The Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index extended its slide in May, falling 0.9 percent following April's 0.5 percent decline and an “exceptional” 2.7 percent gain in March.
The second sequential drop in the index based on diesel fuel sales to truckers shows an economy stuck in a pattern of tepid growth and unusually high volatility, according to Ceridian and UCLA.
“The index has now declined in four of the first five months of 2011, and in eight of the past 12 months,” said Ed Leamer, chief PCI economist and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast. “The PCI makes it clear that the high-growth recovery lasted only four quarters from the third quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2010. Since then the PCI and the economy have been idling.”
The PCI dipped in the second half of 2010, as inventory restocking receded, and has grown at a “wobbly” rate of less than 3 percent month-to-month in 2011, Ceridian-UCLA said. The fuel-based index rose 3.5 percent year-over-year in April, its 17th consecutive month of growth, but was flat in May compared with a year earlier.
Sequential monthly reports, however, reveal a spreading economic sluggishness. The Cass Freight Index for shipments slipped in May for the first time since January, falling 0.2 percent from April following a slim sequential expansion over the previous three months.
“The economy is in a stall, and what remains to be seen is the extent,” Cass said in releasing the figures.