Why is this information important? It's one of the four economic areas the NBER looks at when they are dating a recession:
The committee places particular emphasis on two monthly measures of activity across the entire economy: (1) personal income less transfer payments, in real terms and (2) employment. In addition, we refer to two indicators with coverage primarily of manufacturing and goods: (3) industrial production and (4) the volume of sales of the manufacturing and wholesale-retail sectors adjusted for price changes. We also look at monthly estimates of real GDP such as those prepared by Macroeconomic Advisers (see http://www.macroadvisers.com). Although these indicators are the most important measures considered by the NBER in developing its business cycle chronology, there is no fixed rule about which other measures contribute information to the process.
Let's start with the Empire State Index, which is from the NY Fed:
The Empire State Manufacturing Survey indicates that manufacturing activity in New York State weakened in September. The general business conditions index slipped 10 points, to -7.4. The new orders and shipments indexes rose modestly and were slightly above zero. Current employment indexes were negative. Current and future price indexes, though still elevated, retreated noticeably—particularly for prices paid. Indexes for future business conditions and most future activity measures remained close to last month’s levels or rose moderately in September.
Here's a chart from econoday:
This number (the gray line on the chart) has been weak for the last year. That's 8 months of sketchy reads which is not good. The only good news in this release is the current and future prices component which dropped. In conjunction with yesterday's CPI release, we're getting more and more indications inflation is becoming less of an issue.
As for industrial production:
Industrial production decreased 1.1 percent in August and was revised down in June and July to show smaller gains of 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent respectively. After little movement over the previous three months, factory output was down 1.0 percent in August, in part because of a drop of 11.9 percent in the production of motor vehicles and parts. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, the index for manufacturing decreased 0.3 percent. The output of mines declined 0.4 percent, and the output of utilities fell 3.2 percent, as temperatures in August were unseasonably mild.
Here are the relevant charts from econoday:
Note the year over year decline has been going on for the last 8 months and has been negative since the beginning of the year.
Also note that capacity utilization is still dropping, indicating the country is using less and less of its manufacturing capacity:
The bottom line is this is terrible news. Exports -- which have been an important growth component for the last year or so -- haven't been strong enough to keep these readings anywhere except stagnant. And domestic demand is obviously not strong enough to keep things humming. The capacity utilization drop indicates manufacturing is slowing shutting down what it can to remain profitable.