Chicago Fed National Activity Index for March (Text)

Following is the text of the Chicago Fed’s National Activity Index from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Led by declines in production-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) decreased to -0.29 in March from +0.07 in February. All four broad categories of indicators that make up the index deteriorated from February, with the production and income and personal consumption and housing categories both making a negative contribution to the index in March.

The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, decreased to +0.05 in March from +0.37 in February. March’s CFNAI-MA3 suggests that growth in national economic activity was near its historical trend. The economic growth reflected in this level of the CFNAI-MA3 suggests subdued inflationary pressure from economic activity over the coming year.

The CFNAI Diffusion Index also moved lower in March, declining to +0.25 from +0.48 in the previous month. Forty of the 85 individual indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI in March, while 45 made negative contributions. Thirty-three indicators improved from February to March, while 51 indicators deteriorated and one was unchanged. Of the indicators that improved, six made negative contributions.

The contribution from production-related indicators to the CFNAI declined to -0.13 in March from +0.12 in February. Total industrial production was unchanged in both March and February, while manufacturing production edged down 0.2 percent in March after increasing 0.8 percent in February. Similarly, manufacturing capacity utilization decreased to 77.8 percent in March from 78.0 percent in the previous month.

Employment-related indicators contributed +0.09 to the CFNAI in March, down from +0.16 in February. Total payroll employment increased by 120,000 in March after rising by 240,000 in February.

In contrast, the unemployment rate decreased from 8.3 percent in February to 8.2 percent in March, and average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance reached a four-year low.

The contribution from the consumption and housing category to the CFNAI was -0.28 in March, down from -0.24 in February. Housing starts edged down to 654,000 annualized units in March from 694,000 in February, while housing permits increased to 747,000 annualized units from 715,000 over the same period. The contribution from the sales, orders, and inventories category to the CFNAI also decreased, ticking down to +0.03 in March from +0.04 in February.

The CFNAI was constructed using data available as of April 19, 2012. At that time, March data for 51 of the 85 indicators had been published. For all missing data, estimates were used in constructing the index. The February monthly index was revised to +0.07 from an initial estimate of -0.09. Revisions to the monthly index can be attributed to two main factors: revisions in previously published data and differences between the estimates of previously unavailable data and subsequently published data. The revision to the February monthly index was due primarily to the former.

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