The Big Four Economic Indicators: Industrial Production Up 0.1% in July

Note: This commentary has been updated to incorporate the July 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 July shows a 0.1% increase month-over-month, which was worse than the Investing.com consensus of 0.3%. The year-over-year change is 4.23%, up from last month's YoY increase. Revisions were made to the previous five months.

Here is the overview from the Federal Reserve:

Industrial production edged up 0.1 percent in July after rising at an average pace of 0.5 percent over the previous five months. Manufacturing production increased 0.3 percent, the output of utilities moved down 0.5 percent, and, after posting five consecutive months of growth, the index for mining declined 0.3 percent. At 108.0 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 4.2 percent higher in July than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector was unchanged in July at 78.1 percent, a rate that is 1.7 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2017) 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 8 of the 17 recessions over this time frame of nearly a century.

Capacity Utilization

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.

Capacity Utilization

The latest reading is just below its interim peak and climbed above the regression in late 2017.