The first regional Fed manufacturing reading for the month of August which came from the NY Fed showed a massive slowdown in general business conditions. The headline number was expected to fall but remain positive at 5. Instead, the index plummeted all the way down to a contractionary reading of -31.3. That is the fourth lowest reading on record, the lowest reading since May 2020, and the largest one-month decline since April 2020. In other words, New York area manufacturers reported rapid deterioration in business conditions in the first half of August.
Breadth was equally horrendous. The sole index that managed to move higher month over month was Prices Received while declines in all of the others resulted in all but four categories falling into contraction territory. Future expectations are only slightly more positive than current conditions, albeit these too are seeing readings in the bottom few percentiles of their historical ranges even after significant moves to the upside month over month.
The most pronounced drop of any category was New Orders and Shipments with month-over-month declines of 35.8 points and 49.4 points, respectively. For both, that was the largest month-over-month drop on record with both indices now in the bottom 1% of all readings as a result. Unfilled Orders fell deeper into contraction with a less dramatic 7.5 point decline month over month.
Expectations were the inverse of that story. New Orders, Shipments, and Unfilled Orders all saw upper decile monthly increases with Unfilled Orders’ 18.1 point rise the second largest on record behind May 2010.
The past couple of months have seen plenty of evidence that supply chain stress has begun to ease, and this month’s report from the NY Fed added yet another data point of evidence. For the first time since May 2020, the Delivery Times index fell into contraction meaning responding firms reported a decline in how long it took for products to reach their destinations. That trend is also expected to continue as six-month expectations continue to hover around the low end of the historical range.
Alongside supply chain pressures, inflation pressures have likewise shown signs of easing. The Prices Paid and Prices Received index have both peaked and come in well off of prior highs of the past year indicating fewer firms are paying suppliers more or raising their prices.
Across manufacturing reports of late, employment metrics have been somewhat of a bright spot as they have managed to hold up in spite of signs of slowing demand. In August, employment did not stand out as strongly. On net, firms continue to increase their number of employees but at the slowest rate since October 2020. Meanwhile, the Average Workweek contracted to an extent not seen since the first few months of the pandemic, late 2015, during the Financial Crisis, or in the aftermath of 9/11. Meanwhile, companies are beginning to pull back on capital spending at a rapid rate as indices tracking plans for Technology Spending and Capital Expenditure have fallen sharply. For the latter, the two-month decline is now the fifth worst of any period on record. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.
On the backs of a disappointing Empire Fed earlier this week, the neighboring Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank’s own reading on its region’s manufacturing economy also came in well below expectations at the headline level. The index for General Business Conditions was anticipated to decline from a healthy reading of 17 to a more modest 15. Instead, it plummeted to a barely positive reading of 2.6. That would point to a significant moderation in activity in the month of May.
While the headline index fell sharply, the rest of the report was perhaps more mixed. Breadth was certainly weak with only three categories rising month over month (New Orders, Shipments, and Unfilled Orders). As for the indices that declined, on the one hand, some could be perceived as welcome drops with pullbacks in elevated readings of prices and delivery times. On the other hand, the moderation in Number of Employees or CapEx expectations could be taken as a less positive sign for the broader economy.
As shown in the table above, overall most current conditions indices remain historically elevated even after recent declines. Expectations indices meanwhile are generally more depressed with some readings even near record lows. As such, the average normalized distance between the current conditions and expectations categories throughout the report have broken out to the highest level since February 1988 and mid-1975 before that. Put differently, there have rarely been times in which the region’s manufacturers have reported such a dramatic difference between healthy current conditions while also holding a pessimistic outlook.
Taking a closer look at individual categories, New Orders remain well off-peak but ticked higher in May rising 4.3 points to 22.1. There was an even larger jump in expectations, although the level of that index is not nearly as elevated. The modest increase in demand was met with a huge jump in Shipments and Unfilled Orders. With a 16.2 point jump month over month, Shipments are reported to be growing at the fastest rate since the fall of 2020. Given the region’s firms are getting orders out the door at a faster clip, inventories are growing only modestly with that index falling to a barely expansionary 3.2. Additionally, that evidence of improved fulfillment also resulted in a huge drop in expectations for Unfilled Orders. In fact, that index dropped to the lowest level since March 1995. That means the region’s firms expect to work off unfilled orders at a historic rate in the coming months.
The likely reason as to why companies are anticipating such a huge improvement in fulfillment is massive expected declines in lead times. Delivery Times remain elevated but have moderated significantly in the past couple of months. Six-month expectations meanwhile have fallen all the way down to -29.1 which, like unfilled orders expectations, is the lowest level since March 1995.
Another expectations reading that has fallen precipitously in May is CapEx expectations. The reading fell to the worst reading since September 2016 indicating huge moderation in planned investment. Likewise, hiring is expected to slow as has already been observed by the current conditions index. We would note that these readings remain positive, meaning firms are still expecting to take on more hiring and spending on net, but at a more modest rate. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.