The Big Four - Industrial Production: Up 0.9% In January

Note: This commentary has been updated to incorporate the January 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:

The Latest Indicator Data

Today's report on Industrial Production for January shows a 0.93% increase month-over-month, which was above the Investing.com consensus of 0.5%. The year-over-year change is -1.83%, up from last month's YoY decrease.

Here is the overview from the Federal Reserve:

Industrial production increased 0.9 percent in January. Manufacturing output rose 1.0 percent, about the same as its average gain over the previous five months. Mining production advanced 2.3 percent, while the output of utilities declined 1.2 percent. At 107.2 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production in January was 1.8 percent lower than its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector increased 0.7 percentage point in January to 75.6 percent, a rate that is 4.0 percent below its long-run (1972–2020) 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 16 of 18 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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