I have been seeing a lot of "worst ever" and "worst since at least" stories about the November new orders figures.
I am conscious that so many statistics are being thrown around at the moment that it is confusing. And there is enough distress out there as it is.
So I thought it may be useful to clarify as best I can how the November 2008 new orders figure ranks in the history of duff figures in the series.
The quick answer to the above is no and here is why...
First point to make is that the November new orders figure is provisional and highly likely to be revised, and chances are this may be up.
Second point to make is that it is unwise to pump too much meaning into one month's figures for new orders - the spread of major contracts can cause the data to jump around and relatively more so when the general level is low. This is exaggerated more now because the drop in orders to date has been biased towards small contracts.
Thirdly seasonal and price adjustments can distort the "true" picture as much as they can enhance it.
Given those provisos we can look at what the official numbers actually say.
The press release shows us that the November figure is the worst figure in the records in the monthly data now available which goes back to 1983.
There is of course quarterly data that goes back to 1964 and annual data that goes back to 1957.
Point four: we need to note that the fuzzy and fluid nature of the construction industry can lead to inclusions or exclusions changing. This is a headache for the poor statisticians. So we have to be careful when comparing along a time series.
But for our purposes let's accept the figures as a fair representation of orders for new work won. So, if we take just the provisional figure for new work won in November we can say it is the worst monthly figure in the records since 1983, narrowly beating the June 1992 to bottom place.
However, if we do some simple sums on the quarterly figures we can see that the average monthly average level of new orders from 1980 to the third quarter of 1982 was well below the figures for November 2008. That means there were plenty of months worse than last November during that period.
Thankfully we are not in that hole yet. That really was a recession of pain and anguish.
For me I feel more comfortable in suggesting that orders are as bad as at any time since 1995, but they are heading south so who knows where they will end up.