The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), ticked up slightly in January, rising 0.1 percent following a downward adjustment of 0.1 percent in December.
All data is measured on a three-month moving average (3MMA). Accounting for adjustments, the CAB remains up 1.6 percent over this time last year, a marked deceleration of activity from one year ago when the barometer logged a 3.2 percent year-over-year gain from 2014. On an unadjusted basis the CAB fell 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent in December and January, respectively, raising concerns about the pace of future business activity through the second quarter of 2016.
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.
In January, as reflected by markets around the world, equity prices were hard hit. Flat inventories and production also added drag to the barometer.
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 lead of two to 14 months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. 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 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve's Industrial Production Index.
The CAB comprises indicators relating to the production of chlorine and other alkalies, pigments, plastic resins, and other selected basic industrial chemicals; chemical company stock data; hours worked in chemicals; publicly sourced, chemical price information; end-use (or customer) industry sales-to-inventories; and several broader leading economic measures (building permits and new orders). Each month, ACC provides a barometer number, which reflects activity data for the current month, as well as a three-month moving average. The CAB was developed by the economics department at the American Chemistry Council.
The next CAB is currently planned for February 23, 2016.
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