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The February ISM-New York Report on Business: Short Term Upturn

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The February ISM-New York Report on Business was released on March 3rd at 9:45am Eastern and is available for download pdfhere. Please see the end of this commentary for additional information about the ISM-New York Report on Business.

In February, New York City purchasing managers reported improved Current Business Conditions, Current Revenues, and prices paid.

Current Business Conditions rose for the second month in a row, reaching a 10-month high of 51.9 in February, up from 45.8 in January. 

The Six-Month Outlook fell for the second consecutive month, reaching 53.8 in February, down from the 3-month low of 57.3 reported in January. The six-month outlook has been a reliable short-run guide for current business conditions over time.

Employment, a seasonally adjusted index, fell for the second month in a row, coming in below the breakeven point at 49.3, down 6.8 points from the 56.1 reported in January. 

Quantity of Purchases continued to edge downward, reaching a 5-month low of 41.7 in February, down from 43.1 in January. 

Top line and forward revenue guidance moved in opposite directions for the fourth consecutive month. Current Revenues was the biggest mover in February, rising 16.9 points to reach a 9-month high of 58.3, up from a 4-month low of 41.4 in January. Expected Revenues fell to 50.0, the same level reported in December, after a 1-month increase to 64.3 in January.

Prices Paid fell to a 29 month low of 54.2 in February (referencing 52.3 in September of 2017). This index fell 13.9 points from January's 4-month high finding of 68.1.

Further Consideration

“Of all the factors increasing uncertainty, I think the coronavirus outbreak has the greatest potential to negatively impact global business conditions in February. The US stock market dropped in response to the virus’ spread on January 27th, but rebounded midweek as corporations reported strong earnings. As the virus spreads and manufacturing and travel are further impacted, there is no telling what the full fallout will be, or when it will end.” – Commentary on the January ISM-New York Report on Business

I wrote that comment about the risk of the coronavirus and its impact on supply chains one month ago, so you can appreciate my apprehension when I received the file of February survey responses. And yet, I see this month’s report as an indication of quiet confidence. Sure, concerns remain about the spread of the virus and how it will affect business performance as far out as the Holiday shopping season, but it is not time to panic yet.

In another risk-averse measure of business confidence, the DOW set a single-day point record on Monday, rebounding after a down week to gain over 1,290 points. Your personal explanation of that may depend on your point of view, but the markets hate uncertainty. In fact, at this point, the greatest danger may be from the overreaction itself. Medical masks, widely derided as ineffective in the face of the coronavirus threat, are now running short in places where they are both needed and effective. That is a self-imposed hurdle.

New York Metro purchasing managers took an interesting turn this month. The long-term view represented by the Six-Month Outlook and Expected Revenues has been outpacing Current Business Conditions and Current Revenues for months and months. Not in February. This month the longer-term uncertainty caused everyone to see conditions for what they are – pretty darn good, considering.

Remember to check back in with me on Thursday, April 2nd for the release of the March ISM-New York Report on Business. 

The 2020 Report Release Schedule is as follows:

January 3

February 4

March 3

April 2

May 4

June 2

July 2

August 4

September 2

October 2

November 3

December 2

About the ISM-New York Report on Business

Like ISM’s national report, the ISM-New York Report on Business is compiled as diffusion indices –we add the percent of positive responses to one-half of those responding that conditions remained the same.  A reading of 50.0 means no change from the prior month, greater than 50.0 indicates a faster pace of activity, and less than 50.0 a slower rate. Each month is not so much a reading of the current level of activity as it is an indication of growth or contraction from the previous month. 

A note specific to the New York Metro area, where all of this report’s respondants are located: they are predominantly in professional services industries. It is important to keep this in mind when we think about the context for the trends being reported by these particular purchasing managers.

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