Personal Wealth Management / Market Analysis

Services Vs. Manufacturing: Global Purchasing Managers’ Indexes Show the Divide

The larger segment is still growing.

Lately, soft landing has been the new watchword in economic commentary, with people increasingly convinced the Fed has managed to slow growth and inflation without inducing a recession. One New York Times piece Thursday even observed that good news is finally good news again—contrary to recent months, where people interpreted any signs of economic growth as presaging more rate hikes and a recession.[i] Yet for all the evidence that sentiment is starting to warm, there are plenty of indications it remains skeptical overall. One such indication: Contractionary Manufacturing purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs) stole oodles of headlines Tuesday, with pundits warning of an industrial downturn. Yet expansionary Services PMIs received scant notice Thursday. Oddly, the reaction is inverse to services’ and manufacturing’s relative economic importance. Strong services have helped the global economy expand during weak manufacturing stretches before, and we think they can do so today—something markets see even if people don’t.

Manufacturing always gets more headlines than services, likely because it is tangible, easier to measure and there is far longer data history of doing so. You just count how many widgets rolled off the assembly line. Most services, by contrast, are tough to measure. A dentist might be able to tally the number of teeth filled, but what of the customer service reps—number of calls taken, hours worked, something else? What about the auto mechanics—how do you equalize engine tune-ups, oil changes, tire rotations and brake system flushes? What about housekeeping, investment advice, teaching, interior decorating and writing MarketMinder articles? All are much harder to tally on a pure output basis that captures the extent and complexity of their economic contributions. Add in the nostalgia from when heavy industry was the world’s economic engine, and headlines’ focus on factories is quite understandable.

But services, for all the complexity in measuring it, generates the lion’s share of economic activity. In OECD nations (representing developed and late-stage Emerging Markets), manufacturing is just 13% of GDP versus a whopping 70.2% for services.[ii] While it seemingly generates fewer headlines, the latter is much more important to economic growth.

When manufacturing is weak, economies can still grow if service sectors expand enough to offset heavy industry’s declines. We lived through this in 2015, when much of the developed world’s manufacturing slipped into contraction for a spell. Industrial areas had tough times, but strength elsewhere was more than sufficient to pull national economies along. You can see this in US PMIs. (Exhibit 1)

Exhibit 1: Services Trumped Manufacturing in 2015

 

Source: FactSet, as of 8/3/2023. US ISM Manufacturing and Services PMIs, January 2014 – December 2017. Readings over 50 indicate expansion.

In our view, something similar is unfolding now. Exhibits 2 – 7 show Manufacturing and Services PMIs since last January in the US, UK, Germany, France, eurozone and China. In the US and UK as you will see, Services are still rolling on. Ditto China, where Services’ ups and downs mostly follow COVID restrictions and flare ups. In the eurozone and Germany, you will see Services joining Manufacturing in contraction during the stretches that loosely coincided with falling GDP—and Services’ rebounds occurring as GDP recovered. France adds a couple recent services dips that coincide with raucous protests in major cities like Paris—which shouldn’t surprise.

Exhibit 2: Recent US PMIs

 

Source: FactSet, as of 8/3/2023. US ISM Manufacturing and Services PMIs, January 2022 – July 2023. Readings over 50 indicate expansion.

Exhibit 3: Recent UK PMIs

 

Source: FactSet, as of 8/3/2023. UK S&P Global Manufacturing and Services PMIs, January 2022 – July 2023. Readings over 50 indicate expansion.

Exhibit 4: Recent German PMIs

 

Source: FactSet, as of 8/3/2023. Germany S&P Global Manufacturing and Services PMIs, January 2022 – July 2023. Readings over 50 indicate expansion.

Exhibit 5: Recent French PMIs

 

Source: FactSet, as of 8/3/2023. France S&P Global Manufacturing and Services PMIs, January 2022 – July 2023. Readings over 50 indicate expansion.

Exhibit 6: Recent Eurozone PMIs

 

Source: FactSet, as of 8/3/2023. Eurozone S&P Global Manufacturing and Services PMIs, January 2022 – July 2023. Readings over 50 indicate expansion.

Exhibit 7: Recent Chinese PMIs

 

Source: FactSet, as of 8/3/2023. China Official Manufacturing and Services PMIs, January 2022 – July 2023. Readings over 50 indicate expansion.

We aren’t dismissing the possibility that a recession could still arrive at some point, especially if loan growth in the UK and eurozone stays weak (and US lending follows suit). That isn’t necessarily probable now, but it is worth watching, even though persistent recession fears mean stocks likely reflected this in last year’s decline, defanging surprise power. But as it stands, with the largest economic sector still growing in most of the world, it seems highly unlikely that a downturn is already underway. Better still, with services getting so little attention, continued growth remains underappreciated, even amid all the US soft landing chatter. That suggests to us the gap between reality and expectations remains sizable and stocks’ wall of worry is still pretty high.


[i] “Is Good News Finally Good News Again?” Jeanna Smialek and Ben Casselman, The New York Times, 8/3/2023.

[ii] Source: World Bank, as of 8/3/2023.


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*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.

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