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Chemical Activity Barometer Continues Upward Trend Despite Global Unrest

June 25, 2014

The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), continued its upward growth this month, with a 0.5 percent gain from May. Measured on a three-month moving average (3MMA), the CAB's 0.5 percent gain beat the average first-quarter monthly gains of 0.3 percent. Though the pace of growth has slowed significantly, gains in June have brought the CAB up a solid 4.3 percent over this time last year.

"Overall, we are seeing signs of continued growth in the U.S. economy, and trends in construction-related chemistry show a market which has not yet reached its full potential," said Dr. Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC. "However, unrest in Iraq is already affecting chemical equity prices, and the potential for an energy price shock is worrying."
 
The CAB has four primary components, each consisting of a variety of indicators: 1) production; 2) equity prices; 3) product prices; and 4) inventories and other indicators. During June, the components were mixed, with production flat, equity prices down, and product prices and inventories up.  

Though the production indicator was flat in June, plastic resins used in consumer and institutional applications were stronger, volumes of performance chemistry used in industry were better, and U.S. exports are growing. Continued strength in electronic chemicals is encouraging, as the semiconductor industry's early place in the supply chain makes it a bellwether of the industrial cycle. Gains in oilfield chemicals suggest that the boom in unconventional oil and gas will continue to progress, contributing to the overall growth of the U.S. economy. Additionally, of the 28 specialty chemical sectors monitored, most are expanding, with particular strength shown in nearly half.  

The CAB is a leading economic indicator derived from a composite index of chemical industry activity. The chemical industry has been found to consistently lead the U.S. economy's business cycle given its early position in the supply chain, and this barometer can be used to determine turning points and likely trends in the wider economy. Month-to-month movements can be volatile so a three-month moving average of the barometer is provided. This provides a more consistent and illustrative picture of national economic trends.

Applying the CAB back to 1919, it has been shown to provide a longer lead (or perform better) than the National Bureau of Economic Research, by two to 14 months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2007 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve's Industrial Production Index.