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Note from Doug: Having lived for two wonderful years in Paoli, PA, a suburb west of Philadelphia just south of Valley Forge, I have a special interest in this regional indicator. But, more importantly, it gives a generally reliable clue as to direction of the broader Chicago Fed's National Activity Index.


The Philly Fed's Business Outlook Survey is a monthly report for the Third Federal Reserve District, covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. The latest gauge of General Activity came in at 23.9, an increase from last month's 17.8. The 3-month moving average came in at 19.0, up from 16.6 last month. Since this is a diffusion index, negative readings indicate contraction, positive ones indicate expansion. Today's six-month outlook at 58.1 is the highest last October.

Here is the introduction from the Business Outlook Survey released today:

Firms responding to the Business Outlook Survey indicated continued expansion in the region’s manufacturing sector in July. The survey’s indicators for general activity, new orders, shipments, and employment were all positive this month and increased from their readings in June. The survey’s indicators of future activity also increased or stayed at high levels, suggesting that firms remain optimistic about continued growth over the next six months. (Full PDF Report)

Today's 23.9 came in above the 16.0 forecast at Investing.com.

The first chart below gives us a look at this diffusion index since 2000, which shows us how it has behaved in proximity to the two 21st century recessions. The red dots show the indicator itself, which is quite noisy, and the 3-month moving average, which is more useful as an indicator of coincident economic activity. We can see periods of contraction in 2011 and 2012 and a shallower contraction in 2013. The indicator is now off its post-contraction peak in September of last year.

(click to enlarge)

In the next chart we see the complete series, which dates from May 1960. The average absolute monthly change across this data series is 7.4, which shows that the 6.1 point change from last month is in line with the usual monthly volatility.

(click to enlarge)

The next chart is an overlay starting in 2000 of the General Activity Index and the Future General Activity Index — the outlook six months ahead.

(click to enlarge)

The Philly Fed General Activity Index continues to be a key indicator to watch closely.

Source: Philly Fed Business Outlook: 5th Month Of Growth