The most striking aspect of this month’s Credit Managers’ Index (CMI), issued by the National Associationof Credit Management (NACM), is that sales in both the manufacturing and service sectors jumped—and ata pace not seen in over a year. This reinforces the news from consumer demand studies showing that spending was up last month. The increase in sales was nearly five points, faster than any increase since early 2008. This burst in sales occurred despite the fact that new credit applications were flat. There was aslight extension in the amount of credit extended, but the majority of that increase seems to have originated from companies working with the suppliers and contacts they have had for years as opposed to new additions to the business fold.“The pace of growth in the overall economy has been uneven thus far, but is about what was expectedfrom most analysts,” said Chris Kuehl, Ph.D., NACM economic analyst. “All along, the assumption has been that this would be a recovery marked by slow and methodical reactions to demand that was expected to be spotty and very much affected by the pace of consumer attitude recovery. The fact that consumers added 0.3% to their activity despite some of the worst weather this winter appears to indicate some significant pent‐up demand.” CMI data bolsters this assessment.
Kuehl noted the only really major change from last month’s data was in the sales factor. For the most part,the negative factors remained stable with only slight improvements in items like accounts placed for collection and dollars beyond terms. For all practical purposes, there was no change in the data, but thesales numbers allowed for a gain in the combined index, which improved from 55.2 to 55.7.
“It is early in the process, but if one couples this data with reports from other sectors, there is reason toassume there will be some pretty decent progress ahead in the coming months,” he said. “The consumer is getting a little more confident despite the fact that there has been no change in personal income and thebusiness confidence level has also expanded according to data from both the Institute of Supply Management and the Conference Board.”
“There are still plenty of worries about the future, but for now these are somewhat unfocused. There aresigns that inflation could be an issue before the end of the year and there are continued concerns aboutthe ability of the banking sector to recover fast enough to provide the credit that expanding demand willrequire,” said Kuehl. “The fact that financial reform is now the topic for Congress will make banks morecautious than usual until this situation is resolved and that could take all summer,” he added.