Analysts shuddered two months ago when the monthly Business Outlook Survey from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve plummeted unexpectedly, signaling a worrisome slowdown for manufacturers in the region. Although it covers only a corner of the U.S. – eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware – the survey provides an early clue to the more widely followed manufacturing index from the Institute for Supply Management. The dismal August reading from the Philly Fed raised fears that the economy was sliding into recession.
But the manufacturing sector is expanding again according to the October survey, released yesterday. The survey asks manufacturers a list of questions with three possible answers – increase, decrease and no change – and calculates a diffusion index for each question, which is the difference between the percentage of respondents citing an increase and those citing a decrease. The index rose from minus 17.5 in September to 8.7 in October, the largest one-month gain since the early 1980s. The index measuring activity levels expected in six months increased to its highest reading since April before the economy began to slow. The survey doesn’t point to robust growth ahead, but it is consistent with Grubb & Ellis research showing sustained demand for industrial space over the past two quarters and this quarter as well. Together with other recent indicators such as retail sales and weekly jobless claims, the Philly Fed survey suggests that the economy is fighting off a near-term recession.