ISM Non-Manufacturing Business Report: Slower Growth In April

by: Doug Short

On Friday the Institute for Supply Management published its latest Non-Manufacturing Report. The headline NMI Composite Index is at 53.1 percent, signaling slower growth than last month's 54.4 percent. The consensus was for 54.0 percent.

Here is the report summary:

The NMI™ registered 53.1 percent in April, 1.3 percentage points lower than the 54.4 percent registered in March. This indicates continued growth at a slightly slower rate in the non-manufacturing sector. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index registered 55 percent, which is 1.5 percentage points lower than the 56.5 percent reported in March, reflecting growth for the 45th consecutive month. The New Orders Index decreased by 0.1 percentage point to 54.5 percent, and the Employment Index decreased 1.3 percentage points to 52 percent, indicating growth in employment for the ninth consecutive month. The Prices Index decreased 4.7 percentage points to 51.2 percent, indicating prices increased at a slower rate in April when compared to March. According to the NMI™, 14 non-manufacturing industries reported growth in April. Respondents' comments remain mostly positive about business conditions. Cost management and revenue pressures are areas of concern for many of the respective companies.

Like its much older kin, the ISM Manufacturing Series, I have been reluctant to focus on this collection of diffusion indexes. For one thing, there is relatively little history for ISM's Non-Manufacturing data, especially for the headline Composite Index, which dates from 2008. I also agree with the view expressed at's Big Picture comment.

The market generally doesn't pay much attention to the services index because the service sector is less cyclical than the manufacturing sector. During the recession, the service index held steady around 50.0% through September 2009 before bottoming at 37.4% in November 2008. Since then, the service index has slowly risen back and finally broke the 50.0% barrier. In contrast, the manufacturing index, with the exception of January 2009, stayed below 50% from December 2008 through July 2009 and bottomed at 32.9% in December 2008.

The chart below shows Non-Manufacturing Composite. We have only a single recession to gauge is behavior as a business cycle indicator.

The more interesting and, I would argue, useful subcomponent is the Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index.

For a diffusion index, the latest reading indicates growth at a slower rate than last month. But this can be an extremely volatile indicator. Thus I've added a six-month moving average to assist us in visualizing trends.

Theoretically, I believe, this indicator will become more useful as the timeframe of its coverage expands. Manufacturing may be a more sensitive barometer than Non-Manufacturing activity, but we are increasingly a services-oriented economy, which explains my intention to keep this series on the radar.

Here is a link to my coverage of ISM Manufacturing report released earlier this week.

Note: I use the FRED USRECP series (Peak through the Period preceding the Trough) to highlight the recessions in the charts above. For example, the NBER dates the last cycle peak as December 2007, the trough as June 2009 and the duration as 18 months. The USRECP series thus flags December 2007 as the start of the recession and May 2009 as the last month of the recession, giving us the 18-month duration. The dot for the last recession in the charts above are thus for November 2007. the "Peak through the Period preceding the Trough" series is the one FRED uses in its monthly charts, as illustrated here.

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