Philly Fed Manufacturing Index: Expansion Slows

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 22.0, down from last month's 32.8. The 3-month moving average came in at 33.7, down slightly from 33.2 last month. Since this is a diffusion index, negative readings indicate contraction, positive ones indicate expansion. The Six-Month Outlook came in at 45.4, a decline from the previous month's 59.5.

Today's 22.0 headline number came in below the 25.0 forecast at Investing.com.

Here is the introduction from the survey released today:

Results from the April Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey suggest that regional manufacturing activity continued to expand, but at a slower pace than last month. The diffusion indexes for general activity, new orders, and shipments remained positive but fell from their readings in March. The current employment index, however, improved slightly and continues to suggest expanding employment in the manufacturing sector. The survey’s future indicators continued to reflect general optimism but retreated from their high readings in the first three months of the year. (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.