ISM Non-Manufacturing: March Shows Improvement,
But Slightly Below Expectations

By Doug Short
April 3, 2014

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Today the Institute for Supply Management published its latest Non-Manufacturing Report. The headline NMI Composite Index is at 53.1 percent, up from last month's 51.6 percent. Today's number came in slightly below the Investing.com forecast of 53.5, which was also the consensus at Briefing.com.

Here is the report summary:

"The NMIŽ registered 53.1 percent in March, 1.5 percentage points higher than February's reading of 51.6 percent. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index decreased to 53.4 percent, which is 1.2 percentage points lower than the reading of 54.6 percent reported in February, reflecting growth for the 56th consecutive month but at a slower rate. The New Orders Index registered 53.4 percent, 2.1 percentage points higher than the reading of 51.3 percent registered in February. The Employment Index increased 6.1 percentage points to 53.6 percent from the February reading of 47.5 percent and indicates substantial growth after one month of contraction. The Prices Index increased 4.6 percentage points from the February reading of 53.7 percent to 58.3 percent, indicating prices increased at a faster rate in March when compared to February. According to the NMIŽ, 13 non-manufacturing industries reported growth in March. Despite the affects of weather on many of the respective businesses, the majority of respondents indicate that business conditions are improving. The respondents also project better business activity and economic conditions as weather conditions continue to improve."

Like its much older kin, the ISM Manufacturing Series, I have been reluctant to focus on this collection of diffusion indexes. For one thing, there is relatively little history for ISM's Non-Manufacturing data, especially for the headline Composite Index, which dates from 2008. The chart below shows Non-Manufacturing Composite. We have only a single recession to gauge is behavior as a business cycle indicator.

In my view, the more interesting and useful subcomponent is the Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index. The latest data point at 53.4 percent is a 1.2 decline from the previous month.

 

 

For a diffusion index, this can be an extremely volatile indicator. Thus I've added a six-month moving average to assist us in visualizing the trend, which has been relatively range bound for the past two years, and we're currently at the bottom of the range.

Theoretically, I believe, this indicator will become more useful as the timeframe of its coverage expands. Manufacturing may be a more sensitive barometer than Non-Manufacturing activity, but we are increasingly a services-oriented economy, which explains my intention to keep this series on the radar.

Here is a table showing trend in the underlying components.

 

 


Here is a link to my coverage of ISM Manufacturing report released earlier this week.

Note: I use the FRED USRECP series (Peak through the Period preceding the Trough) to highlight the recessions in the charts above. For example, the NBER dates the last cycle peak as December 2007, the trough as June 2009 and the duration as 18 months. The USRECP series thus flags December 2007 as the start of the recession and May 2009 as the last month of the recession, giving us the 18-month duration. The dot for the last recession in the charts above are thus for November 2007. The "Peak through the Period preceding the Trough" series is the one FRED uses in its monthly charts, as illustrated here.

 

 

 

 

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