The Philadelphia Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank released its September 2010 Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization report this morning. It is an interesting economic indicator, due to its frequency (monthly), timeliness (within a fortnight of the prior month-end), and long history of well-documented tracking, readily available from 1972 through the present.
The salient number, based on my review and recall from past days of buy-side proprietary trading of fixed-income securities, is the capacity utilization percentage. This is why:
- Rising industrial production levels, in absolute terms, were driven by technological progress in manufacturing methods, more than increased economic activity.
- The same can be said for capacity, although the Fed does provide helpful indexing as a percentage of the historical peak level in 2007.
- Utilization is the percentage of actual capacity used for production, which indicates to me the level of demand required for actual goods (not services!) and thus the demand for U.S.-manufactured industrial products, as a percentage of the maximum possible supply that could be produced.
The preliminary annualized utilization for September 2010 is 74.7% of capacity. This is well below the yearly average of 80.6% from 1972 through 2009. However, utilization of capacity has increased from the 2008-2009 low of 68.2%, as well as the September 2009 value of 70.5%. While I feel some concern about the economic situation in the immediate months ahead, it is encouraging to note the breakdown by process stage:
- For crude production, the operating rate increased 0.7% points to 86.9%, almost half a point higher than the 1972 to 2009 average
- For primary and semi-finished stages, utilization declined 0.6% points, to 71.5%, about 10.1% points below the long-run average
- For the finished stage, utilization decreased 0.1% points to 73.8%, about 3.7% points below the long-run average
If crude production rates drive primary, semi-finished and finished stages, then the more historically comparable rates of crude manufacturing will perhaps carry through into the later stages of production in the next three manufacturing reports of the fourth quarter of 2010.
*Note that for the purposes of this Federal Reserve Statistical Release, the industrial sector is comprised of manufacturing, mining, electric and gas utilities, as well as the logging, newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishing industries.