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Manufacturing Construction Spending Rose 1.5 Percent in August

The Census Bureau said that manufacturing construction spending rose 1.5 percent in August, increasing for the fifth straight month. Manufacturers have continued to edge their construction dollars higher since bottoming out at $46.84 billion at the annual rate in March. Manufacturing construction rose from $55.47 billion in July to $56.31 billion in August, with year-over-year growth of 14.9 percent. This indicates that manufacturers are stepping up their investments in new structures, which is consistent with the recent pickup in demand and output.

Meanwhile, total construction spending fell 0.8 percent in August, pulling back from the 1.2 percent gain observed in July. Both private and public sector spending were lower for the month, down 0.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively. Private, nonresidential construction activity was off 1.4 percent. In addition to manufacturing, other areas with higher levels of spending in August were communication (up 3.6 percent), educational (up 1.4 percent), religious (up 0.9 percent) and lodging (up 0.4 percent) projects. However, these were offset by declines for power (down 3.9 percent), amusement and recreation (down 3.7 percent), commercial (down 3.5 percent), and transportation (down 2.0 percent) firms, among others.

It should be noted that the year-over-year data for private, nonresidential construction spending, which has risen 9.2 percent over the past 12 months. The top five areas for growth in the past year were office (up 18.6 percent), power (up 17.2 percent), manufacturing (up 14.9 percent), commercial (up 10.2 percent) and lodging (up 9.7 percent) construction projects.

Public, nonresidential construction spending was off 1.0 percent for the month but has increased 2.3 percent over the past 12 months. Some bright spots at the public sector level year-over-year include office (up 20.2 percent), conservation and development (up 18.3 percent), amusement and recreation (up 16.2 percent), power (up 9.9 percent), sewage and waste disposal (up 4.7 percent), transportation (up 3.2 percent) and educational (up 2.9 percent) endeavors.

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

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ISM: Manufacturing Production Continues to Expand Strongly, but Activity Eased Slightly Overall

The Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) continues to reflect a strong expansion, but activity eased slightly overall in September. The headline figure dropped from 59.0 in August to 56.6 in September, which was weaker than anticipated. August’s reading had been the highest level since March 2011, and the pullback in September stemmed from slower paces of growth for new orders (down from 66.7 to 60.0), employment (down from 58.1 to 54.6) and exports (down from 55.0 to 53.5). It is likely that softer growth abroad and geopolitical events have dampened some enthusiasm, particularly on the international sales figures.

Despite some reduced data points for the month, manufacturers remain mostly positive. For instance, the pace of production (up from 64.5 to 64.6) was marginally higher in September, with the index exceeding 60 – indicating strong growth – for four consecutive months. Likewise, the new orders index has measured 60 or higher for three straight months. As such, it suggests that manufacturing leaders continue to see strengths, albeit with less optimism that the month before. The sample comments tend to support this interpretation, with several of them noting increased demand, sales and shipments.

While it is disappointing that the employment index declined somewhat in September, the longer term trend line reflects improvements from earlier in the year. For instance, the hiring measures averaged 57.0 in the third quarter, a nice step up from the 51.9 and 53.4 averages in the first and second quarters, respectively.

Overall, manufacturing sentiment was a bit softer than expected in September, but the underlying data show strong expansions in both demand and output. Manufacturing leaders are mostly positive about the coming months. This is largely consistent with the findings of our most recent NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers, which observed two year highs in respondents’ outlook. Yet, business leaders are also keenly aware of possible risks on the horizon. This includes geopolitical events, slowing economic growth in key export markets, a still-cautious consumer, workforce challenges, and other possible downside risks.

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

ism

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ADP: Manufacturers Added 35,000 Workers in September

ADP said that manufacturers added 35,000 net new workers in September, the fastest monthly pace of job growth in the sector since May 2010. With that said, the August number was revised down from its original estimate of 23,000 to 16,000. Note that this is still more than the zero jobs added in August according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but it is widely assumed that figure might get revised slightly higher with Friday’s employment data release. I expect Friday’s jobs report to be more consistent with the 12,500 to 15,000 per month average experienced over the past year for the manufacturing sector.

The ADP data show positive job gains in each of the past eight months, with January’s weather-related decline being an exception to an otherwise decent year. Over the past five months, manufacturers have hired 17,000 additional workers each month on average, reflecting a pickup in hiring since the spring.

In the larger economy, nonfarm private businesses added 213,000 employees in September, averaging 217,000 since January. Moreover, it was the sixth straight month with nonfarm payroll growth exceeding 200,000. Outside of manufacturing, the largest job gains in September were seen in trade, transportation and utilities (up 38,000); professional and business services (up 29,000); construction (up 20,000) and financial activities (up 5,000). Small and medium-sized businesses (e.g., those with less than 500 employees) contributed 63.8 percent of the net new jobs.

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

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Conference Board: Consumer Confidence Unexpectedly Fell in September

The Conference Board said that consumer sentiment unexpectedly fell in September to its lowest level since May. The Consumer Confidence Index declined from a revised 93.4 in August to 86.0 in September. This pullback was even more disappointing given the fact that August’s reading had been the highest since October 2007, nearly seven years ago and pre-dating the recession. Therefore, while confidence remains higher today than earlier in the year, it is clear that Americans still remain anxious about the economy and about labor and income growth. It is also possible that geopolitical events have put the public on edge, dampening optimism. We have similar concerns in comparable data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters.

Indeed, perceptions about current (down from 93.9 to 89.4) and future (down from 93.1 to 83.7) conditions were both lower for the month, particularly the latter. The percentage of respondents saying that jobs were “plentiful” dropped from 17.6 percent to 15.1 percent, and the percentage expecting their incomes to decrease rose from 11.6 percent to 13.4 percent. These data tend to suggest that there are nagging worries about jobs and the economy. Yet, there were also some positives. The percentage of those taking the survey who felt that their incomes would increase rose from 15.5 percent to 16.8 percent, and overall, many of these measures had made improvements over recent months despite the declines in September.

Buying intentions were also mixed, largely mirroring the reduced confidence described above. The percentages planning to buy a new automobile (down from 13.5 to 12.0 percent) and home (down from 5.3 percent to 4.9 percent) were both lower; yet, the percentage planning to purchase new appliances increased from 45.7 percent to 51.3 percent.

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

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Dallas Fed: Manufacturing Activity Picked Up in September

The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said that manufacturing activity picked up in September. The composite index of general business activity increased from 7.1 in August to 10.8 in September, and in general, the data continue to show stronger growth since being nearly stagnant in February. In fact, the paces for production (up from 6.8 to 17.6), capacity utilization (up from 3.6 to 20.2) and shipments (up from 6.4 to 15.9) were all up strongly in September, which was encouraging.

At the same time, there were also measures that expanding at a less-robust pace. New orders (up from 2.2 to 7.5) rose modestly, but with somewhat less gusto than the production figures. Just over one-quarter of those taking the survey said that their sales had increased in September, with 18.4 percent noting declines and 55.7 percent saying that orders were unchanged. Along those lines, hiring (down from 11.1 to 10.6) and capital spending (down from 6.6 to 4.4) both eased slightly, even as they both continued to reflect modest expansion.

The sample comments tend to reflect this nuanced view of the current economic environment, noting both strengths and some challenges. For instance, a chemical manufacturer said, “Our increased business activity is based on orders placed this time last year. We see some softening, especially in demand from Europe and China, while the U.S. remains strong.” Other concerns include cautious consumer behavior and wage and price pressures. A food manufacturer noted, for example, “We remain concerned that our consumers remain under serious financial pressure.” Indeed, where we have seen pricing pressures this year, it has largely been in the food category, with higher costs for meats, eggs, dairy and produce.

Manufacturers in the Dallas Fed region were mostly positive in September about the next six months, albeit less so than in August. The forward-looking measure of business activity dropped from 18.7 to 12.1. With that said, over 40 percent of respondents expect higher levels of production,  new orders, and shipments in the coming months, with nearly 30 percent planning to add new workers and 35.7 percent predicting increased capital spending. The one negative remains elevated pricing pressures, with 45.5 percent of those taking the survey seeing higher input costs over the next six months versus 9.1 predicted lower costs.

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

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Business Economists Anticipate “Steady” Growth in Second Half of 2014 and for 2015

Economists with the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) expect steady growth for the rest of this year and for next year. Respondents predict real GDP growth of 3.0 percent in the third quarter of 2014, 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter, and 3.0 percent for all of 2015. As such, it suggests that business economists feel that we have made significant progress in growth since weaknesses in the first quarter of this year.

You can see this rebound in the manufacturing figures, with panelists predicting 4.0 percent and 3.6 percent industrial production growth in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Each figure was marginally higher than in the June survey. These results are consistent with the mostly upbeat data seen in the latest NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers, which had sales, capital spending and hiring expectations at two-year highs. In terms of auto production, light vehicle sales should rise from an average of 15.5 million annualized units in 2013 to 16.3 million and 16.7 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Meanwhile, housing starts should continue to move higher, up from an annualized 1.00 million in 2014 to 1.17 million in 2015, according to the panelists. Note that this reflects some easing in growth rates for the housing sector, as the June survey had predicted 1.27 million units by the end of 2015. The inability of business to obtain credit was the biggest factor for recent softness in the housing market, cited by 65 percent of those taking the survey. Yet, the longer-term trend remains positive.

The forecast was also encouraging in other areas. For instance, capital spending should continue to improve, with healthy gains for fixed investments in nonresidential structures, equipment and software, and intellectual property products. In terms of jobs, nonfarm payrolls should average 228,000 per month in 2014 and 211,000 in 2015. Business economists also expect the unemployment rate to drop to 5.7 percent by the end of 2015, down from 6.1 percent right now.

Regarding the Federal Reserve, nearly 70 percent of all respondents felt that the Fed would start raising short-term interest rates in either the second or third quarters of 2015.

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

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Personal Spending Rebounded in August from Cautiousness in July

The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that personal spending rebounded in August after being unchanged in July. Personal spending increased 0.5 percent in August. Aside from the brief pause in July, consumers have been more willing to open their wallets since the weather-related storms in January. Indeed, since January, personal spending has risen 2.7 percent, with 4.1 percent growth year-over-year. The August consumption figure was boosted by strength in durable goods spending, which rose 1.8 percent for the month.

Meanwhile, personal income was also modestly higher, up 0.3 percent in August. Over the past 12 months, personal incomes have expanded by 4.3 percent. For manufacturers, total wages and salaries increased from $786.1 billion in July to $789.7 billion in August. This continues an upward trend for compensation in the sector, with average wages and salaries of $734.4 billion and $747.6 billion in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

With the pace of spending growth outpacing income growth in August, the savings rate edged down from 5.6 percent in July to 5.4 percent in August. Still, the longer term trend reflects upward movement in the savings rate, up from 4.1 percent in December.

In other news, the personal consumption expenditure (PCE) deflator was unchanged in August, with falling energy prices helping to reduce inflationary pressures. Nonetheless, food costs continue to move higher, up 0.3 percent in the month. On a year-over-year basis, the PCE deflator has increased 1.5 percent, down from 1.7 percent in May. Core inflation (which excludes food and energy costs) was also at a 1.5 percent pace in August. While pricing pressures have accelerated somewhat from earlier in the year, the recent easing will provide a little breathing room to the Federal Reserve as its seeks to normalize its policies.

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

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Monday Economic Report – September 29, 2014

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

The U.S. economy grew an annualized 4.6 percent in the second quarter of this year, its fastest pace since the fourth quarter of 2011. Consumer and business spending were the big bright spots in the real GDP report, with strong rebounds after softness in the first quarter. This latest revision reflected improved nonresidential fixed investment and goods exports data relative to prior estimates. At the same time, it is hard to forget that real GDP fell by 2.1 percent in the first quarter, with growth in the first half of 2014 expanding by a frustratingly slow 1.2 percent. Moving forward, manufacturers remain mostly upbeat. For instance, the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) held firm at 57.9, its fastest pace since May 2010.

I estimate real GDP growth of 3.3 percent for the third quarter, which ends this week. Nonetheless, there are a number of downside risks, and business leaders and the public remain tentative in their optimism.

Along those lines, regional surveys from the Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks continued to show expanding activity levels in their districts. The Richmond release found that activity has now grown for six straight months since winter-related contractions earlier in the year. It also reflected an uptick in production and demand, with the pace of hiring accelerating to its highest level since December 2010. All of this was encouraging. In the Kansas City district, manufacturers remained mostly positive, with more than half of respondents expecting increased production and shipments in the next six months. Among the issues cited in the Kansas City survey, manufacturers noted persistent challenges in attracting and retaining skilled workers. Other sample comments mentioned rising pricing pressures, both for wages and raw materials.

Turning to the global economy, the HSBC Flash China Manufacturing PMI edged slightly higher, up from 50.2 in August to 50.5 in September. This marked the fourth consecutive month with expanding manufacturing activity, improving from contractions in the first five months of the year. Yet, even with some signs of stabilization in China in recent data, the country is expected to continue to decelerate in its growth rates moving forward, something that it continues to grapple with. Similarly, the European Central Bank has struggled to cope with slow economic and income growth in the Eurozone, with persistent worries about deflation. Indeed, the Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI eased yet again, down from 50.7 to 50.5. This was the lowest level of growth since July 2013, the first month that the Eurozone emerged from its deep two-year recession.

Meanwhile, housing data released last week were mixed. New home sales rose sharply, up from an annualized 427,000 in July to 504,000 in August. This was the highest level in more than six years, and the pace of sales in August starkly contrasts with what we have seen so far in 2014. This makes it likely that September figures will pull back a little, but the trend line remains promising. In contrast, existing home sales decreased 1.8 percent in August, which was disappointing given recent improvements. It is likely that August’s decline was the result of a strong July reading, with some easing probably inevitable. Moving forward, the expectation is that existing home sales should move higher, continuing a longer-run trend in the data since March.

This week, the focus will be on jobs. After a disappointing employment report in August, we anticipate better news in September. I would not be surprised if the zero jobs figure in August for manufacturing was revised higher, and I continue to expect manufacturing jobs gains to revert to an average of 12,500 to 15,000 per month for the rest of the year. Nonfarm payrolls should once again exceed 200,000 in September, an improvement from the 142,000 figure in August (which is also likely to get revised upward). Other highlights this week include the latest data on construction spending, factory orders, international trade, personal income and manufacturing activity in the Dallas Federal Reserve district.

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

real GDP forecast - sept2014

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The U.S. Economy Grew 4.6 Percent in the Second Quarter

The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that the economy expanded an annualized 4.6 percent in the second quarter. This is the second revision for real GDP growth rates, up from earlier estimates of 4.0 percent and 4.2 percent.  This was the fastest pace of quarterly growth since the fourth quarter of 2011. Still, the second quarter figure largely reflected a rebound from softness in the first quarter, with activity down 2.1 percent. As such, the U.S. economy grew frustratingly slow in the first half of 2014, averaging 1.2 percent at the annual rate between the first and second quarters.

This revision reflected improved nonresidential fixed investment and goods exports data relative to prior estimates. Nonetheless, the overarching conclusions remained the same. Consumer and business spending were the big bright spots in the second quarter, collectively adding 4.6 percentage points to real GDP. Changes in inventories alone contributed 1.4 percentage points to growth, with businesses restocking their shelves after letting them deplete in the first quarter. There were also strong rebounds in goods spending and investments in both residential and nonresidential fixed investments.

In contrast, net exports and government spending offset each other in their quarterly contribution to real GDP. Goods exports increased sharply, but not enough to counteract even-stronger gains in goods imports. Likewise, reduced defense spending at the federal level served as a drag to real GDP growth; however, state and local government spending reflected generally improved financial positions, making their largest contribution to real GDP growth since the second quarter of 2009.

Moving forward, manufacturers remain mostly upbeat, and I estimate real GDP growth of 3.3 percent for the third quarter (which ends on September 30th next week). Moreover, my forecast for 2015 is for 3.2 percent real GDP growth, with continuing consumer and business spending strength and hopefully better export numbers.

Nonetheless, there are a number of downside risks out there, and it is clear that the public and business leaders remain tentative in their optimism. Beyond geopolitical worries, manufacturers would like to see better economic growth globally, a less-cautious consumer domestically, and continued improvements in the housing sector. In addition, policymakers would be wise to adopt pro-growth measures that will enable even-stronger growth in the sector such as focusing on a long-term re-authorization of the Export-Import Bank.

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

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Kansas City Fed: After Slowing in August, Manufacturing Activity Picked Up a Little in September

The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank said that manufacturing activity picked up a little in September, rebounding after slowing in August. The composite index of general business conditions increased from 3 in August to 6 in September. Through the first nine months of 2014, the main index has averaged 6.7, peaking at 10 in both March and May. As such, we continue to see modest gains among manufacturers in the Kansas City Fed district, with mostly positive expectations about the future.

For instance, the index for production rose from 4 in July to 12 in August, with the percentage of survey respondents saying that output had increased for the month rising from 25 percent to 34 percent. In contrast, one-quarter of those taking the survey said that their production levels were falling. Similar figures could be seen for shipments (up from 2 to 14). Employment shifted into positive territory (up from -4 to 7), with the average workweek also improving (up from -1 to 2). On the downside, the pace of new orders eased marginally, down from 6 to 5.

Several of the sample comments discussed skills shortages. As one respondent put it, “It is still very difficult to fill open positions for any type of worker from production to professional. I am seeing the same issue everywhere in our community.” The other issue of note in the comments was pricing pressures, both for wages and raw materials.  With that said, domestic energy production was mentioned as a positive for manufacturers in the region.

Looking ahead six months, manufacturers in the district remained optimistic overall. While the future-oriented composite index was unchanged at 17, over half of the respondents anticipate higher levels of production and shipments in the next six months. Moreover, the percentage expecting increased new orders rose from 38 percent to 44 percent for the months. Around 30 percent of those taking the survey plan to hire new workers or invest in more capital.

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

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