The Big Four: Industrial Production Unchanged in February

This article was originally written by Doug Short. From 2016-2022, it was improved upon and updated by Jill Mislinski. Starting in January 2023, AP Charts pages will be maintained by Jennifer Nash at Advisor Perspectives/VettaFi.

Official recession calls are the responsibility of the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee, which is understandably vague about the specific indicators on which it bases its decisions. This committee statement is about as close as it gets to identifying its 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

This morning's report revealed industrial production numbers were unchanged in February despite expectations that industrial production would inch up 0.2%. The annual change dropped below zero for the first time in two years to -0.25%, down from last month's year-over-year increase of 0.49%. The annual change was well below the forecast of 3.0%.

Here is the overview from the Federal Reserve:

Industrial production was unchanged in February, and manufacturing output edged up 0.1 percent. The index for mining fell 0.6 percent, while the index for utilities rose 0.5 percent. At 102.6 percent of its 2017 average, total industrial production in February was 0.2 percent below its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization was unchanged in February at 78.0 percent, a rate that is 1.6 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2022) average. [view full report]

The chart below shows the year-over-year percentage change in industrial production since the series inception in 1919. The current level is lower than at the onset of 15 of 18 recessions over this time frame of nearly a century.