Philly Fed Business Outlook: Growth Surges; General Activity Highest Since 1993

November 20, 2014

by Doug Short

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.


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 40.8, a surge over last month's 20.7. The 3-month moving average came in at 28.0, up from 23.7 last month. Since this is a diffusion index, negative readings indicate contraction, positive ones indicate expansion. The Six-Month Outlook slipped to 48.0 from last month's 54.5.

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

Responses to the Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey suggest that regional manufacturing activity increased notably in November. The survey’s broad indicators for new orders and shipments showed similar improvement this month. Responding firms also indicated that employment was higher this month. In addition, the broadest indicator of future activity suggests that firms expect growth to continue over the next six months. (Full PDF Report)

Today's 40.8 came in substantially above the 18.5 forecast at Investing.com. It is the highest General Activity reading since December 1993.

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.

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In the next chart we see the complete series, which dates from May 1960. The average absolute monthly change across this data series is 7.4, which shows that the 20.1 point change from last month is a an outlier.

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

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The Philly Fed General Activity Index continues to be a key indicator to watch closely.

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