Philly Fed Manufacturing Index: Continued Expansion in March

The Philly Fed's Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey is a monthly report for the Third Federal Reserve District, covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. While it focuses exclusively on business in this district, this regional survey gives a generally reliable clue as to the direction of the broader Chicago Fed's National Activity Index.

The latest Manufacturing Index came in at 32.8, down from last month's 43.3. The 3-month moving average came in at 33.2, up from 28.9 last month. Since this is a diffusion index, negative readings indicate contraction, positive ones indicate expansion. The Six-Month Outlook came in at 59.5, an increase over the previous month's 53.5.

Today's 32.8 came in above the 30.0 forecast at Investing.com.

Here is the introduction from the survey released today:

Results from the March Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey suggest that regional manufacturing activity continued to expand. The diffusion index for general activity fell from its high reading in February, but the survey’s other broad indicators for new orders, shipments, and employment all improved or were steady this month. Price pressures also picked up, according to reporting firms. The survey’s future indicators continued to improve and reflect a broadening base of optimism about future growth in manufacturing. (Full 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. 2015 saw a contraction with an improvement in 2016.

In the next chart, we see the complete series, which dates from May 1960. For proof of the high volatility of the headline indicator, note that the average absolute monthly change across this data series is 7.7.

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