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In an Otherwise Bleak First Quarter, Manufacturers Made a Positive Contribution to Growth

The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that manufacturers added 0.30 percentage points to real GDP in the first quarter of 2014. Nondurable goods output provided 0.86 percent to growth; whereas, durable goods activity subtracted 0.57 percent. Indeed, winter weather and other factors helped to lead the country to its first quarterly contraction in real GDP in three years, with output down a very disappointing 2.9 percent.

Therefore, we can say that manufacturers made a positive contribution to growth overall in an otherwise bleak first quarter. Real value-added from manufacturing increased 2.1 percent in the first quarter, its slowest growth rate in five quarters and below the 3.1 percent pace seen in all of 2013. Yet, at least it was positive. Sectors with the largest quarterly declines in real value-added in the first quarter included:

  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (down 31.0 percent)
  • Utilities (down 16.4 percent)
  • Construction (down 8.9 percent)
  • Wholesale trade (down 8.7 percent)
  • Professional and business services (down 6.4 percent)
  • Mining (down 5.6 percent)
  • Transportation and warehousing (down 4.6 percent)
  • Educational services, health care and social assistance (down 3.0 percent)
  • Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing (down 2.9 percent)

With that said, value-added in manufacturing dropped from $2.14 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2013 to $2.09 trillion in the first quarter of 2014. Manufacturing accounted for 12.3 percent of GDP in the first quarter, down from 12.5 percent in the prior quarter.

This suggests that the increase in the “real” measure was influenced by price changes. Indeed, the price index for value-added output in manufacturing fell by an annualized 10.3 percent in the first quarter. Despite the quarterly decline, value-added in manufacturing has continued to move higher in the longer term, up from $2.05 trillion in the first quarter of 2013.

Next week, we will get our first look at real GDP growth for the second quarter of 2014. The expectation is that output will rebound from the 2.9 percent drop in the first quarter, with consensus forecasts ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 percent growth. My view is that real GDP in the second quarter should exceed 3.0 percent, but we will see next Wednesday.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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New Durable Goods Orders Increased 0.7 Percent in June, Rebounding from May’s Decline

The Census Bureau said that new durable goods orders increased 0.7 percent in June, rebounding from a 1.0 percent decline in May. This suggests that durable goods sales have continued to recover from winter-related softness in December and January, and it was mostly in-line with consensus estimates. Through the first six months of this year, new durable goods orders have risen 4.4 percent, which indicates reasonably healthy growth year-to-date.

Unlike previous reports, transportation orders did not skew the data by much, with the sector having sales growth of 0.6 percent for the month. If you were to exclude transportation, June’s new durable goods orders would have increased by 0.8 percent, with a year-to-date gain of 4.4 percent.

The underlying sector-by-sector data were mostly positive. The largest increases were observed in defense aircraft and parts (up 15.3 percent), nondefense aircraft and parts (up 8.2 percent), machinery (up 2.4 percent), primary metals (up 0.9 percent) and computers and electronic products (up 0.8 percent). On the other hand, motor vehicles and parts (down 2.1 percent), which have been a bright spot in general of late, were a drag on growth in June. Year-to-date, motor vehicle and parts orders have increased 2.2 percent.

Meanwhile, durable goods shipments were up a more-paltry 0.1 percent in June, offsetting the 0.1 percent decrease in May. Excluding transportation (which was up 0.7 percent, mainly on nondefense aircraft), durable goods shipments would have fallen by 0.1 percent. This indicates that shipments activity was weaker than the headline figure suggests. In fact, the data were mixed. Increased shipments for communications equipment (up 3.3 percent), primary metals (up 0.8 percent) and fabricated metal products (up 0.7 percent) were largely counterbalanced by declines in defense aircraft and parts (down 2.3 percent), motor vehicles and parts (down 2.0 percent) and machinery (down 2.0 percent).

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Kansas City Fed: Manufacturing Activity Expanded for the Seventh Straight Month in July

The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank said that manufacturing activity has expanded every month so far in 2014, picking up slightly in July from June. The composite index of general business conditions rose from 6 in June to 9 in July. The pace of growth accelerated in many of the key indicators, including new orders (up from 8 to 12), production (up from 2 to 11), shipments (up from 2 to 14) and employment (up from 1 to 8). One-third of survey respondents said that their production had increased in the month.

There were two negatives in the report, as well. The average workweek (down from 7 to -3) shifted into its first contraction in six months. The percentage of those taking the survey who noted a reduced workweek increased from 12 percent in June to 17 percent in July, enough to tip the diffusion index. In addition, new export orders (up from -11 to -6) continued to fall, albeit at a slower pace of decline for the month. This measure has been in contraction territory in 8 of the past 12 months, indicating weakness on the trade front in the Kansas City Fed’s district.

Nonetheless, there continue to be encouraging signs for the months ahead. The forward-looking composite index increased from 12 to 15, with relatively strong growth anticipated over the next six months. Manufacturers in the region expect higher new orders (up from 14 to 24), production (up from 17 to 23), shipments (up from 20 to 28), employment (up from 14 to 23) and capital expenditures (up from 23 to 25) at rather healthy rates of growth. In fact, over 40 percent predict increased sales, output and shipments, with more than one-third seeing additional hiring and capital spending. Yet, the sample comments also suggest frustrations with attracting qualified workers. Exports are predicted to grow just modestly (unchanged at 6).

Respondents expect pricing pressures to remain elevated, with nearly half of those taking the survey saying that raw material prices should increase over the next six months. Still, 24 percent felt that input costs for them might fall, and the diffusion index for this measure (down from 49 to 46) eased slightly in July.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Continued Progress in China and the U.S., with Europe and Japan Growing More Modestly

The HSBC Flash China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) expanded for the second straight month in July, rebounding from softness from January through May. The headline index rose from 50.7 in June to 52.0 in July, its highest level since March 2011. The underlying data were mostly higher, including new orders (up from 51.8 to 53.7), output (up from 51.8 to 52.8) and exports (up from 50.6 to 52.7). The sales pace was the fastest since January 2011, and each of these measures are a sign that recent stimulative actions taken by the Chinese government have had a positive impact. Some downsides in the PMI survey contracting hiring rates for the 16th consecutive month (up from 48.7 to 49.5) and slightly accelerated raw material prices (up from 50.8 to 52.9).

Meanwhile, Japanese manufacturing activity also expanded for the second straight month, but it eased slightly in July. The Markit/JMMA Flash Japan Manufacturing PMI declined from 51.5 to 50.8. The recent uptick in activity has materialized as the Japanese economy has recovered from an increased in taxes that went into effect on April 1st. Still, manufacturers in the country cannot cheer yet, as output growth came to a halt in July (down from 51.8 to 50.0, or neutral). Other indicators were mixed. Export sales (up from 49.0 to 51.6) and employment (up from 49.8 to 50.8) both shifted to positive growth, but the pace of new orders decelerated somewhat (down from 52.0 to 51.1).

In other news, the Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI edged marginally higher, up from 51.8 to 51.9. The Flash Eurozone PMI Composite PMI was up more strongly, increasing from 52.8 to 54.0, suggesting healthier growth in the service sector. For manufacturers, the data suggest slightly faster growth in production (up from 52.8 to 53.0) and exports (up from 52.4 to 52.7), but the pace of growth for new orders (51.9) and employment (50.3) were unchanged.

Overall, these figures provide a limited degree of encouragement for the manufacturing sector in Europe, which has worried of late about slow economic and income growth. It is also still clear that the data vary on country-by-country basis, with German manufacturing activity (up from 52.0 to 52.9) accelerating in July but with French manufacturers noting yet another deterioration in sales and output. Indeed, the French economy remains in a rut, with manufacturing activity positive in just three months since January 2013.

Closer to home, the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI decreased from 57.3 to 56.3. Despite the slight easing in July, manufacturing activity continues to grow at relatively decent rates. Through the first seven months of 2014, the top-line index has averaged 55.9, stronger than the 53.5 average noted for 2013 as a whole. The July data show both new orders (down from 61.7 to 59.8) and output (down from 61.0 to 60.4) growing at a healthy paces, albeit with some deceleration for the month. Yet, hiring growth remains more modest (down from 53.8 to 52.1) and export sales (down from 50.9 to 50.6) were just barely growing, suggesting that there remains room for improvement.

Flash data give us an advance estimate of manufacturing activity incorporating “approximately 85% of the usual monthly survey replies,” with the final PMI data for the month released on August 1.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Expanding at a Modest Pace

The Richmond Federal Reserve Bank said that manufacturing activity grew at a modest pace, expanding for the fourth straight month. The composite index of general business conditions edged slightly higher, up from 4 in June to 7 in July. Note that historical data in the Richmond Fed survey were revised in this edition to reflect new seasonal adjustments.

Despite the improved top-line figure, the underlying data were largely mixed. The biggest positive was hiring, with the employment index up from 4 to 13. This was the fastest pace of hiring growth since December, which was encouraging. Wage (up from 12 to 16) and shipments (up from 2 to 3) were also higher. Yet, new orders (5) expanded at the same pace, and both capacity utilization (down from 7 to 4) and the average workweek (down from 5 to 3) decelerated somewhat for the month.

Still, manufacturers in the Richmond Fed’s district were mostly upbeat about the next six months, with forward-looking measures increasing in July for many indicators. For instance, new orders (up from 27 to 34), shipments (up from 24 to 36), capacity utilization (up from 18 to 29), employment (up from 12 to 19) and capital expenditures (up from 18 to 19) were all higher, with each suggesting relatively healthy paces of growth.

Inflationary pressures have picked up a bit for the month, but remain mostly in-check. Manufacturers in the region said that prices paid for raw materials grew 1.99 percent at the annual rate in July, up from 1.47 percent in June. Looking ahead six months, respondents expect input costs to increase an annualized 1.89 percent, up only marginally from 1.84 percent the month before.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Consumer Prices Ease a Bit in June, Still Reflect an Acceleration in the Second Quarter

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that consumer prices increased 0.3 percent in June, easing a bit from the 0.4 percent growth rate seen in May. Still, it is clear that prices have accelerated in the second quarter, led by higher food and energy costs. The annualized rate of growth in the second quarter was 3.5 percent, a substantial jump from the 1.8 percent annual pace seen in the first quarter. Of course, this figure perhaps overstates the significance of the last three months, with the consumer price index up 2.1 percent over the past 12 months. Even there, though, the year-over-year rate has jumped from being just 1.1 percent in February.

In the June data, the largest jump in consumer prices came from energy, up 1.6 percent for the month and building off of the 0.9 percent increase in May. Indeed, the price of West Texas intermediate crude has increased from an average of $97.63 per barrel in December to $100.80 in March to $105.79 in June. Much of the latest rise in prices has stemmed from Middle Eastern turmoil, particularly in Iraq at that time. Energy costs have risen 2.8 percent in the past three months alone, primarily from higher gasoline prices.

Meanwhile, food prices were up 0.1 percent, its slowest pace of growth in four months. In fact, prices of food for the home were unchanged in June, the first non-positive growth figure in six months. Higher prices for meats and eggs were offset by some easing in the costs of bakery items, cereals, dairy products and fruits and vegetables. Nonetheless, the cost of food for the consumer has risen 1.8 percent over the past six months, something that Americans are bound to notice in the grocery aisle.

Outside of food and energy, core consumer inflation decelerated in June to 0.1 percent growth in June. Over the past 12 months, core consumer prices have risen 1.9 percent, unchanged from May but up from 1.6 percent in January. In June, the largest increases were seen in airfare, apparel, housing, medical care and tobacco.

While pricing pressures have definitely picked up in the second quarter, the year-over-year pace still remains mostly in-line with the Federal Reserve Board’s stated goals. They will no-doubt continue to watch inflation numbers closely, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is unlikely to deviate from its current monetary policy trajectory at next week’s meeting.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Monday Economic Report – July 21, 2014

This is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report: 

With more and more data starting to trickle in for June, we are seeing some definite trends taking shape. One positive is that the manufacturing sector continues to expand, suggesting that the rebound from winter-related softness earlier in the year has mostly continued. Manufacturers also tend to be mostly upbeat about the second half of this year—a sign of optimism that is encouraging. Yet, there were also indicators suggesting that the pace of activity slowed somewhat in June, most notably in the industrial production, housing starts and retail sales numbers that were released last week.

Indeed, manufacturing output in June increased at its slowest rate since January, with relatively mixed news overall. Nondurable goods production edged higher, up 0.1 percent, but output from nondurable goods manufacturers declined by 0.3 percent. Monthly declines in production in such sectors as apparel, machinery and motor vehicles nearly offset output gains for aircraft, furniture, metals and plastics, and rubber products. Longer-term trends remain reassuring, even if they still leave room for improvement. Over the past 12 months, manufacturing production has increased 3.5 percent, a decent figure overall and progress from the much slower pace of just 1.5 percent in January. Durable goods output has risen by a healthy 5.5 percent year-over-year, whereas nondurable goods activity was a less robust 1.5 percent in the past year.

Housing starts in June were also weaker than expected, down from an annualized 985,000 in May to 893,000 in June. Starts were lower for both single-family and multifamily units. There have been suggestions that rain might have attributed to the weaker construction activity, with storms preventing some units from breaking ground. Yet, single-family starts have struggled for some time, down 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. On the positive side, single-family housing permits rose for the second straight month, up from 615,000 to 631,000 at the annual rate for the month. This could suggest stronger growth in the housing market in the coming months for single-family homes. Along those lines, homebuilder confidence increased to its highest point since January, with better expectations for sales over the next six months.

Meanwhile, surveys out last week reported multiyear highs in the pace of manufacturing activity. New orders and shipments were up sharply in surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks. Hiring also picked up in both regions, and raw material costs remained elevated relative to prior months. More importantly, manufacturers in each survey said they were optimistic that sales, output, employment and capital spending would increase over the next six months. In fact, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve report found that 56.1 percent of its respondents anticipated higher new orders, with 60.4 percent predicting increased shipment levels. In addition, the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) reported that the business outlook rose for the sixth consecutive quarter on accelerated sales domestically and abroad. Shipments and capital spending were also anticipated to grow strongly moving forward.

On the consumer front, Americans continue to be cautious in their purchase decisions. Retail spending increased 0.2 percent in June. This was the slowest pace since January, and it was below expectations. Reduced auto sales contributed to this lower figure. Despite the slower activity levels in June, the year-over-year pace continues to grow at decent levels, up 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. Preliminary consumer confidence data also indicate some nagging anxieties in the economy, according to the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters. The Consumer Sentiment Index unexpectedly decreased from 82.5 in June to 81.3 in July, and consumer attitudes have not changed much since December. Much of July’s decrease stemmed from weaker expectations about the future economy. However, higher gasoline prices might have also been a factor. Indeed, the producer price index increased in June largely on higher energy costs.

This week, we will get additional insights on the health of manufacturing worldwide. Markit will release preliminary purchasing managers’ index reports for China, Japan, the Eurozone and the United States for July. We will be looking for continued progress in Asia and the United States and we hope a reversing of the easing in activity in Europe. The Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks will also report on their latest manufacturing surveys. Beyond these releases, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will publish real GDP data by industry for the first quarter; given the 2.9 percent drop in real GDP during the first quarter, we would anticipate minimal contributions to growth from the manufacturing sector. Other highlights include the latest data on consumer prices, durable goods orders and existing and new home sales.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

manufacturing production growth - jul2014

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University of Michigan: Consumer Confidence Slipped Somewhat in July

The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters said that preliminary data on consumer confidence slipped somewhat in July. The Consumer Sentiment Index unexpectedly decreased from 82.5 in June to 81.3 in July. The consensus expectation had been for a slight gain. Over the course of the last eight months (December to July), the index has averaged 81.8. In essence, after consumer attitudes recovered from the government shutdown in December, they have not really moved that much. The April reading of 84.1 is the one outlier in that time frame.

Looking specifically at the July data, it is clear that the drop in consumer sentiment in the month stemmed from weaker expectations about the future economy. The forward-looking component has declined from 74.7 in April to 71.1 in July. In contrast, views about the current economic environment were more mixed, with an improvement in July (up from 96.6 to 97.1) but with slightly weaker perceptions than seen in April (98.7).

This nuanced perception could be influenced by the competing news about the health of the U.S. economy, with disappointing data on real GDP growth in the first quarter perhaps outweighing better labor market headlines of late. Either way, it suggests that consumers continue to remain cautious.

We will get final data on July consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan on August 1. The Conference Board will also release its June survey data on consumer confidence on July 29.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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MAPI: Manufacturing Activity Continued to Improve in the Second Quarter

The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) said that its Composite Business Outlook Index rose from 69 in March to 71 in June. Indeed, this was the sixth consecutive quarterly gain in the manufacturing outlook, up from 55 in December 2012. Index readings over 50 indicate expansion, and as such, these data suggest mostly positive trends in the sector. The pace of new orders (up from 71 to 78) and export sales (up from 60 to 67) accelerated, and profit margins edged higher (up from 66 to 70).

In terms of investment, manufacturers completing the MAPI survey said that they were increasing their capital spending levels both in the U.S. (up from 59 to 67) and abroad (up from 59 to 64). At the same time, the rate of research and development spending slowed slightly in this survey (down from 69 to 67), albeit a still-healthy paces.

Yet, the forward-looking indicators provided mixed news. Prospective shipments within the U.S. eased slightly (down from 88 to 87) but are still expected to grow relatively strongly. Similarly, export shipments also decelerated somewhat (down from 81 to 76). Overall, the data indicate that there is still room for improvement. The percentage of respondent companies that were operating at above 85 percent capacity dropped from 35.7 percent to 30.0 percent.

Overall, though, these data support the notion that manufacturing activity continues to improve, mirroring similar findings from other indicators. As reported last month, MAPI has a generally upbeat outlook for this year. They predict that manufacturing production will increase by 3.2 percent and 4.0 percent in 2014 and 2015, respectively, suggesting accelerating growth from the 2.6 percent pace of 2013.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Philly Fed: Manufacturing Activity Expanded at Fastest Pace in Over 3 Years

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that manufacturing activity expanded at its fastest pace in over three years (March 2011). The Business Outlook Survey’s composite index of general business activity increased from 17.8 in June to 23.9 in July. The shift stemmed largely from a drop in the percentage of manufacturers in the Philly Fed district who said that conditions had worsened, down from 18.6 percent to 8.9 percent. This helped to push the overall diffusion index higher in July, with roughly one-third of the respondents noting improvements for the month in overall conditions.

The pace of new orders (up from 16.8 to 34.2) and shipments (up from 15.5 to 34.2) were both up significantly in this report. Hiring (up from 11.9 to 12.2) and the average employee workweek (up from 7.3 to 12.5) continued to move in the right direction. One downside was elevated costs for raw materials, with nearly 36 percent of those taking the survey saying that input costs were increased in the month.

Over the course of the next six months, manufacturers in Philly Fed district were overwhelmingly upbeat about future activity. In fact, 56.1 percent of survey respondents said that they anticipate increased sales, and 60.4 percent predict higher shipment levels. Moreover, even as the indices edged a bit lower in July, roughly one-third of those completing the survey said that they planned to add workers and over one-quarter were going to increase their capital expenditures in the next six months.

In a couple special questions, 38.6 percent of manufacturing respondents noted increased exports over the past year, with just 7.0 percent saying that they had moderate decreases. The region exported mainly intermediate products (39.6 percent), with final business products (24.5 percent), capital goods (18.9 percent) and final consumer products (11.3 percent) also important components.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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