note from Doug: Having lived for two wonderful years in Paoli, PA, a suburb west of Philadelphia just south of Valley Forge, I have a special interest in this regional indicator. But, more importantly, it gives a generally reliable clue as to direction of the broader Chicago Fed's National Activity Index.


Website by the Boston Web Company