The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said that manufacturing activity has now contracted for five straight months. The manufacturing purchasing managers’ index increased from 48.2 in January to 49.5 in February but remained below the important threshold of 50 which would indicate the start of expansion. In that regard, this report continued to show weaker-than-desired data for manufacturers, with the sector challenged by global headwinds and reduced commodity prices. Indeed, exports (down from 47.0 to 46.5) remained in contraction territory, hurt by the strong dollar and economic softness for manufacturing goods to key markets.
Yet, this latest release also offered some signs of encouragement. For one thing, the headline index was higher than the consensus expectation of roughly 48.5, indicating that respondents were perhaps less downbeat than predicted. At the same time, some of the underlying data reflect stabilization in activity from prior months. For instance, new orders (unchanged at 51.5) and production (up from 50.2 to 52.8) have now expanded for two consecutive months, with the latter growing at its fastest pace since August. Moreover, the pace of decline for hiring (up from 45.9 to 48.5) slowed in February, and pricing pressures (up from 33.5 to 38.5) remain virtually nonexistent.
This does not mean that manufacturing’s struggles are over, but this report does offer a glimpse of cautious optimism, with the ISM data coming in a bit stronger than anticipated. Even with this finding, manufacturers remain anxious in their economic outlook overall, and other reports continue to highlight softness in the marketplace. With that in mind, manufacturing leaders remain focused on implementing pro-manufacturing policies, including those outlined in the NAM’s “Competing to Win” document in this all-important election year and beyond.