This week’s manufacturing activity releases from the New York Fed and Philly Fed showed a slightly weaker but generally upbeat assessment of economic activity. The numbers from these two regional surveys may not be fully representative of the aggregate national economy, but they’re usually a pretty good indicator. As shown in the chart below, they’ve been a decent guide to what the ISM Manufacturing index says about national activity since the Empire State manufacturing index started its releases in 2001.

Unlike these two indices, which have shown a general uptick in activity over the last few months, the ISM index shows a different route. But that data isn’t backed up by the average results across the five Fed districts that survey their manufacturers. The size and scale of the divergence is so big that one of these indices is almost certainly wrong, but which?

For a tiebreaker, Markit’s manufacturing survey suggests conditions are at multi-month highs and picking up, more consistent with the data from Fed surveys than ISM. Markit’s sample size is bigger and the index is more representative of the whole sector than ISM only; with all five regional Fed surveys in the mix, they also have a sample size advantage over ISM. Hard data of late (including manufacturing production, exports, and hiring) has all sided against ISM and is showing data more consistent with the Five Fed or Markit surveys. For now, it looks like the brutal ISM results are a bit overstated. Start a two-week free trial to Bespoke Institutional to unlock access to our actionable research and interactive tools.

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