The Current Conditions Index (CCI) is a monthly indicator that details the present state of the Rhode Island economy by following the behavior of twelve key economic indicators pertaining to housing, retail sales, fiscal pressures, the employment situation, and labor supply:
The CCI ranges
from 0, when no indicators improve compared to year-earlier levels, to
100, when all twelve show improvement. Values above 50, the "neutral" value, indicate that the
Rhode Island economy is expanding, while values below 50 are indicative
of contraction. Prior to "The Great Recession" that began in June of 2007, the CCI had never attained a value of 0, indicating that no indicators improved relative to year-earlier values. This changed in 2008, when the CCI fell to 0 on three occasions, and in 2009, when another value of 0 was recorded. Prior to this, the low for the CCI had been 8, which occurred for only a single month on several occasions. For almost all of 2008, the CCI recorded values of 8. The CCI
attained its maximum value of 100 on several occasions, for almost all of 1984 and
once in 1986. Note that these values occurred exclusively when Rhode Island was still a manufacturing-based economy.
What a difference a quarter makes! Following a totally forgetful second quarter, where we once again witnessed the phenomenon where when the US economy hiccups, Rhode Island’s economy falters, we now seem to be regaining the momentum that faded away after the first few months of 2016. July’s Current Conditions Index, which was revised higher to 67 based on new Retail Sales data, marked our return to expanding economic activity after having been mired in sub-par activity throughout the entire second quarter. Notably, the CCI exceeded its year-earlier value for the first time this year. Then comes August. The CCI rose to 75 from July’s upwardly revised 67, to the highest level of 2016. While the CCI for August of this year failed to exceed its value last July, it did manage a tie. So, for two consecutive months now, the CCI has matched or exceeded its year-earlier value, something we all too seldom see. August was the third such occurrence in 2016.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. Sadly, since our state’s elected officials did virtually nothing to improve our state’s cyclical performance and its ability to withstand periods of national weakness for so many years, our recent experience should serve as an all too vivid reminder that Rhode Island remains highly vulnerable to national economic weakness. Worse yet, we also tend to benefit less from national economic growth than do most other states. As asymmetries go, that’s pretty ugly! So, our fate for the remainder of this year, and into the indefinite future for that matter, will be determined almost entirely (and asymmetrically) by national economic momentum.
Throughout the third quarter thus far, the relative importance of our economic negatives has receded relative to our positives, as our positive momentum factors have once again overtaken the negatives. The asterisk taken from our period of weakness remains: the indicators that weakened were exactly those that historically point to economic slowing. Several of them are still showing some weakness.
For August, nine of the twelve indicators contained in the CCI improved. Two CCI indicators that have been acting atypically did so again this month. Government Employment, rose for only the second time since August of last year (+1.7%). New Claims, the most timely measure of layoffs, rose sharply in August (+12.5%), its fifth increase in the last six months. While we cannot and should not rely on increases in Government Employment as an engine of our state's cyclical momentum, the same is not true New Claims, which is a leading labor market indicator. Sustained cyclical gains require resumption of its prior downtrend.
Looking at the August CCI performance overall, only three of the five leading indicators contained in the CCI improved. However, all three had difficult comps from a year ago. US Consumer Sentiment fell by 2.4 percent in August, its eighth decline in the last nine months. Single-Unit Permits rose in August (1.2%) for only the second time since April. Its level remained well below 1,000 annual units. Employment Service Jobs, which includes temporary employment and is a prerequisite to employment growth, fell slightly in August (-0.1%), but this was its sixth consecutive decline. It should be noted that all three of these indicators had difficult comps. The pleasant surprise here was Total Manufacturing Hours, a proxy for manufacturing output. It rose in August for the fourth consecutive month, although the impact of job gains were largely offset by a declining workweek.
On a monthly basis, our Labor Force rose for the third consecutive time, indicating that some unemployed, by resuming job search, are reflected in the Unemployment Rate and that its slight monthly uptick occurred for an acceptable reason. On an annual basis, our Labor Force rose for the first time in twenty-seven months! Retail Sales rose by 2.9 percent in August, its second increase in the past six months. Private Service-Producing Employment growth accelerated in August, and Benefit Exhaustions fell by 7.3 percent.
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Historical Annual CCI Values
Copyright © 2014 Leonard Lardaro, Ph.D. All rights reserved.