Below is the summary of this month’s Global Manufacturing Economic Update, with the full report found here:
In the past month, there have been some signs that the overall global economy is improving, despite significant headwinds. We continue to see modest growth in North America, including the United States and our largest trading partners, Canada and Mexico. Both Brazil and China have seen gains in production activity, with Brazil edging into expansion territory (with a Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) of 50.2) and China just barely there (49.5). (PMI values over 50 suggest that manufacturing activity is expanding, with contractions for values under 50.) This is not to suggest that these nations’ economies are strong, as persistent weaknesses continue to dampen growth, but it does indicate a more positive picture than seen in other regions of the world, most notably in Europe.
Manufacturing activity in the Eurozone is off sharply. The Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI fell from 46.1 in September to 45.3 in October. Declining new orders continue to reduce production and employment across the continent. October manufacturing PMI values from Markit show contracting activity levels, even as some indices improved for the month. This includes France (43.5, up from 42.7), Germany (45.7, down from 47.4) and the United Kingdom (47.7, down from 48.4). At the same time, these data are supported by reports that Eurozone industrial production has fallen nearly 3 percent over the past year, and unemployment has risen to an all-time high of 11.6 percent. (Spain’s unemployment rate is a whopping 25.8 percent.) Nonetheless, despite these dire statistics, it is important to note that the European Central Bank’s actions—including its program to purchase sovereign debt from troubled nations—has lifted spirits somewhat, even if it has not solved the underlying structural challenges.
As noted last time, six of the top 10 export markets for U.S.-manufactured goods are currently contracting, with PMI values of less than 50. This complicates our ability to increase exports. The most recent data suggest that the U.S. trade deficit widened in August on lower goods exports and imports. Higher petroleum costs accounted for much of this, but there were also significant declines in other categories, including industrial supplies, foods and consumer goods. On the other hand, year-to-date manufactured goods exports were $43.6 billion higher in 2012 than for the same period in 2011. While this suggests a much slower pace than in 2010 or 2011 (mostly due to the slower global economic environment), it is perhaps surprising that export growth is positive at all given the number of headwinds in the marketplace right now.
Over the course of the next week, several PMI reports will come out providing even greater detail on the current global manufacturing environment. This will culminate in the release of the JPMorgan Global Composite PMI on Tuesday, which summarizes activity across 32 different countries. The last one observed falling output, new orders and employment across the world manufacturing sector, with some countries helping to lift the index from 48.1 to 48.9. I would expect this figure to reflect some gains overall but continuing to contract. The other highlight of the week will come on Thursday, with the release of new international trade data for September.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist at the National Association of Manufacturers.