The Big Four Economic Indicators: Industrial Production Down 0.9% in August
Note: This commentary has been updated to incorporate the August 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 August shows a 0.9% decrease month-over-month, which was below the Investing.com consensus of 0.1%. Industrial Production peaked in November 2014, only one point higher than its pre-recession peak in November 2007. The year-over-year change is 1.54 percent, down from last month's YoY increase.
Here is the overview from the Federal Reserve:
Industrial production declined 0.9 percent in August following six consecutive monthly gains. Hurricane Harvey, which hit the Gulf Coast of Texas in late August, is estimated to have reduced the rate of change in total output by roughly 3/4 percentage point. The index for manufacturing decreased 0.3 percent; storm-related effects appear to have reduced the rate of change in factory output in August about 3/4 percentage point. The manufacturing industries with the largest estimated storm-related effects were petroleum refining, organic chemicals, and plastics materials and resins. [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 10 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 off its interim peak, but has recently climbed above the regression.