Record Drop in Morgan Stanley Gauge Sounds Economic Alarm

State of the Nation

Source: Bloomberg

A U.S. business conditions gauge compiled by Morgan Stanley dropped this month by the most on record to the lowest since 2008, adding to recent signs that the world’s largest economy is slowing.

Indicators from services to manufacturing and hiring all cooled, dragging the headline index to 13, far below the 33 threshold consistent with positive real economic growth, economists led by Ellen Zentner wrote in a note.

“The decline shows a sharp deterioration in sentiment this month that was broad-based across sectors,” they said. “The MSBCI Manufacturing Index fell dramatically to zero, a decline that was likely exaggerated by the recent turn lower in oil prices, while marking the lowest level for the subindex on record.”

Morgan Stanley’s conclusions dovetail with recent data from job growth to inflation that all point to a cooling American economy. Signs of slowing economic expansion have fueled speculation the Federal Reserve will cut rates this year, spurring this month’s concurrent rallies in bonds and stocks.

The headline index reflects Morgan Stanley’s gauge of how conditions in the industry it covers have changed. The services sub-index dropped to the lowest since July 2012, while gauges of hiring, capital expenditure plans and pricing power all fell.

Yet the uncertainty around trade policy is probably not the main cause, the economists wrote. The survey respondents pointed to headwinds including weaker commodity prices for oil-related companies and a deflating consumer spending boom for retailers.

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