Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization - G.17

Capacity Utilization Explanatory Notes

Overview. The Federal Reserve Board constructs estimates of capacity and capacity utilization for industries in manufacturing, mining, and electric and gas utilities. For a given industry, the capacity utilization rate is equal to an output index (seasonally adjusted) divided by a capacity index. The Federal Reserve Board's capacity indexes attempt to capture the concept of sustainable maximum output—the greatest level of output a plant can maintain within the framework of a realistic work schedule, after factoring in normal downtime and assuming sufficient availability of inputs to operate the capital in place.

Coverage. Capacity indexes are constructed for 89 detailed industries (71 in manufacturing, 16 in mining, and 2 in utilities), which mostly correspond to industries at the three- and four-digit NAICS level. Estimates of capacity and utilization are available for a variety of groups, including durable and nondurable manufacturing, total manufacturing, mining, utilities, and total industry. Manufacturing consists of those industries included in the North American Industry Classification System, or NAICS, definition of manufacturing plus those industries—logging and newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishing—that have traditionally been considered to be manufacturing and included in the industrial sector. Also, special aggregates are available, such as high-technology industries and manufacturing excluding high-technology industries.

Source Data. The monthly rates of capacity utilization are designed to be consistent with both the monthly data on production and the periodically available data on capacity and utilization. Because there is no direct monthly information on overall industrial capacity or utilization rates, the Federal Reserve first estimates annual capacity indexes from the source data. Capacity data reported in physical units from government sources (primarily from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration) and trade sources are available for portions of several industries in manufacturing (for example, paper, industrial chemicals, petroleum refining, motor vehicles), as well as for electric utilities and mining; these industries represent about 25 percent of total industrial capacity. When physical product data are unavailable for manufacturing industries, capacity indexes are based on responses to the Bureau of the Census's Quarterly Survey of Plant Capacity (QSPC); these industries account for about 65 percent of total industry capacity. In the absence of utilization data for a few mining and petroleum series, capacity is based on trends through peaks in production (roughly 10 percent of total industry capacity). A detailed description of the methodology used to construct the capacity indexes is available on the Board's website at

Aggregation Methodology. Monthly capacity aggregates are calculated in three steps: (1) utilization aggregates are calculated on an annual basis through the most recent full year as capacity-weighted aggregates of individual utilization rates; (2) the annual aggregate capacity is derived from the corresponding production and utilization aggregates; (3) the monthly capacity aggregate is obtained by interpolating with a Fisher index of its constituent monthly capacity series. Utilization rates for the individual series and aggregates are calculated by dividing the pertinent monthly production index by the related capacity index.

Consistency.A major aim is that the Federal Reserve utilization rates be consistent over time so that, for example, a rate of 85 percent means about the same degree of tightness that it meant in the past. A major task for the Federal Reserve in developing reasonable and consistent time series of capacity and utilization is dealing with inconsistencies between the movements of the industrial production index and the survey-based utilization rates. The McGraw-Hill/DRI Survey, now discontinued, was the primary source of manufacturing utilization rates for many years. This survey of large companies reported, on average, higher utilization rates than those reported by establishments covered by the annual Survey of Plant Capacity (the primary source of factory operating rates through 2006, after which it was discontinued) for the fourteen years they overlapped. Adjustments have been made to keep the industry utilization rates currently reported by the Federal Reserve (now based on the QSPC) roughly in line with rates formerly reported by McGraw-Hill. As a consequence, the rates reported by the Federal Reserve tend to be higher than the rates reported in the Census utilization surveys.

Perspective. Over the 1972–2015 period, the average total industry utilization rate was 80.0 percent; for manufacturing, the average factory operating rate was 78.5 percent. Industrial plants usually operate at capacity utilization rates that are well below 100 percent: none of the broad aggregates has ever reached 100 percent. For total industry and total manufacturing, utilization rates have exceeded 90 percent only in wartime. The highs and lows in capacity utilization are specific to each series and do not all occur in the same month.

References. The release for the annual revision that was published on April 1, 2016, is available. A summary of the annual revision that incorporated back to 1972 production and capacity indexes reclassified according to the North American Industry Classification System is available in an article in the Federal Reserve Bulletin, vol. 89 (April 2003), pp.151–76. A description of the aggregation methods for industrial production and capacity utilization is included in an article in the Federal Reserve Bulletin, vol. 83 (February 1997), pp. 67–92. The Federal Reserve methodology for constructing industry-level measures of capital is detailed in "Capital Stock Estimates for Manufacturing Industries: Methods and Data" by Mike Mohr and Charles Gilbert (1996).

Industrial Production—1986 Edition contains a more detailed description of the other methods used to compile the industrial production index, plus a history of its development, a glossary of terms, and a bibliography. The major revisions to the IP indexes and capacity utilization since 1990 have been described in the Federal Reserve Bulletin (April 1990, June 1990, June 1993, March 1994, January 1995, January 1996, February 1997, February 1998, January 1999, March 2000, March 2001, March 2002, April 2003, Winter 2004, Winter 2005).

Return to top

Last update: April 1, 2016