The Big Four Recession Indicators: Industrial Production Rises in March

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: Industrial Production

Industrial production rose 0.4% in March, as expected. Compared to one year ago, industrial production is flat.

Here is the overview from the Federal Reserve:

Industrial production rose 0.4 percent in March but declined at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the first quarter. Manufacturing output increased 0.5 percent in March, boosted in part by a gain of 3.1 percent in motor vehicles and parts; factory output excluding motor vehicles and parts moved up 0.3 percent. The index for mining fell 1.4 percent, and the index for utilities gained 2 percent. At 102.7 percent of its 2017 average, total industrial production in March was unchanged compared with its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization moved up to 78.4 percent in March, a rate that is 1.2 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2023) 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.

Industrial Production year over year