Today’s release of the Philadelphia Fed’s Business Outlook survey essentially saw the opposite results of last Friday’s Empire Fed release. Whereas the New York Fed’s headline number surged, the Philly Fed reading dropped from 27.4 to 17.6, well below expectations of 21.4.
Even though current conditions indices of the two regional Fed surveys released so far this month mirrored one another, both were on the same page for future expectations. Like the Empire Fed, the Philly Fed saw broad declines across expectations indices. In fact, the only index that rose month over month was Unfilled Orders.
The April report showed a notable slowing of demand as New Orders fell 8 points, and that was the best of any demand-related index. Shipments and Unfilled Orders both dropped double digits. While still indicative of growth, just at a slower rate, these indices have fallen from upper quintile readings down to the 60th percentile range. Expectations indices are far more depressed. New Orders and Unfilled Orders are only in the 5th and 6th percentiles of their historical ranges, respectively. Ironically, Unfilled Orders was also the only expectations index to move higher in April. Inventories remain more elevated for both indices for current and future conditions. The former rose back into the upper decile of its range as the latter moderated from a 99th percentile reading last month.
As we noted earlier this week, one hopeful sign for supply chains from the Empire Fed survey was a dramatic improvement in Delivery Times. That was echoed in today’s release. The index sat just off record highs last month but after its third-largest month over month decline on record, the index has fallen all the way back down to 17.9 which is the lowest level since last February. Responding firms also report that they expect delivery times to decline in the future meaning more improvements in supply chains are expected.
Even though supply chains might not be as constrained, that does not mean firms are not paying less. The index for Prices Paid hit a new high for the pandemic with the index rising to 84.6. That is now the highest reading since June 1979. As for how those increases are being passed to consumers, Prices Paid remain off the peak from this past November with only a slightly higher reading month over month in April.
While Prices Paid came close, it was not able to set a record high this month. The index for Number of Employees however did. Moving higher for the third month in a row, this index hit a new record high of 41.4. That means Philly area manufacturers are taking on the highest number of new workers since the beginning of this survey in 1968! The average workweek remains historically elevated and off of recent lows, but that is also well below the highs earlier in the pandemic. Expectations however saw the first negative reading since February 2016. In other words, with a larger number of new hires coming on board, the average workweek is expected to shorten in the near future. Click here to view Bespoke’s premium membership options.
Even though markets were shuttered on Friday for the Good Friday holiday, the New York Federal Reserve branch released the latest update on their monthly manufacturing report with astounding results. Heading into the release, the March reading had shown a significant decline back into negative territory indicating the region’s manufacturers reported contractionary overall activity. In April, activity rebounded substantially with the headline number rising 36.4 points all the way up to 24.6. That set the second-largest month-over-month increase on record behind the 48.3-point jump back in June 2020. In terms of the level of the index, it brought it from a lower decile reading to levels just shy of the upper decile of its historical range going back to the start of the survey in the early 2000s.
Although current conditions were impressive, we would caution that expectations soured in an equally dramatic fashion. The six-month expectation index dropped 21.4 points to 15.2. That was only 0.3 points shy of the second-largest decline on record (21.7 point decline in March 2020) but was far better than the 61 point drop after 9/11 in the early days of the survey.
The move higher in General Business Conditions was thanks to big turnarounds in New Orders and Shipments but breadth elsewhere in the report was not as positive. Of the seven other categories, four declined month over month with three of those declines ranking in the bottom decile of each one’s respective histories. Again, expectations were much more worrisome with large declines across categories and readings in the bottom few percentiles for things like New Orders, Shipments, and Unfilled Orders. Overall, the report showed solid improvements in conditions but how sustainable those improvements will be in the coming months could come into question.
The biggest contributors to the increase in the headline reading were improvements in New Orders and Shipments. Each one crossed back into the top decile of their historical ranges on some of the biggest month-over-month increases on record outside of the spring of 2020. Unfilled Orders were also higher, though, unlike New Orders or Shipments, the index is coming off of already elevated levels. Given the strength in demand and shipments, inventories grew at a slower rate. Expectations were much less optimistic as across all four of these categories there were near-record declines. Unfilled Orders and Inventories even fell into contraction. That means that although New York area firms witnessed solid improvement in business conditions in April, the positive changes are not expected to keep pace or continue in the months ahead.
One likely reason for the big improvements this month was the easing of supply chain stress. The index of Delivery Times fell back down to the low end of its elevated pandemic range in April (higher readings indicate products are taking longer to reach their destination).
Those improvements in current conditions did not filter through to employment. While the region’s firms are on net still increasing hiring, the index for Number of Employees fell to the lowest level since October 2020 after two months of the largest MoM declines since the onset of the pandemic. As hiring decelerates, the average workweek did tick up solidly. That index rose 6.5 points to 10. Click here to view Bespoke’s premium membership options.