For the second time in three days, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) has issued a report on the state of the U.S. economy. And for the second time in that brief span, the results have been positive.
To wit, on Tuesday, the ISM noted that the nation's industrial base had firmed up in March, with its reading on manufacturing activity rising to 53.7 for the month. That was modestly ahead of the February reading of 53.2, and the January data point of 51.3. Note that a score above 50.0 signals that the manufacturing sector is expanding; a reading below 50.0 suggests that there is some contraction under way.
Now, just moments ago, the ISM reported that non-manufacturing activity's pace of growth had come in at 53.1 in March. That was slightly less than the 53.5 rate expected, but it was above the February reading of just 51.6.
Breaking the report down, to its component parts, we find that the new orders category increased from 51.3 in February to 53.4 last month. That was the highest reading by this sector since last November. Also, employment surged, going from February's estimated contraction of 47.5 to 53.6 in March. Prices paid also jumped, going from 53.7 to 58.3. That is encouraging as it suggests that deflation is not a problem in the services sector, at this point. The prices paid component was the highest since last July.
Looking at the entire survey, although there was nice month-to-month improvement, it should be noted that the lackluster February issuance had been the lowest result since February 2010, and likely reflected the damaging effects of the harsh winter storms and frigid temperatures. All told, the March reading marked the 51st straight month that this index had registered a result above 50. The better March non-manufacturing tone also suggests that the ill-effects of the recent winter are starting to ebb.
But, at 53.7, the pace of growth remained comfortably below the seven-year high of 57.9, which was reached last August. Looking at the report in its entirety, it was a modestly reassuring data issuance, but clearly not a game-changing survey. For the quarter just ended, we continue to estimate that GDP growth will be in the 1%-2% range, with growth then likely to exceed 2.5% in the current three months. A progressively better showing is then likely in the second half and throughout 2015. - Harvey S. Katz, CFA
At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.