Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Anecdotal Points on the Economy

Last week we saw the release of the Chicago PMI.  The following are the anecdotal points from the report.
  1. It appears to be a good close to an up and down year. Supply issues encountered earlier in the
    year seem to have been resolved. After peaking mid-year most of our raw materials pricing has
    returned to December 2010 levels. Hope 2012 is the year things turn around but, got to be
    prepared for anything as the last few years have shown that anything is possible...
  2. Our backlog remains solid with several new orders still pending.
  3. Supplier capacities continue to be an issue. The lack of capacity is restraining sales.
  4. Overall prices have eased and continue to ease. A few commodities are still turbulent, yet general
    picture looks very strong for lower costs in 2012.
  5. We see signs of increased borrowing from our small business clients.
  6. Order intake is a bit below plan. Material prices are holding steady.
  7. Commodities starting to soften. This will be good for December and January numbers.
  8. At my company although sales has increased by 36% overall, customers are requiring shorter lead
    times and guaranteed cost savings. Therefore, the company is completing more jobs for
    less....which means the company is more efficiency focused.
  9. Demand for paper and film continues to be strong.
  10. Critical mass seems to be building. Should be an exciting 1st Quarter.
This is just anecdotal information, so take it with a grain of salt.  But all of it is very positive.  Raw material prices are dropping; backlogs are solid; small businesses are borrowing more money, overall capacity is being strained (meaning more construction is necessary).

Now consider that with the latest ISM manufacturing anecdotal information:
  1. "Business still holding its own. Some growth in margin now that some of the raw materials prices have abated. Oil is pushing $100 so that has not been favorable." (Chemical Products)
  2. Orders for the remaining two months have increased after an extended 'summer dip' in sales overall. We expect to finish the year approximately 10 percent above 2010." (Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components)
  3. Seeing a slight slowdown in orders; could be related to the holidays." (Primary Metals)
  4. Material lead times are getting longer. Seems like no one is hiring. Trying to do twice the output with the same amount of people." (Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products)
  5. Japanese auto production has returned to 100 percent, and domestic manufacturing continues to increase." (Fabricated Metal Products)
  6. Oil exploration seems to be really picking up. Government is permitting again, so business is the busiest we've ever seen." (Computer & Electronic Products)
  7. The EPS ruling about higher fees for coal-generated electricity can have a huge, negative impact on our business if implemented in January 2012. We are at the peak of our seasonal demand push." (Plastics & Rubber Products)
  8.  Thailand flood impacting our business. Honda and Toyota cut production forecasts, and we are chasing some components made in Thailand." (Transportation Equipment)
Points 1 and 2 are bullish; point 3 may be holiday related, but either way, it's hardly a massive slowdown.  Point 4 means that orders are increasing, as it is taking longer to get materials.  Point 6 simply reassures as that Japan is back to 100%.  Point 6 is bullish; point 7 will be delayed, and point 8 is bearish.

Taken together, the anecdotal points from the manufacturing sector are pretty good.

However, consider this from the latest ISM services report:
  1. Business activity continues to swing back and forth. Customer traffic remains lower than expected, but discretionary spending is fluctuating, making it difficult to find the pulse of the consumer." (Arts, Entertainment & Recreation)
  2. Lending is getting a little better. Competition for good deals is fierce because there remains a very limited number of high-quality borrowers." (Finance & Insurance)
  3. Raw materials prices appear to be stabilizing, and in some cases are dropping. Diesel fuels remain elevated and have not dropped." (Mining)
  4. We currently see no signs of a turnaround. Customers are nervous about the future of their jobs and incomes. Due to this fact, our sales are down and our need to hire more employees is, too." (Accommodation & Food Services)
  5. Business is slowly improving. Outlook for the next few months is good." (Retail Trade)
  6. In the face of an extremely tight business climate, prices continue to be sticky. We are not seeing significant price moderation." (Management of Companies & Support Services)
This is a far softer report.  Business is swinging back and forth (pt. 1) and there are no signs of a turnaround (pt 4).  Prices are again moderating (pt. 3) and lending is again improving (pt. 2), and overall business is slowly improving (pt. 5).