The numbers: The New York Fed’s Empire State business conditions index surged 16 points to 34.3 in September, the regional Fed bank said Wednesday. Economists had expected a reading of 17.2, according to a survey by The Wall Street Journal.  The index stood at 18.3 in August.

Any reading above zero indicates improving conditions.

Big picture: The Empire State index had hit an all-time high of 43 in June but then retreated to 18.3 in July. Economists had expected the sector to hover close to 18 reading, thinking that factory demand might moderate. The Empire State index has been stronger than other regional factory gauges. Economists use the data to get a sense of national manufacturing conditions. The national ISM manufacturing index rose to 59.9 in August from 59.5 in prior month.

Key details: The new-orders index jumped 18.9 points to 33.7 in September, and the shipments index soared 22.5 points to 26.9. Unfilled orders also increased substantially.

Both the prices paid and prices received indexes were at or near record highs in September. Firms remain very optimistic about the next six months.

What are they saying? The increase is “puzzlingly great and it probably can’t last,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. He said the reasons for the jump aren’t clear. He noted the survey sample is small and shifts at relatively small numbers of firms can trigger big swings.

Market reaction: U.S. stocks
DJIA,
+0.29%

SPX,
+0.29%

moved higher on Wednesday after strong the Empire survey overshadowed weak economic data out of China.

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