Here is the summary for this month’s Global Manufacturing Economic Update:
In its latest World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) now predicts global GDP growth of 3.6 percent in 2014 and 3.9 percent in 2015. The forecast for this year was essentially unchanged from the outlook in October, and it suggests that the global economy continues to recover. Global growth in 2013 was 3.0 percent. The IMF projects U.S. growth of 2.8 percent this year and 3.0 percent next year, up from 1.9 percent last year. Europe is another area where the IMF sees progress this year—albeit quite modestly—with real GDP growth of 1.2 percent in 2014 and 1.5 percent in 2015, with the continent emerging from its deep two-year recession. Despite the slightly better data overall, the IMF worries about low inflation in advanced economies, structural challenges in emerging markets and geopolitical risks.
The IMF also notes that China’s economy continues to decelerate, with real GDP growth of 7.5 percent in 2014 and 7.3 percent in 2015. This is consistent with recent data, which show activity in the manufacturing sector slowing down. The HSBC China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) has contracted for three straight months with falling levels of new orders and output. On the positive side, export sales appeared to pick up a bit in March. Next week, we will get new data for industrial production, fixed-asset investment and retail sales. Each has eased significantly in recent reports. Still, even with these slower rates, the outlook for China remains strong overall, and China has already begun to put stimulative measures in place to boost the economy further. As noted in the past report, the Bank of China has also supported a depreciation of the yuan in the past few months, but it asserts that its actions have been mainly to fend off speculators.
Weaknesses in China and Russia have also weighed heavily on manufacturing activity figures for emerging markets. The HSBC Emerging Markets Manufacturing PMI fell below 50 for the first time since July as demand and production stagnated. Nonetheless, outside of China and Russia, the picture for emerging markets was somewhat more positive. Several countries continued to experience modest growth rates, albeit with a slower pace than the month before in some cases. Two notable strengths among emerging markets hail from Eastern Europe. The Czech Republic and Poland continue to see strong growth in their manufacturing sectors despite some deceleration in March. For instance, the production index in the Czech Republic has now exceeded 60 for two straight months, a sign that output is experiencing healthy gains of late.
In all of Europe, manufacturers report slow-but-steady progress. The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI has now expanded for nine consecutive months, an encouraging sign after the deep two-year recession. France, which had lagged behind many of its peers on the continent, had its manufacturing PMI figure exceed 50 for the first time since July 2011. However, overall economic growth remains modest. The unemployment rate continues to be elevated, even as it fell below 12 percent for the first time in 13 months. Weak income growth has caused many to worry about possible deflationary concerns. Annual inflation rates in the Eurozone have fallen from 1.7 percent in March 2013 to 0.5 percent in March 2014, and producer prices declined in February. Aware of these trends, the European Central Bank (ECB) held interest rates steady and said it was prepared to pursue quantitative easing, if necessary, to stimulate the economy further.
Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit widened in February due to a decrease in goods exports and an increase in service-sector imports. Manufactured goods exports in the first two months of 2014 were 0.6 percent lower than during the same time period last year, which was disappointing. Nonetheless, we continue to be optimistic that better economic growth rates abroad will lead to improvements on the export front. Fortunately, four of our top five markets for U.S.-manufactured goods notched year-to-date increases in the first two months relative to last year, including Mexico, China, Japan and Germany.
Efforts to move forward U.S.–European and Asian–Pacific negotiations continue, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) is heading to the next stage of implementing the recently completed Trade Facilitation Agreement. On the legislative side, Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank reauthorization efforts continue, while manufacturers keep pressing for congressional action on key trade legislation, such as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB).
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.