The Big Four Economic Indicators: Industrial Production Up 0.3% In December, New High

Note: This commentary has been updated to incorporate the December data for Industrial Production.


Official recession calls are the responsibility of the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee, which is understandably vague about the specific indicators on which they base their decisions. This committee statement is about as close as they get to identifying their method.

There is, however, a general belief that there are four big indicators that the committee weighs heavily in their cycle identification process. They are:

  • Nonfarm Employment
  • Industrial Production
  • Real Retail Sales
  • Real Personal Income (excluding Transfer Receipts)

The Latest Indicator Data

Today's report on Industrial Production for December shows a 0.3% increase month-over-month, which was better than the Investing.com consensus of 0.2%. The year-over-year change is 3.95%, up from last month's YoY increase. Revisions were made to the previous five months.

Here is the overview from the Federal Reserve:

Industrial production increased 0.3 percent in December after rising 0.4 percent in November. For the fourth quarter as a whole, total industrial production moved up at an annual rate of 3.8 percent. In December, manufacturing output increased 1.1 percent, its largest gain since February 2018. The output of mines rose 1.5 percent, but the index for utilities fell 6.3 percent, as warmer-than-usual temperatures lowered the demand for heating. At 109.9 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 4.0 percent higher in December than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector rose 0.1 percentage point in December to 78.7 percent, a rate that is 1.1 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2017) average. [view full report]

The chart below shows the year-over-year percent change in Industrial Production since the series inception in 1919, the current level is lower than at the onset of 8 of the 17 recessions over this time frame of nearly a century.

 

Capacity Utilization

The Fed's monthly Industrial Production estimate is accompanied by another closely watched indicator, Capacity Utilization, which is the percentage of US total production capacity being used (available resources includes manufacturing, mining, and electric and gas utilities). In addition to showing cycles of economic growth and demand, Capacity Utilization also serves as a leading indicator of inflation.

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