What Is the Philadelphia Federal Index?

The Philadelphia Federal Index (or Philly Fed Survey) is a regional federal-reserve-bank index measuring changes in business growth. It is also known as the "Business Outlook Survey."

The survey is a measure of regional manufacturing growth. When the index is above zero, it indicates factory-sector growth, and when below zero, it indicates contraction. The intention of the survey is to provide a snapshot of current manufacturing activity in this region, as well as provide a short term forecast of manufacturing conditions in the area, which may provide an indication of conditions throughout the United States. It is also known as the Philadelphia Fed Index.

Philadelphia Federal Index Explained

The index is constructed from a survey of participants who voluntarily answer questions regarding the direction of change in their overall business activities. This index is typically published by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank on the third Thursday of the month at 10 a.m. EST. It is considered to be a good gauge of general business conditions and may also be an indication of what to expect from the upcoming Purchasing Managers' Index.

The survey covers the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware region. Participants in the survey help indicate the direction of change in overall business activity at their plants as relates to factors such as employment, new and unfilled orders, inventories, as well as prices paid and received.

Key Takeaways

  • The Philadelphia Federal Index (or Philly Fed Index) is a regional federal-reserve-bank index measuring changes in business growth covering the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware region.
  • The survey is a measure of regional manufacturing growth. When the index is above zero, it indicates factory-sector growth, and when below zero, it indicates contraction.
  • Also known as the "Business Outlook Survey," a rising index is often a signal that a bull market is on the horizon.

The Philly Fed Survey in Practice

Although the Survey only queries manufacturers in a small subset of the United States, it may be a useful indicator of economic and business activity across the nation. Because manufacturing is central to overall economic activity, the health of the sector is an indicator of the health of the overall economy, and the Philadelphia Fed Survey could provide early indications of the problems in the regional sector and consequently in the entire U.S. economy.

Though there is contrary evidence of the strength of the Survey’s predictive power, the publication of the survey can affect capital markets, as it is commonly quoted by news media and referred to by investment professionals and economists. Part of the value of the survey is the longevity of the available data, as the Survey has been conducted continuously since May 1968, and monthly historical data is readily available.

Real World Example of the Philadelphia Fed Index

This monthly report often shares findings like from this example using November 2018 data. It stated as follows: "The diffusion index for current general activity decreased from 12.9 in November to 9.4 this month, its lowest reading since August 2016. Over 26 percent of the manufacturers reported increases in overall activity this month, while 17 percent reported decreases. The new orders index increased 5 points to 14.5 but remains notably lower than its average reading for the year."