The Big Four Economic Indicators: February Industrial Production Virtually Unchanged
Note: This commentary has been updated to incorporate the February data for Industrial Production.
Official recession calls are the responsibility of the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee, which is understandably vague about the specific indicators on which they base their decisions. This committee statement is about as close as they get to identifying their method.
There is, however, a general belief that there are four big indicators that the committee weighs heavily in their cycle identification process. They are:
- Nonfarm Employment
- Industrial Production
- Real Retail Sales
- Real Personal Income (excluding Transfer Receipts)
The Latest Indicator Data
Today's report on Industrial Production for February shows a 0.0% change month-over-month (0.01% to two decimal points), which was below the Investing.com consensus of a 0.2 percent increase. The previous month was revised upward from -0.3 percent to -0.1 percent. Industrial Production peaked in November 2014, only one point higher than its pre-recession peak in November 2007. The year-over-year change is 0.31 percent, up from last month's slight YoY increase.
Here is the overview from the Federal Reserve:
Industrial production was unchanged in February following a 0.1 percent decrease in January. In February, manufacturing output moved up 0.5 percent for its sixth consecutive monthly increase. Mining output jumped 2.7 percent, but the index for utilities fell 5.7 percent, as continued unseasonably warm weather further reduced demand for heating. At 104.7 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production in February was 0.3 percent above its level of a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector declined 0.1 percentage point in February to 75.4 percent, a rate that is 4.5 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2016) average. [view full report]
The chart below shows the year-over-year percent change in Industrial Production since the series inception in 1919, the current level is lower than at the onset of 15 of the 17 recessions over this time frame of nearly a century.
The Fed's monthly Industrial Production estimate is accompanied by another closely watched indicator, Capacity Utilization, which is the percentage of US total production capacity being used (available resources includes manufacturing, mining, and electric and gas utilities). In addition to showing cycles of economic growth and demand, Capacity Utilization also serves as a leading indicator of inflation.
Here is a chart of the complete Capacity Utilization series, which the Fed began tracking in 1967. The linear regression assists our understanding of the long-term trend. We've highlighted the post-recession peak in November 2014.
The latest reading is well off its interim peak and remains below the regression.