January looked a bit better through the prism of the ISM manufacturing index, which rose again last month to 54.1 from December’s 53.1. That’s the third monthly increase in a row. Readings above 50 are generally interpreted as a sign that the economy is growing. It’s hardly a knock-out blow against analysts warning of high recession risk these days, but it’s clearly a step in the right direction. At this critical juncture for the global economy, anything that doesn’t bite us is a big help.
Components of the ISM survey reflected growth as well. “Manufacturing is starting out the year on a positive note, with new orders, production and employment all growing in January,” says Bradley Holcomb, chair of the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing business survey committee, in a press release.
For some context, here’s how the ISM manufacturing index compares with the latest data on rolling 12-month percentage changes for the stock market, new orders for durable goods, and industrial production:
Based on the recent upturn in durable goods orders, it’s not terribly surprising to see manufacturing activity rising. But with the stock market’s annual return doing all it can to stay above zero, and with industrial production’s pace slipping, the big picture is still mixed. All the more so after learning that ADP’s estimate of job growth in January slowed by more than a trivial degree.
Will the economic outlook become any clearer after tomorrow’s update on weekly jobless claims? Don’t count on it, according to the consensus forecast from economists via Briefing.com. The crowd expects that new filings for unemployment benefits last week totaled 375,000. If true, that’s just a slight drop from the previous week. That’s mildly encouraging, but it won’t be enough to still the debate about recession risk. Unless, of course, there’s a big downside surprise for jobless claims, which would inspire a fresh round of thinking optimistically.