ISM Manufacturing Index: Continued Expansion in January

Today the Institute for Supply Management published its monthly Manufacturing Report for January. The latest headline Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) was 56.0 percent, an increase of 1.5 percent from 54.5 the previous month, and its highest since November of 2014. Today's headline number was above the Investing.com forecast of 55.0 percent.

Here is the key analysis from the report:

“The January PMI® registered 56 percent, an increase of 1.5 percentage points from the seasonally adjusted December reading of 54.5 percent. The New Orders Index registered 60.4 percent, an increase of 0.1 percentage point from the seasonally adjusted December reading of 60.3 percent. The Production Index registered 61.4 percent, 2 percentage points higher than the seasonally adjusted December reading of 59.4 percent. The Employment Index registered 56.1 percent, an increase of 3.3 percentage points from the seasonally adjusted December reading of 52.8 percent. Inventories of raw materials registered 48.5 percent, an increase of 1.5 percentage points from the December reading of 47 percent. The Prices Index registered 69 percent in January, an increase of 3.5 percentage points from the December reading of 65.5 percent, indicating higher raw materials prices for the 11th consecutive month. The PMI®, New Orders, and Production Indexes all registered their highest levels since November of 2014, and comments from the panel are generally positive regarding demand levels and business conditions.” [source]

Here is the table of PMI components.

The ISM Manufacturing Index should be viewed with a bit of skepticism for various reasons, which are essentially captured in a previous Briefing.com "Big Picture" comment on this economic indicator.

This [the ISM Manufacturing Index] is a highly overrated index. It is merely a survey of purchasing managers. It is a diffusion index, which means that it reflects the number of people saying conditions are better compared to the number saying conditions are worse. It does not weight for size of the firm, or for the degree of better/worse. It can therefore underestimate conditions if there is a great deal of strength in a few firms. The data have thus not been either a good forecasting tool or a good read on current conditions during this business cycle. It must be recognized that the index is not hard data of any kind, but simply a survey that provides broad indications of trends.

The chart below shows the Manufacturing Composite series, which stretches back to 1948. The eleven recessions during this time frame are indicated along with the index value the month before the recession starts.

ISM Manufacturing

For a diffusion index, the latest reading of 56.0 is its fifth consecutive month of expansion after a month of contraction in August. What sort of correlation does that have with the months before the start of recessions? Check out the red dots in the chart above.

How revealing is today's 1.5 point change from last month? There are 829 monthly data points in this series. The absolute average month-to-month point change is 2.0 points, and the median change is 1.5 points.