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Economy in Brief

U.S. ISM Nonmanufacturing Index Backpedals Slightly And Prices Fall Sharply
by Tom Moeller August 5, 2009

The recent sharp improvement in service sector activity stalled last month, but not by much. The Composite Index for the nonmanufacturing sector from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) slipped to 46.4 from an unrevised reading of 47.0 during June. Though below the break-even level of 50, the latest figure still was near the highest level since September of last year. It fell short of Consensus expectations for a reading of 48.0. A level of the ISM index below 50 indicates declining activity. Since the series' inception in 1997 there has been a 60% correlation between the level of the business activity index in the nonmanufacturing sector and the Q/Q change in real GDP for the services and the construction sectors.

ISM surveys more than 370 purchasing managers in more than 62 industries including law firms, hospitals, government and retailers. The nonmanufacturing survey dates back to July 1997.

The July decline in the overall index was broad-based amongst the component series. The employment index slipped to 41.5 but that still was near the highest level since October. Thirteen percent of firms reported higher employment levels while 26% reported lower levels. Since the series' inception in 1997 there has been a 56% correlation between the level of the ISM nonmanufacturing employment index and the m/m change in payroll employment in the service-producing plus the construction industries.

The overall business activity index for the service sector also fell to 46.1, but remained near its highest level since September. And slipping just slightly to 48.1 was the new orders series, though it remained well above last November's low of 35.6. Perhaps suggesting that the level of slack in the service sector has diminished, the supplier delivery index rose to the highest level since January.

The decline in service sector activity brought with it an easing of price pressure. The sharp 12.4 point m/m decline in the price index to 41.3 returned it to the lowest level since April. It was the sharpest one-month decline since last November. A much reduced 13% of firms reported higher prices while a significantly increased 28% reported lower prices. Since its inception ten years ago, there has been a 60% correlation between the price index and the q/q change in the GDP services chain price index.

Beginning with the January 2008 Nonmanufacturing Report On Business®, the composite index is calculated as an indicator of the overall economic condition for the non-manufacturing sector. It is a composite index based on the diffusion indices of four of the indicators (business activity, new orders, employment and supplier deliveries) with equal weights. The latest report from the ISM can be found here.

ISM Nonmanufacturing Survey July June July '08 2008 2007 2006
Composite Index 46.4 47.0 49.6 47.4 53.5 55.7
   Business Activity 46.1 49.8 50.1 47.4 56.0 58.0
   Employment 41.5 43.4 46.8 43.8 52.0 53.8
Prices Index 41.3 53.7 78.8 66.0 63.8 65.3
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