When futures ramped into the close on Tuesday, with heavier volume, I had an inkling the ISM number would be hot Wednesday morning. Indeed, that was the case.

However, a hot manufacturing ISM makes little sense (not that any economic numbers have to make sense except perhaps in the long haul).

One thing that struck me right off the bat was how the monthly ADP jobs report does not confirm the ISM number. Nor do the regional Fed reports that I have been following, especially the Philly Fed report as noted in 58 out of 58 Economists Overoptimistic on Philly Fed Manufacturing Estimate; Median Forecast +7 Actual Result -7.7, a “Veritable Disaster”.

August ADP Employment Reports Shows Contraction in Manufacturing Jobs

Inquiring minds are reading the ADP August 2010 National Employment Report for clues on strength of hiring trends.

Private-sector employment decreased by 10,000 from July to August on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the latest ADP National Employment Report® released today. The estimated change of employment from June to July was revised down slightly, from the previously reported increase of 42,000 to an increase of 37,000.

The decline in private employment in August confirms a pause in the recovery, already evident in other economic data. The deceleration in employment was evident in the major sectors and by size of business. This month’s decline in employment followed six monthly increases from February through July. Over those six months, the average monthly gain in employment was 37,000 with no evidence of acceleration.

August’s ADP Report estimates nonfarm private employment in the service-providing sector rose by 30,000, the seventh consecutive monthly gain. This increase was not enough to offset an employment decline in the goods-producing sector of 40,000. Employment in the manufacturing sector decreased 6,000, the second consecutive monthly decline.

Large businesses, defined as those with 500 or more workers, saw employment remain essentially flat while employment among medium-size businesses, defined as those with between 50 and 499 workers, decreased by 5,000. Employment among small-size businesses, defined as those with fewer than 50 workers, decreased by 6,000. In August, construction employment dropped 33,000. Construction employment has declined for over three years and the total decline in construction jobs since the peak in January 2007 is 2,275,000. Employment in the financial services sector dropped 5,000. Financial Services employment has declined for over 3 years.

ISM Smell Test

Rosenberg blasted the ISM report in Breakfast with Dave.


Here’s why:

1.Most of the regional reports were very poor in August. Either they are collectively all wrong or the ISM is.

2. The share of respondents saying they experienced “growth” was 61%, the exact same as a year ago when ISM was sitting at 52.8.

3. The ISM gain was led by employment (58.6 to 60.4 — best since December 1983) in the same month that ADP manufacturing fell 6,000 (second decline in a row — it was -11k in July when ISM employment was 58.6, so clearly the latter is proving to be, at least for now, an unreliable labour market barometer). Production also ticked up to 59.9 from 57.0 and inventories rose to 51.4 from 50.2. These are all coincident indicators, as an aside (but an important aside).
Strange ISM number, it doesn’t pass the sniff test and here is one reason: most of the regional reports were very poor in August… either they’re wrong or the ISM is

4. According to the ISM, 76% of the manufacturers surveyed said that in August, their customer inventory levels were either “too high” or “about right”. At the turn of the year, just ahead of the big inventory swing that bolstered the GDP data, this metric was sitting at 60%. As a result, it would be folly to assume that the inventory and production categories will contribute to further ISM increases in the near- and intermediate-term. Norbert Ore, who presides over the ISM survey, had this to say about inventories: “If the inventory build isn’t voluntary then we have a huge issue on our hands.”

5. Meanwhile, the more forward-looking components dropped, though were hardly a disaster. But orders slipped for the third month in a row, to 53.1 from 53.5 in July, 58.5 in June and 65.7 in both April and May. That is still a sharp squeeze in the growth rate of capital goods-related order books. At 53.1, ISM orders index is down to levels last seen in June 2009 (but when they were rising in “green shooty” fashion).

6. Backlogs were down as well, to 51.5 from 54.5 in July, 57.0 in June and 59.5 in May (and peaked in February at 61.0). At 51.5, order backlogs stand at their low-water mark of the year.

7. Supplier deliveries (measure of production bottlenecks) eased for the fifth month in a row — to 56.6 from 58.3 in July and well off the March peak of 64.9.

8. Looking at five decades worth of data, the share of the time in which we see orders, backlogs and vendor deliveries all decline in tandem, and the headline ISM index rise, is the grand total of 1%. No wonder equities rallies so much — we just witnessed a 1-in-100 event! Bring your camera.

9. Export orders dipped to 55.5 from 56.5 — the lowest they have been since last December. If the overseas economy is rocking and rolling, then why on earth would this component be declining? Not only that, but it looks as though, yet again, a good part of the inventory boost we still seem to be getting is being filled by imports — that sub-index jumped four points in August and does not bode well for the trade deficit, which subtracted 3.4 percentage points from headline GDP growth in Q2.


It would be something if the ISM was being fuelled by broad based increases and occurring alongside a decent path in domestic spending. But the ISM gains were narrowly based and the inventories are continuing to be built up even as domestic demand is slowing down. And it is spending that drives production, not the other way around. The fact that fewer respondents are saying inventories are at low or desirable levels is going to set us up for some pretty hefty production and ISM reversals through the fall.

Art Cashin says “ISM is an Outlier”


For more from Art Cashin, please see 26 of Last 88 Trading Days have been 90% Days (Either Up or Down); 7 More Lean Years in Stock Market?

Let’s assume for a moment the ISM number is correct. If so, manufacturers are ramping up production just as the economy is dramatically slowing by nearly every other measure.

I smell huge inventory problems coming up in the 4th quarter. In the meantime, let’s party over a ramp in production with no buyers.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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