Indicators Suggest Growth Stalled at End of Summer: Business Outlook Survey
Results from the Business Outlook Survey suggest that regional manufacturing activity was nearly flat in September. For the second consecutive month, firms reported a decline in both new orders and shipments. Employment levels remained steady this month, but firms reported declines in average work hours. The survey’s broad indicators of future activity continue to suggest that the region’s manufacturing executives expect growth in business over the next six months, but optimism remains below levels earlier in the year.
The survey’s broadest measure of manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, increased from a reading of -7.7 in August to -0.7 in September. The index, which has been negative for two consecutive months, suggests that growth has stalled over the last two months.
Indexes for new orders and shipments continued to indicate weakness this month: The new orders index fell 1 point, remaining negative for the third consecutive month, and the shipments index decreased 3 points, remaining negative for the second consecutive month. Firms reported declines in inventories and unfilled orders and shorter delivery times.
Firms reported near steady employment this month but lower average work hours for existing employees. The percentage of firms reporting increases in employment (18 percent) narrowly edged out the percentage reporting decreases (16 percent). The index for employment was slightly positive this month, increasing 5 points from its negative reading in August. Indicative of weaker activity, more firms reported declines in average work hours for existing employees (30 percent) than reported increases (8 percent).
On balance, firms reported declines in prices for their own manufactured goods: More firms reported decreases in prices (21 percent) than reported increases (7 percent). Cost pressures continue to ease among the reporting firms. The prices paid index, which edged 2 points lower, to 9.8, has declined 33 points over the last five months and is now at its lowest reading in 13 months.