A Week In The Life

September 28, 2014

This past Monday George was out in the backyard when his wife Mabel came out on the back deck to announce that lunch was ready.  From the deciduous vines that grew on the backyard fence George was pulling leaves that had turned an autumn shade of red.

“George, what are you doing?”
“I thought I would pull these leaves off before they fall.  This way I won’t have to stoop so much a few weeks from now to pick them out of the rock garden.  The leaves are getting in the pond and clogging up the filter.”
“Well, come on, dear.  Lunch is ready.  I heard on the radio a little while ago that the market is down.  You know how I worry about that.”
“Oh, really?” George replied.  “It was down last Friday.  Did they give any reason?”
“Something about housing.  I’m sure you’ll find out all about it while you are eating.”

Mabel had set a nice lunch plate of panini bread, cheese and vegetables.  George was a tall man, a big boned man, prone to weight gain in retirement. Although George was fairly fit for his age, she worried about his health, particularly his heart, the male curse.  Mabel made sure that they both ate sensible, healthy meals.

Mabel took her lunch into the living room, leaving George alone in the kitchen.  He liked to check in on the stock market a few hours before the close to get a sense of the direction of the day’s action.  She would have chosen to keep all their savings in CDs and savings accounts but the interest rates were so low that living expenses would slowly erode their principle.

“We’ll put just 25% of our money in the market,” George had told her.  “I’ll watch it carefully and if anything like 2008 happens again, we can pull it out right away.  I’ll know what the signs are.”

George had studied a book on technical indicators which were supposed to help a person understand the direction of the market.  Despite her confidence in George’s ability and sensibility, Mabel still worried.  The stock market had always seemed to her like gambling.

At the kitchen table, George turned on the computer while he chewed his carrots and celery.  He had never been fond of vegetables but found that his likes and dislikes had mellowed with age.  He liked that Mabel cared.  The market helped distract him from the vegetables.  He paged through the daily calendar at Bloomberg, then checked out the headlines at Yahoo Finance. Existing home sales in August had fallen more than 5% from the previous August but that was a tough comparison because 2013 had been a pretty strong year.  Existing home sales were still above 5 million.

Before George had invested some of their savings in the stock market, he had bought several books on how to read financial statements but soon gave up when he realized that knowing the fundamentals of a company would not protect their savings in the case of another meltdown like the recent financial crisis.  Patient though she might be, Mabel would be extremely upset with him if he lost half of his investment in the market.

He then turned to the study of technical indicators which analyzed the behavior of other buyers and sellers in the stock market.  As an insurance adjuster, he had learned C programming back in the 1990s and found a charting program whose language was familiar to him.  As a former adjuster for the insurance of commercial buildings, he was used to making judgments based on a complex interplay of many factors.  He played with several indicators, found a few that seemed to be reliable, but got burned when the market melted down in the summer of 2011.  He got out quickly but not quickly enough for he had lost more than 10% of his investment in the market.  The market healed but at the time it seemed as though there might be a repeat of the 2008 crisis.  Had George and Mabel been younger, George could have just ridden out the storm.  Retirement had made him cautious and the 2011 downturn made George almost as leery of the market as Mabel.

Tuesday was a fine day in late September.  Mabel put her crochet down and made the two of them some soup, with fruit, crackers and cheese.  She took pride in the variety of food that she prepared.  When she walked out on the deck to call George in for lunch, a startled crow took to flight.  George was sitting on the edge of the deck where the crow had been.

“What are you doing, George?”
“I was teaching that little crow how to break open a peanut,” George replied. “I think they learn how to do stuff like that from their parents but I haven’t seen the flock in a few days and this guy was just wandering around the backyard looking for something to eat.  When I gave him a peanut, he didn’t seem to know what to do with it.  He’d pick it up in his beak, then drop it and stare at it.  He pecked at it a few times but that only made the peanut skitter away. “
George held up a branch.  “I carved a claw into the end of this branch and held down the peanut for him.”  George held up half a peanut shell.  “See, he got it figured out.  He flew off when the door opened but I’ll betcha he’ll be back.”
“Well, come on in then.  Lunch is ready.  The market is down again.  Something about housing again.”
“Hmmm,” George grunted and followed Mabel into the kitchen.  “Hmmm, that soup smells good.”
“A little beef vegetable that I doctored up a bit,” Mabel said with a smile.
George gave her a little hug. “I sure like your doctoring.”

He sat down to eat, wondering what all the fuss in the market was.  Checking the Bloomberg Calendar, he saw that it was the House Price index from the Federal Housing Administration that had dampened spirits.  The monthly change was drifting down to zero, a sign of weakness.  Although housing prices were still rising, the rise was slowing down.

A disappointment, George thought, but not a catastrophe.  However, the market had been down for three days in a row.  He finished his lunch and went into the living room.  Mabel was reading a book.
“You know, Mabel, I think it’s just a short term thing.  The bankers from the developed countries met last week and they kinda put out a wake up call to the market.  I think there’s a bit more caution and common sense after that.”
“Well, as long as you’re watching it, dear.”
“You know, we did good this last year,” he reassured her.
“I just worry that it was too good.  We should have taken some of that out of the market and put it somewhere safe.”
 “Well, I’m keeping an eye on it,” he said.  “I checked CD rates last week and they are paying like 1% for a one year CD.  It just ain’t like it used to be. We just have to take some risk.”

They had a 3-year CD coming due in a month. He didn’t want to tell her that he was thinking about not rolling over the CD.  Maybe buy a bond fund.  She wouldn’t like that. For a time he had dabbled in some short to medium term trading but barely broke even.  He had lost sight of his original goal – to keep their savings safe while taking some risk with the money.  Fortunately, this insight had come to him toward the end of 2012.  The market had been mostly up since then, rewarding those who sat out the small downturns.

Late Wednesday morning, Mabel could hear George on the side of the house clearing brush or some such thing.  He said he was going to cut down an elm tree sapling that was growing near the house but when she went out to call him into lunch, he had cut everything but the elm sapling.

“I thought you were going to cut that down, dear.”
“Well, I was but the squirrels are using it to climb up to the old swamp cooler we have perched up there.  You remember the litter from early this spring?  Well, I think there’s another litter in there.  I haven’t seen any young ones but there’s a squirrel carrying twigs up that sapling to the cooler.  She’s even got a piece of one of my rags.  Must’ve fallen out of my pocket.”

Mabel looked up at the platform George had mounted to the side of the house years ago.  On top of the platform sat the old abandoned cooler.  George had meant to take it down and disassemble the platform but then the squirrels had used it as a nursery this winter and neither of them had been able to dismantle it while the little ones were scampering around in and out of the cooler.  Of course, George was supposed to take the cooler down during the summer but never got around to it.  Now she saw that he had tied a cord from the platform to the sapling to bend the sapling close to the platform, making it easier for the squirrel to get from the tree to the platform.

She shook her head and said “George Liscomb, I hope you don’t let that sapling get out of hand.  You know how elm trees are.  They grow faster than a puppy.”
“Well, the tree won’t grow much during the winter and I’ll cut it down in the spring.”
“Ok, well, come on it.  Lunch is ready.  I heard on the radio that the market is up a lot today.  Housing again.  Maybe you were right about it being short term.”
“Well, of course, I’m right,” he made a grand gesture.  “The squirrels will confirm that.”

His lunch plate held some broccoli spears and six, no more and no less, tater tots.  “I know you don’t particularly like broccoli so I thought a few tater tots might ease the pain,” Mabel said with a slightly sardonic smile.

He laughed.  “I’m married to a kind prison guard.”  He sat down at the table, wondering what could have buoyed the market so much.  Housing yet again.  “Holy moly!” he called out to Mabel. He went into the living room to tell her the good news. “Finally, after more than six years, new homes are selling at a rate of more than half a million a year.  That’s what’s got the market dancing.”

On Thursday, she found George working on the stream that he had built in the rock garden.  A few feet from George a squirrel cautiously sipped water from the stream.  The squirrel saw her and scampered up the nearby fence.  “It’s remarkable how comfortable they are with you,” she told him.  “I try to move slowly when I’m working,” George replied. “They seem to be less anxious.”
“What are you doing today?” she asked.
“Got a leak somewhere.  I’ve lost about 15 gallons since last night.  Still haven’t found it.”
“Well, you’re not going to like what going on in the market.  It’s way down today and it’s not about housing.”

He followed her into the house and broke into a big grin when he saw what was for lunch. “Tuna fish!”  Mabel had dressed up her famous tuna fish salad with lettuce, tomatoes, some green onions and put it open faced on some toasted bread.  It was scrumptious.  Not so the market.  The SP500 was down about 1-1/2% on several news releases.  The whopper was that Durable Goods Orders were down 18% in August from the previous month.  But most of that drop was a decline in aircraft orders after a surge in those same orders in July.  Aircraft orders were notoriously volatile. Year-over-year gains in non-defense capital goods, the core reading, were up almost 8%.

The weekly report of new unemployment claims had risen slightly but was still below 300,000.  September’s advance reading of the services sector, the PMI Services Flash, was slightly less than the robust reading of August but still very strong.  So what was causing these overreactions to news releases?  The short term traders execute buy or sell orders within seconds of a news release.  Computer algorithms trade within nanoseconds of the release.  If new unemployment claims are up even by 1, the word “up” or “rise” or some variation will occur within the release.  Sell.  New home sales up?  Up is good for this report.  Buy.  Why would the short-termers be so active this week?  Because they are trading against each other.  The mid and long termers, the portfolio managers, will take the stage at the beginning of next week to adjust their positions at quarter end when funds report their allocations.

Late Friday morning, Mabel stood out on the back deck, her mouth open at the sight of George hunched down as he came out of the shed in the backyard.  Hundreds of wasps swarmed above him.  He knelt down and closed the doors to the shed and hurried to her on the deck.

“My God, George!  Are you all right?”
“Oh, yeah, no worries.  Anything on me?” he asked.
“No.”  There were just a few wasps visible outside the closed doors.  “What on earth?!”
“Well, they’ve really built themselves a city since I was in there last,” George explained.  He sat down on the deck.  The shed was where they kept old tax records and camping gear that they hadn’t used in quite a long time but hadn’t given away or sold – just in case they went camping again.  “I should have sprayed them earlier in the summer but it was such a small hive.  Those doors get sun most of the day so they like it in there.  They’re right above the doorway so they’re not bothering any of our stuff and I was able to stand up in the shed and they just left me alone.”
“I don’t care. What if I had gone out there to get something?!” she said angrily.
“Yeh, you’re right.  I’ll take care of them this weekend.  I was kinda waiting for the cold weather to do its job.”  He held up his hands a couple of feet apart from each other.  “That hive is like this, strung out along the studs that frame the doorway.”
“Why were you out there?” she asked.
“Well, I wanted to see if we still had the box that the TV came in a few years ago.”
“Didn’t you throw it out?” she asked.
“Well, I thought that in case we had trouble with the TV but then the box was behind a bunch of stuff and it was hard to get to and I guess I forgot,” he admitted.
“Well, come on it and eat your lunch.  The market is up again today, I heard them say.”

George settled down at the kitchen table.  A few salami slices, some macaroni salad, carrots, olives and crackers sat on the plate.  “Working man’s antipasto, hey?”
“There are some sardines in there, too” she said.
“I have the best wife and cook in the world.  Anthony Bourdain, move ovah!  Mah honey’s takin’ ovah!”
Mabel laughed.  “Now let me get back to my book.  Second to last chapter and I think the niece did it.  I haven’t trusted her since the first chapter.”

The 3rd estimate of 2nd quarter GDP had been revised up from 4.2% to 4.6%, helping to compensate for the weak first quarter.  Good stuff, thought George.  The U. of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey had risen in September to 84.6 from August’s 82.5.  Confident consumers buy stuff, a good sign.  Anything above 80 was welcome and more was better.  To round out the daily trifecta of news releases, corporate profits for the second quarter were revised upward.  The year over year gain without inventory and depreciation adjustments was 12.5%.  Not spectacular but solid.

Even with Friday’s triply good news, the market closed below what it opened at the previous day.  This was usually an indication that the short term downward trend in the market might have a little way to run.  Then he promised Mabel that he would get rid of the wasps this weekend, and yes, he would be careful.  Did she remember seeing the wasp spray that he bought earlier that summer?

Income and Poverty

September 21, 2014

A steadily rising market supports our theory that we are astute investors.  Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen reassured investors that the Fed intends to keep interest rates near zero till at least the middle of 2015. The stock market closed out the week at a new high, edging out the high set two weeks ago.  In an economy fueled largely by consumer spending, median household income is down 8% since 2007.  The Japanese yen broke below $90 this week, a seven year low.  At this week’s meeting in Australia, the financial heads of the G-20 countries are seeing increasing economic strains around the globe but particularly in Europe and Asia. (Bloomberg)  Housing starts and building permits are getting erratic, jumping up one month only to fall precipitously the next.  Using either idle cash or borrowing at historically low interest rates, companies are buying back their own stock at a steady clip to juice per share profits for stockholders.

In a candid moment, many researchers will admit the difficulty of overcoming their own biases.  Investors are subject to the same myopia that afflicts politics and compromises research.  Our biases lead us to ignore or discount some facts.  The most damaging bias most of us have is thinking we have made the right decision.  The justifications for our investment decisions are sound and logical – until later events reveal the folly underlying those decisions.  In the late 1990s, some envisioned the internet marketplace much like a chessboard.  The companies who dominated the center of the board, regardless of the cost, reaped hefty stock evaluations.  It made sense – until it didn’t. Costs matter.  Profits matter.

Soros Fund Management, founded in 1969 by George Soros, has a long track record of generating consistently high returns.  The secret to Soros’ success as an investor is not that he is right most of the time because he isn’t.  Several years ago, his firm estimated that his success ratio was only 53%.  George Soros’ success comes from the fact that he knows he is wrong about half of the time, recognizes when he is wrong, abandons his position and minimizes his losses.  While most of us are not active traders like Soros, we can pay a bit more attention to the balance in our portfolios.  Quarter ending statements will arrive in our mailbox or email inbox in the next few weeks.  It would be a good time to assess portfolio allocations and targets.  A composite bond index (BND as a proxy) is down a few percent since April 2013 while the stock market has risen 33%.  Have we adjusted the balances in our portfolios or is that one of the things that has been on the to-do list for several months?


Census Report

The Census Bureau just released their annual estimate of household income and poverty in the U.S.  Measurements of household income must be taken with a grain of salt, so to speak.  Say that a married couple with $70K in household income split up.  The total income remains the same but the number of households is now two and household income is $35K.

Given those caveats, there are some real bummer stats in the report as well as some surprises.  Real or inflation adjusted median household income was little changed in 2013 and is 8% lower than in 2007.  Median income of white households was $58K in 2013 but for black households, the annual figure was $34K.  The ratio of incomes between these two groups has changed little over the past five decades.  Since the mid 1980s, the income of white households has lost ground when compared to Asian households. Since the mid-90s, the ratio of Hispanic to white household income has risen.

One of the strengths of American society has been the income mobility that our economy generates. The Census Bureau groups incomes by quintiles, like steps on a ladder.  Each step is in 20% increments so that households are ranked in the bottom 20%, top 20% or in between. From 2009 – 2011, 30% of those who were on the lowest rung of the income ladder moved up the ladder.  During that same period, 32% of those at the top of the ladder moved down the ladder.

The poverty rate declined slightly but one in seven households, about 45 million people, is below the poverty threshold.  A continuing complaint about the methodology used in computing the poverty level is that non-cash benefits like subsidized housing, medical care, child care and food stamps are not included in the calculations.  In the early 60s, before the introduction of social welfare programs, almost one in five households were below the threshold.   Remember, the 60s were a boom decade. Various estimates of those who were chronically poor at that time ranged from 10% to 16% of households. In 1969,  several years after the introduction of the Great Society programs, the poverty rate was close to 14% (Source), about the same as it now.

Conservative commentators will make the case that, over the past fifty years, the U.S. has spent some $22 trillion (2013 dollars) on social welfare programs with little progress in alleviating poverty. During the three year period from 2009 – 2011, years of severe economic stress and political games of “chicken,” the Census Bureau reports that almost 32% of households had a spell of poverty lasting two months or more.

The Census Bureau also reports that only 3.5% of households were chronically poor, living under the poverty threshold during the entire three year period.  The low percentage of chronically poor is often ignored by those who are antipathetic to social welfare programs.  In the aftermath of this past recession, one of the most severe economic downturns of the past century, social welfare programs have provided a temporary helping hand up, a shelter against the economic storm, and cut the long term poverty rate to a quarter of what it was during the booming 60s.

Liberals will ignore this success, of course.  Instead they will point to the higher figure of temporary poverty to make the case for more welfare spending. More programs and more spending is the liberal brand.  Conservative pundits should point at the rather low 3.5% figure of the chronically poor and make the point that we don’t need more welfare spending.   But they won’t.  Opposed to income transfers as a matter of principle, conservatives don’t want to acknowledge the success of social welfare programs.

For those readers who don’t have the time to read the full report, a NY Times article provides a summary.


Lasting longer

When the Social Security system was enacted in the mid thirties, life expectancy for a 60 year old worker was 72.  (Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor Review, pg. 4)  Many of us don’t realize that the largest gains in life expectancy came in the first decades of 20th century with safer sanitation, drinking water and public health facilities. In 2006, the Census Bureau estimated life expectancy for a 60 year old at 82, an additional ten years of life – and retirement benefits and expenses. A 75 year old male today can expect to live to about 87.

In their 2014 survey of the costs of elderly care, Genworth Financial found that a home health aide in Colorado averages about $50K. A private room in a nursing home costs $92K per year.  At a 4% growth rate, that same private room could cost more than $130K in 2025, when the first cohort of baby boomers reaches 75.  How many seniors will be able to afford such an expense?  Many will push for ever more programs to subsidize the costs of living longer.  Seniors vote so politicians listen.  In Japan, the elderly segment of the population has grown from 5% of the population in the 1950s to 25% of the population. (Wikipedia)  This aging cohort commands an ever larger share of the nation’s resources, contributing to the stagnation in the Japanese economy for the past 20 years.

In the U.S. the growth of the elderly population has been less dramatic.  At 9% of the population in 1960, the elderly are expected to almost double to 17% of the population by 2020 (Census Bureau )


Pay attention to portfolio allocations.  Save money.  You’ll need it one of these days.

Central Banks

September 14, 2014

This week I’ll take a look at the latest JOLTS report from the BLS and an annual assessment of  global financial risks by the Bank of International Settlements.



The BLS releases their Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) with a one month lag.  This past week’s release covered survey data for July.  The number of employees quitting their jobs is regarded as a sign of confidence in finding another job.  When it is rising, confidence is increasing.  The latest survey is optimistic.

The number of job openings have accelerated since the January lows.  In June, they passed the peak reached in 2007.

However, since May, the growth of job openings in the private sector has stalled.

The number of new hires continues to increase but we should put this in perspective.  The hire rate, of percentage of new hires to the total number of employees, has only just surpassed the lows of the early 2000s after the dot com bust and the 2001 recession.  This “churn” rate is still low, even below the level at the start of the 2008 Recession.


Consumer Credit

Auto sales and the loans to finance them have been strong but consumers have been slow to crank up the balances on their credit cards.  Although the latest consumer credit report indicates that consumers have loosened their wallets in the past few months, the overall picture is rather flat.



China reported growth in factory output that was below all estimates at 6.9% and below target growth of 7.5%.  The Purchasing Managers Index, a barometer of industrial production,  shows that both China and Brazil are hovering at the neutral mark while the global index shows moderate growth.  Home prices in China have fallen for 4 months in a row.  As growth momentum slows, the clamor quickens for more easing by the central bank.


Bank of International Settlements Annual Report

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) is the clearing house for central banks around the world, including the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. It is the central banker’s central bank that facilitates and monitors money and debt flows among the nations.  The BIS has cast a particularly watchful eye on Asian economies, who are about 15 years into their financial cycle.

Their annual June 2014 report sounds a word of caution, emphasizing that central bankers should focus more on the financial cycle than the business cycle as they construct and administer monetary policy:

To return to sustainable and balanced growth, policies need to go beyond their traditional focus on the business cycle and take a longer-term perspective – one in which the financial cycle takes centre stage. They need to address head-on the structural deficiencies and resource misallocations masked by strong financial booms and revealed only in the subsequent busts. The only source of lasting prosperity is a stronger supply side. It is essential to move away from debt as the main engine of growth.

In Chapter 4 the BIS notes the high levels of private sector debt relative to output, particularly in emerging economies. In a low interest environment, households and companies “feast” on debt, leaving them particularly vulnerable when interest rates rise to more normal levels.  International companies in emerging markets can tap the global securities market for funding and much of this private debt remains off the radar of the central bank in a country’s economy.

Financial booms in which surging asset prices and rapid credit growth reinforce each other tend to be driven by prolonged accommodative monetary and financial conditions, often in combination with financial innovation. Loose financing conditions, in turn, feed into the real economy, leading to excessive leverage in some sectors and overinvestment in the industries particularly in vogue, such as real estate. If a shock hits the economy, overextended households or firms often find themselves unable to service their debt. Sectoral misallocations built up during the boom further aggravate this vicious cycle.

While there is no consensus on the definition of a financial cycle, the peak of each cycle is marked by some degree of stress that encompasses a region of the world and can have a global effect.  Emphasizing the global component of financial cycles, the BIS is indirectly encouraging central bankers to communicate with each other.  Money flows largely ignore national borders.  It is not enough for a central banker to sit back, confident in the sage and prudent policies of their nation. Each banker should ask themselves: what are the neighbors doing that could impact my nation’s economy and financial soundness?

Financial cycles tend to last 15 – 20 years, two to three times the length of the business cycle.  It takes time to build up high levels of debt, to lower credit standards and become complacent about downside risks. There may be no clearly identifiable cause that precipitates a financial crisis.

Different regions have different cycles.  More advanced western economies have been on a downward recovery phase after the crisis of 2008 while emerging economies in the east are near the apex of their cycle.  Asian economies experienced their last peak at the start of the millenium.  They have had 15 years to inflate asset and property prices, to lower credit standards and accumulate debt, all hallmarks of a developing environment for a financial crisis.

The report notes that borrowers in China are especially vulnerable to rising interest rates but that many economies in the region would be pushed into crisis should interest rates rise just 2.5%, as they did a decade ago.



Employee confidence and hiring are strong but private sector hiring may be stalling.  The next crisis?  Look east, young man.

Labor and Purchasing Managers Index

September 7, 2014

Labor Report

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported net job gains of 142K in August, much lower than the 200K+ expected.  The private payroll processor ADP reported 204K net private job gains earlier this week.  Some economists predicted that the number will be revised upwards in the next month.  Some point to the difficulties of the seasonal adjustment factor in August.  Below is the monthly net change in jobs with and without seasonal adjustments.

As usual, I average the private net job gains reported by BLS and the payroll processor ADP to come up with net job gains of 169K, add in the 8K job gains in the government sector to get a total of 177K. Another approach to take out the variability is to use the year-over-year change or percent change in employment.  As you can see in the chart below, the monthly seasonal adjustment (in red, overlayed on the blue non-seasonally adjusted figures) attempt to replicate this year over year change on a monthly basis.

As the year-over-year job gains topped the 2 million mark at the start of 2012, the “Golden Cross” – when the 50 day average of the SP500 crosses above the 200 day average – occurred shortly thereafter.  Zooming in on the past year, we can see that the difference between the two series is relatively slight.  In fact, the economy is nearing the levels of late 2005 to 2006 when the labor market was a bit overheated in some regions of the U.S.  The difference between now and then is that workers have relatively weak pricing power.  The average wage has increased just 2.1% in the past year.

A comparison of the monthly growth in jobs, as reported by the BLS, to the Employment index of the ISM Non-Manufacturing Survey shows that the ISM number charts a less erratic path through the variability of the employment data.  The index has been positive and rising since the hard winter dip.

The unemployment rate ticked down slightly in August, but the more significant trend is the decreasing number of involuntary part timers, those who are working part time because they can’t find full time work.

The widest measure of unemployment, which includes both these part time workers and those who have become discouraged and stopped looking for work, finally touched the 12% mark this month.

In short, this month’s employment report was good enough but not so good that it would shorten the period before the Federal Reserve begins to hike interest rates.


Constant Weighted Purchasing Index (CWPI)

Each month for the past year, I have been doing a little spreadsheet magic on the Purchasing Managers Index published by ISM to weight the employment and new orders components of this index more heavily.  This has proven to be a reliable and less erratic guide to the economic health of the country.

The manufacturing component of the ISM Purchasing Managers Index was particularly strong in August.  Because the CWPI weights new orders and employment heavily in its composition, the manufacturing component of the CWPI is at levels rarely seen in the past 34 years.  Levels greater than this have occurred only twice before – in November and December 1983 and December 2003.  Both of these previous periods marked the end of a multi-year malaise.

The services sector, which comprises most of the economic activity in the country, is strong and rising as well. New orders declined slightly but are still robust and employment is growing.  The composite of these two components is near robust levels.

This month the CWPI composite of manufacturing and service industries topped the previous high of 66.7 set in December 2003 and is now at an all time high in the 17 years that ISM has been publishing the non-manufacturing index. If the pattern of the past few years continues, this overall composite will probably decline in the next month or two.

Strong economic activity was muted somewhat by a lower than expected monthly labor report.