Flash PMIs Are Mostly Firmer in March
The S&P Global flash PMIs are continuing to show some resilience in the face of what have been some significant challenges. Commodity prices and inflation have been rising and high and in response central banks have been raising rates for about one year. The Russia-Ukraine war has been in progress for a year casting a pall of uncertainty across geopolitics as well as over the economic outlook. A more recent development is banking problems that have emerged, particularly in the United States and Europe and specifically in Switzerland. And, of course, it's too soon to see the impact of any banking sector problems in these data.
What we do see is stronger PMI readings across the board, except for the U.K. We see stronger readings for the services sector everywhere, once again except the U.K. There are weakening manufacturing responses for the European Monetary Union overall, for Germany, and for the U.K. in March. However, there is a widening count of sector or overall readings of weakness in progress and a surprising period of strengthening that came well into the rate hike cycle. In January, only three of the 18 readings registered month-to-month weakening. In February, there are four indications of month-to-month weakening. In March, there are five indications of month-to-month weakening. However, with 18 sectors represented in the table, the number recording weakness has only risen to five in March from three in January. In terms of changes in PMI data, it doesn't appear that tightening monetary policies are having all that much impact, certainly not a rapid impact on these economies.
If we look at the strengthening versus weakening responses over 12-month, 6-month and 3-month periods, we find overwhelming evidence of weakening over 12 months and over 6 months, not so much over 3 months. Over 3 months, Germany and the European Monetary Union show strengthening in all their measures along with the U.K. France and Japan show weakening over 3 months compared to 6 months in two sectors with manufacturing strengthening in France and services strengthening in Japan. The U.S. is the exception to all these rules with 3-month, 6-month and 12-month weakness in all the sectors on all the horizons. Let me point out again that the 3-month, 6-month and 12-month averages are applied only to hard data and so they are applied to data beginning in February not the data from March.
If we set aside our obsession with the changes and look instead up the levels of the PMI data where the nomenclature focuses on values above 50 showing expansion and below 50 showing contraction, we find that services sectors in all six of these reporting units in March and in February show expansion. In contrast, manufacturing shows contraction - that is levels below 50 for the diffusion indexes- in March and February in all six cases. Regardless of whether manufacturing did a little bit better or worse on the month than the month before, manufacturing broadly is declining while services broadly are showing ongoing expansion.
The queue percentile standing is presented in the table. These readings measure the standings of the March PMI values across all values reported since January 2019. They show percentile readings below the 50% mark in manufacturing for all reporting entities in the table. The 50% mark in ranking represents the median for the period over which data are ranked. So what we are seeing is below median values for manufacturing everywhere with rankings clustered around the 20% mark although with France below the 10% level and the U.S. at the 13.7% level. Services rank above their 50th percentile everywhere with an extremely strong reading at the 98th percentile in Japan and a strong 82nd percentile in the European Monetary Union. Those compare to a relatively weak standing for services at about the 53% level in the U.S. and a 55th percentile standing in the U.K.
The table also presents diffusion point changes month-to-month and over 3 months as well as the change versus January 2020 before COVID struck. These data show that all manufacturing readings are weaker than they were in January 2020 while most service sector readings are stronger; however, the U.K. and Germany are exceptions with small service scepter decrements to their January 2020 levels in March. The U.S. has a service sector gain of only 0.3 points on that timeline. However, over 3 months, we see service sector readings mostly better, stronger by 2.3 to 8.4 points over that span. Japan shows the smallest composite increase at 2.3 points while the U.S. shows the largest composite increase over 3 months of 8.4 points.
Recent actions… These results do raise some questions about monetary policy and what it's going to be able to do. With banking sector problems evident, we have seen the European Central Bank continue to raise rates by 50 basis points. In the U.S. and the U.K., the central banks raised rates by only one quarter of one percentage point. The U.K. reported a worse than expected inflation number ahead of its policy meeting and still only raised rates by 25 basis points, while in the U.S. it appears that banking sector problems stayed the Fed's hand from a larger move.
The future The banking sector problems are being portrayed as causing central banks to walk a tightrope between fighting inflation and pursuing financial stability. I believe this dichotomy makes for good reading but bad economics. If we do have a banking crisis, we can expect that it's going to have an adverse impact on growth so that whatever central banks needed to do in terms of tightening interest rates before they need to do less now. That means that to the extent that central banks have muted their rate hikes in deference to potential banking sector problems it's likely that they are not running worse monetary policy relative to their inflation objective. But only time will tell on that. If banking sector issues don't appear to be dominant, central banks may need to go back to seeking higher levels of short-term interest rates. However, if the banking sector problem mushrooms, central banks may be unable to raise rates more and could even be forced into rate reductions. Until we see the nature of the banking problems, it's hard to know what monetary policy needs to do. For the time being, banks are flying blind. However, the regulatory authorities should have a pretty good grasp on the actual conditions that financial institutions face after the rapid policy tightening that we've seen in interest rates around the world. Central banks may not know the future, but they know more about the situation of banks than we do.
Robert BruscaAuthorMore in Author Profile »
Robert A. Brusca is Chief Economist of Fact and Opinion Economics, a consulting firm he founded in Manhattan. He has been an economist on Wall Street for over 25 years. He has visited central banking and large institutional clients in over 30 countries in his career as an economist. Mr. Brusca was a Divisional Research Chief at the Federal Reserve Bank of NY (Chief of the International Financial markets Division), a Fed Watcher at Irving Trust and Chief Economist at Nikko Securities International. He is widely quoted and appears in various media. Mr. Brusca holds an MA and Ph.D. in economics from Michigan State University and a BA in Economics from the University of Michigan. His research pursues his strong interests in non aligned policy economics as well as international economics. FAO Economics’ research targets investors to assist them in making better investment decisions in stocks, bonds and in a variety of international assets. The company does not manage money and has no conflicts in giving economic advice.