Philly Fed Flips the Script

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.

Philly fed business conditions

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.

Philly fed results

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.

new orders, shipments

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.

Delivery times

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.

prices paid

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.

Philly fed labor

A Lot Can Change in a Year

It was a little more than a year ago that we remember reading the following article in The Wall Street Journal and articles like it all over the place:

COVID retirements

The gist of it was that COVID pushed older Americans out of the labor force in droves, and many of them weren’t coming back.  This exodus from the labor force would have major societal implications as it would weigh on overall economic growth, decrease worker productivity, and push labor costs higher. As one economist in the article noted, “Historically, the likelihood of seeing workers who decided to retire come back into the labor force is quite low, so we do think that some of the drop in the participation rate with older workers is likely to remain permanent.”

What a difference a year makes.  While inflation, which was supposed to be transitory, has ended up looking a lot more permanent, it appears as though the exodus of older Americans from the labor force, which was initially thought to be permanent, may end up being more transitory in nature.  The Wall Street Journal highlighted this trend today:

Rising costs alters labor force participation

While it may not be for the best reasons, many older Americans who left the labor force when COVID hit found that after accounting for inflation at multi-decade highs, their nest eggs will not be as supportive of their retirement plans as they originally thought, and that’s pushing them back into the labor force.

While the implication of workers leaving the labor force was for slower growth, lower productivity, and higher labor costs, an influx of workers should increase growth, increase productivity, and put downward pressure on labor costs.  It’s all about supply and demand.  The reason for workers returning back to the labor force may not be the most favorable for them, but amazingly, the exodus of older Americans from the labor force didn’t even last as long as the “farewell’ tours from the Eagles or The Who!  Click here to try out Bespoke’s premium research service.