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The Manufacturers' Shipments, Inventories, and Orders (M3) Survey is one of the U.S. Census Bureau's most important monthly surveys. The survey began in 1939 by the Office of Business Economics (OBE) to provide monthly estimates of change in manufacturing. The monthly industry survey conducted by OBE collected data at the total company level from a relatively small group of companies. Initially, OBE published only index numbers but later published dollar aggregates by benchmarking the monthly series to statistics of income data from the Internal Revenue Service.
In 1957, responsibility for conducting the monthly survey was transferred to the Census Bureau. Improvements were needed in the data and the Census Bureau was able to develop more detailed monthly data by increasing the sample size; by introducing divisional reporting from large, diversified companies; and benchmarking the survey to the Annual Survey of Manufactures.
Today, data from the M3 survey are widely used by government, business, and the academic world. Among the most important uses these data are the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) measurements of current investment in capital goods and estimates of the change in business inventories components of the gross national product. The data on new orders for durable goods provide one of the 12 series in the index of leading economic indicators. Another component of the index of leading indicators is net change in inventories which is developed by BEA using the M3 manufacturing data and monthly Retail and Wholesale Trades survey data for trade inventories.
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