The Big Four Recession Indicators: Industrial Production Edges Down in January

Official recession calls are the responsibility of the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee, which is understandably vague about the specific indicators on which it bases its decisions. This committee statement is about as close as it gets to identifying its 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:


The Latest Indicator Data: Industrial Production

Industrial production edged down 0.1% in January, worse than the projected 0.2% growth. Compared to one year ago, industrial production is flat.

Here is the overview from the Federal Reserve:

Industrial production edged down 0.1 percent in January after recording no change in December. In January, manufacturing output declined 0.5 percent and mining output fell 2.3 percent; winter weather contributed to the declines in both sectors. The index for utilities jumped 6.0 percent, as demand for heating surged following a move from unusually mild temperatures in December to unusually cold temperatures in January. At 102.6 percent of its 2017 average, total industrial production in January was identical to its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector moved down 0.2 percentage point in January to 78.5 percent, a rate that is 1.1 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2023) average. [view full report]

The chart below shows the year-over-year percentage change in industrial production since the series inception in 1919. The current level is lower than at the onset of 15 of 18 recessions over this time frame of nearly a century.

Industrial Production year over year