The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said that the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) eased slightly from 57.3 in November to 57.0 in December. Despite the lower figure, the underlying report was a positive one overall. The ISM data has reflected expanding manufacturing activity for seven consecutive months. Moreover, the manufacturing PMI measures averaged 56.3 in the second half of 2013, a nice improvement from the 51.5 average seen in the first half of the year.
One of the strongest elements in the ISM manufacturing report continues to be the sales component. The index for new orders has exceeded 60 for five straight months, indicating an extremely healthy pace for sales growth. The new orders index rose from 63.6 in November to 64.2 in December. This increase appears to be primarily from domestic sales. The index for export orders dropped from 59.5 to 55.0 for the month, suggesting some easing in our sales overseas.
The production index also reflects strong growth, albeit with a marginal decline in its pace in December (down from 62.8 to 62.2). It averaged 61.7 from July to December, far exceeding the 52.6 average experienced from January to June.
Looking at other measures, hiring appears to be moving in the right direction, with modest employment growth overall. The employment index increased from 56.5 to 56.9. This was the fastest pace since April 2012. At the same time, inventory growth moved negative once more, down from 50.5 to 47.0, the first decline in stockpiles since August.
In general, this report shows that manufacturing activity in the U.S. grew strongly in the second half of 2013, with overall new business up significantly. The indices for new orders and production continue to reflect healthy increases, and manufacturers tend to be mostly upbeat about future activity, as evidenced by other indicators. Moving forward, it will be important for policymakers to keep the momentum going by considering pro-growth measures that will allow the sector to flourish and build on the progress seen over the past few months.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.