December 21, 2015 Reading Time: 2 minutes

Throughout much of the later part of this year, our Bob Hughes has been saying the economy’s trajectory has been one of slow and steady growth. This morning, we have more evidence that this is the case.

In the last few months, there have been moments of panic, and days of euphoria. But Hughes, senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, said the Chicago Fed National Activity Index is a good way to look at the big picture, and take a clear-eyed look at the economy’s trend.

Hughes said the Chicago Fed index is useful because it takes into account 85 monthly indicators, which gives a broad picture of the economy. The November edition, which came out this morning, registered at -0.3, showing that the economy is growing at just below its long-term trend (on the chart, zero represents trend growth in the economy). It’s down from October, which was -0.17.

The index splits its indicators into four main groups, and when you look at them that way, it’s easier to see what’s holding the economy back from more robust growth, Hughes said. The first group, personal consumption and housing, is still making its way back from the recessionary lows of a few years back:

The second group, employment, unemployment and hours, reflects some of the good news we’ve received in recent weeks.

The third group, production and income, shows where much of the sluggishness has been lately: low energy production and investment, and a manufacturing sector that has been held back by the slow global economy.

Finally, the category of sales, orders and inventories is more or less on trend.

Hughes underscored that the economy is still growing. It’s just that it’s been a little slower than the long-term trend lately.

“Any individual indicator can show a very strong reading or a very weak reading for any one month. This is a nice comprehensive way to look at it,” Hughes said.

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Aaron Nathans

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