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Exporters for Ex-Im: For This Small Manufacturer, Ex-Im Bank Holds the Keys to a $15 million Project

Jason Speer spent months developing a business deal that was shaping up nicely.

Speer is the president of Quality Float Works, Inc., a manufacturer of metal float balls, valves and assemblies that level liquid controls for a variety of industrial applications. He had reached an agreement with a residential real estate developer in Saudi Arabia to supply shut-off switches for water tanks installed in the new homes of a development outside of Riyadh.

Speer had traveled from Schaumburg, Ill., about 25 miles northwest of Chicago, to Saudi Arabia three times to negotiate the multi-phase deal. He is awaiting a letter of credit from the Saudi real estate developer’s bank to his bank with an accompanying purchase order.

Right now, one obstacle stands in the way. Speer needs a working capital guarantee from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to finance the raw materials required to manufacture the switches. With Ex-Im Bank’s lending authorization set to expire on September 30 if Congress fails to extend its charter, the contract with his Saudi client hangs in the balance.

“Private lenders won’t touch (loans) for the type of materials we need, and it’s very hard for small and medium size businesses to raise capital upfront,” Speer said. “During our planning, never once did we think the Bank would lose its authorization. We might be forced to scramble to try to find other options, without which we won’t be able to fulfill this order.”

If the deal collapses, Quality Float Works stands to lose $15 million in revenue and will hold off hiring the six new employees needed to service the Saudi contract, Speer said. Ex-Im’s predicament is troubling for a small business increasingly dependent on exports. While exports accounted for just 3% of Quality Float Works’ sales in 2001, today they make up 35% of the firm’s sales, with customers in nearly three dozen countries. The number of employees at the company has doubled to 24 in that time.

The pending deal with the Saudi developer is the first instance in which Quality Float Works has applied for an Ex-Im loan guarantee, and it hopes it won’t be the last. Speer, a committed small business advocate who has testified before Congress in support of free trade agreements, says his message to members of Congress is simple: “The Ex-Im Bank can make or break the ability of small and medium size businesses to export, and, by extension, their ability to create jobs and grow the economy.”

“Exporters for Ex-Im” is a blog series focused on the importance of the Export-Import Bank to manufacturers. To learn more or to tell Congress you support reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, visit http://www.nam.org/Issues/Trade/Ex-Im-Bank.aspx.

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Monday Economic Report – August 18, 2014

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

While geopolitical events continue to provide significant downside risks to the economy, recent data suggest that manufacturers in the United States are faring better this summer. Manufacturing production increased 1.0 percent in July, helping to lift the year-over-year pace of manufacturing output to 4.9 percent, its fastest annual pace since June 2012. Last month’s gain stemmed largely from increased motor vehicle production, with all but three of the major manufacturing sectors notching higher output levels for the month. At the same time, the utilization rate for manufacturers increased to 77.8 percent, nearly reaching pre-recessionary capacity levels.

Similarly, the Empire State Manufacturing Survey reflected strong growth in August, albeit less so than the robust levels observed in July. More importantly, respondents to the New York Fed’s survey were significantly more upbeat, with roughly 60 percent anticipating higher sales and output over the next six months. This study also reported that approximately 30 percent of manufacturers in its district planned to hire more workers and invest in additional capital expenditures in the coming months. This is welcome news, and it was largely consistent with the recent pickup in the labor market. Manufacturing job openings increased in June to their highest level in two years, with net hiring also accelerating. Of course, we already knew that to some extent. The most recent employment data found that manufacturers hired an additional 22,000 workers on average from May to July.

Meanwhile, the European economy has shown signs of backtracking, with real GDP in the Eurozone remaining unchanged in the second quarter. Germany’s economy contracted by 0.2 percent, helping to push the continent’s growth figure lower, but Italy (also down 0.2 percent) and France (flat for the second straight quarter) were also weak. In addition, industrial production has decreased in three of the past four months, with output unchanged year-over-year. We will get our first look at August purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data this week. The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI report in July provided mixed news, with activity expanding for 13 straight months but growth continuing to ease over the course of this year. The latest data suggest that Europe’s economic challenges are still not behind them.

To some extent, that is true in the United States as well. We have seen improvements in a number of economic indicators, and yet, there are also persistent worries about future growth. Some of this could stem from global anxieties, but it could also be a function of disappointment with the lack of growth in the first half of the year. Preliminary consumer sentiment data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters appears to pick up on this nuance, with Americans less confident once again in their forward-looking expectations. Indeed, retail sales data also reflect cautiousness on the part of the consumer, with spending unchanged in June.

This week, we will get additional insights about the health of the manufacturing sector worldwide. In addition to new PMI data for Europe, Markit will also release flash reports for China, Japan and the United States. While China’s economy had begun to stabilize in July, last week we learned that Japan’s real GDP contracted by 1.7 percent in the second quarter, or 6.8 percent year-over-year. Closer to home, the Federal Reserve will release the minutes of its July 29–30 Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Analysts will be looking for clues about when the Fed plans to start normalizing short-term rates. The Fed received good news last week with an easing in producer prices in July from recent highs, and this should help to alleviate some of the immediate pressure from inflation hawks, at least for now. Other highlights this week include the latest data on consumer prices, housing starts and permits, leading indicators and Philadelphia Fed manufacturing sentiment.

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

manufacturing production - aug2014

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PPG Brings Lawmaker to Discussion with Manufacturers

Manufacturers are keeping up the dialogue with policymakers during the August recess, taking advantage of the opportunity to bend their ears about pro-growth policies.

Among these meetings was a discussion hosted this week by PPG Industries with 25 companies in attend. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA-03), a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, met with manufacturers for 2 hours to talk about tax reform, regulation, Ex-Im Bank reauthorization and the critical need for bipartisan cooperation to accomplish the hard work that must be done.

Rep. Kelly, a friend to manufacturers with a 100% voting record with the NAM during this Congress, knows firsthand the impact that Washington policies have on business owners across the country. Manufacturers were especially pleased with his dedication to reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank.

Manufacturers in the U.S. are more engaged than ever – and we’ll be keeping up the drumbeat all summer long.

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Exporters for Ex-Im: ​Brownies, Cakes, And Ex-Im Bank Collide

If you’ve eaten cheesecake, chocolate cake or brownies at a major chain restaurant, there’s a good chance it was made by Love and Quiches Gourmet in Freeport, N.Y.

Susan Axelrod, the company’s chairwoman and founder, started the company in her home kitchen in 1973 and knocked on thousands of doors to get people interested in her quiche and desserts. The company grew from there and now has several hundred employees who help the company sell pastries and a variety of cakes all over the world.

That success, Ms. Axelrod said, is partly attributable to the U.S. Export-Import Bank, a small government agency that could be shut down if Congress doesn’t act by the end of September. Love and Quiches started using the Ex-Im Bank almost 20 years ago and, like thousands of small business around the country, found it crucial to its success.

Love and Quiches relies on the Bank’s credit insurance program. The Bank charges the company a fee for insurance in case a foreign customer fails to pay for the desserts the company ships abroad.

But in the nearly two decades since Ms. Axelrod starting using the Bank, her company hasn’t had to file a claim with the Ex-Im Bank. “We’re very careful who we do business with. We’ve never had a claim – never,” she said.

The Ex-Im Bank named Love and Quiches its 2014 Small Business Exporter of the Year, an award that Ms. Axelrod is proud to discuss.

She said the company doesn’t want the Ex-Im Bank to go away. That, she said, would make it “harder for us to compete with all the other bakery companies in the world that get more support from their government.”

She said other small businesses don’t have the same flexibility as her company and, without Ex-Im Bank, they “would have to walk away from their export business.”

“Exporters for Ex-Im” is a blog series focused on the importance of the Export-Import Bank to manufacturers. To learn more or to tell Congress you support reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, visit http://www.nam.org/Issues/Trade/Ex-Im-Bank.aspx.

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NFIB: Small Business Confidence Edged Higher in July

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said that small business confidence edged higher in July, bouncing back after dropping slightly in June. The Small Business Optimism Index increased from 95.0 in June to 95.7 in July. While the index remains below the 96.6 reading observed in May (which was its highest level since September 2007), it has averaged 95.6 over the past four months (April to July). This represents an upward trend, with the first quarter (January to March) averaging 93.0. As such, it suggests that small business owners have become somewhat more positive over the past few months.

Much of the data supports this finding. The percentage of respondents saying that the next three months are a “good time to expand” increased from 7 percent to 10 percent, matching the level observed in May. Net sales expectations were off marginally, down from 11 percent to 10 percent. However, these data also suggest that the sales outlook has improved so far in 2014 with a year-to-date average of 10.9 percent, up from an average of 3.8 percent for all of 2013. In July, capital expenditure plans (up from 24 percent to 25 percent) were also higher.

Nonetheless, the Small Business Optimism Index remains below 100, indicating that the sector continues to experience subpar growth and sentiment. Survey respondents suggest that economic conditions and the political climate are factors that discourage expansion. Along those lines, taxes and government regulations are cited as the top problems faced by small business owners, with each garnering 22 percent. These are followed by poor sales (13 percent) and the inability to attract workers (10 percent).

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

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Exporters for Ex-Im: Small Business Owner Expands Construction-Equipment Business With Ex-Im Bank

Barry Stoughton developed on his own a product that revolutionized the construction equipment business, but needed the help of the Export-Import Bank of the United States to sell that revolutionary product overseas.

Mr. Stoughton, a former high school math teacher, started Bensenville, Ill.-based BLS Enterprises out of a garage in 1986. The company makes track pads made with polyurethane retreading for construction equipment. Prior to him, companies used rubber, which was less durable.

Most of the 12-employee company’s sales are domestic, but about 14 years ago Mr. Stoughton realized there was an international hunger for his company’s TUFPADS track pads.

We “are always looking for new customers around the world,” he said.

So he turned to the Ex-Im Bank and started with small orders to Taiwan, requiring cash-in-advance payments. But as the company’s orders grew, they needed more flexible financing options – and the Ex-Im Bank stepped in to help.

The Bank provides the company – for a charge, of course – with credit insurance in case their foreign buyers fail to pay.

Because of the Ex-Im Bank, the company has been able to take advantage of opportunities to expand sales to Malaysia, Australia and other countries.

He fears what will happen if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank by September 30, but he’s confident they will support the Bank if they understand what it does.

He said “when people see that small companies are trying to expand and sell American products abroad using Ex-Im, they will support it.”

“Exporters for Ex-Im” is a blog series focused on the importance of the Export-Import Bank to manufacturers. To learn more or to tell Congress you support reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, visit http://www.nam.org/Issues/Trade/Ex-Im-Bank.aspx.

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Monday Economic Report – August 11, 2014

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

In a light week for economic indicator releases, geopolitical events dominated the headlines and moved equity markets. With U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, battles between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and mounting tensions with Russia, financial markets have a lot to absorb, with uncertainty sending stock values lower. Even with a triple-digit gain on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 3.5 percent since hitting an all-time high of 17,138.20 on July 16. From an economic perspective, geopolitical challenges could put downward pressure on forecasts for the second half of 2014 depending on how they evolve in the coming days and months. Absent these global anxieties, manufacturers have tended to be mostly upbeat about the next six months, and several recent data points have suggested rebounding demand and output as we began the third quarter.

New factory orders have risen in four of the past five months, increasing 1.1 percent in June and 4.6 percent since January. With that said, year-over-year growth has been less robust, up just 1.5 percent. This shows the extent to which winter weather weakened sales earlier this year. Still, June’s new factory orders figure of $503.2 billion reached an all-time high, which was encouraging. This data is largely consistent with positive news of late on real GDP, manufacturing sentiment surveys, and hiring. Indeed, manufacturing labor productivity increased by a relatively healthy 3.6 percent in the second quarter, lifted by robust gains in output. Unit labor costs declined 1.3 percent, with durable goods industries accounting for much of that decrease. Productivity gains since 2009 have helped to keep the sector more competitive globally, particularly for durable goods firms.

In June, the U.S. trade deficit fell to its smallest level since January, as goods imports declined at a faster pace than goods exports increased. Nonetheless, we continue to see relatively slow growth for U.S.-manufactured goods exports, which have increased 1.7 percent year-to-date. Ideally, we will see improvements moving into the second half of the year, as the current pace represents a deceleration from last year’s 2.6 percent rate of growth. Of course, challenges abound on this front, with news of weak growth in Europe, flat export sales growth to our largest trading partner Canada, and decelerating growth rates in China.

This week, we will get new industrial production figures for July. We anticipate manufacturing output growing for the sixth straight month, modestly extending upon the 3.1 percent growth observed since January. The New York Federal Reserve Bank’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey is also expected to show continued expansion for the sector in its district. Other highlights this week include the latest data on consumer sentiment, job openings, producer prices, retail sales, and small business optimism.

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

labor productivity - aug2014

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How to Encourage Investment in the United States

Here at the NAM, we’re big proponents of a manufacturing comeback and one of our top priorities is to make the United States the best place in the world to manufacture and attract foreign direct investment. A pro-investment tax climate is key to achieving this goal and manufacturers are all for it.

On the other hand, we are increasingly concerned about “one-off” changes to the current tax code, like the anti-inversion proposals under discussion in Washington that will actually discourage investment in the United States, taking a toll on job creation and economic growth.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, John McKinnon takes a closer look at the potential negative impact of the anti-inversion legislation just on foreign direct investment in Firms Warn Inversion Crackdown Carries Risks. This is a big issue for the manufacturing sector—U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies employee more than 2 million U.S. workers, over 17 percent of America’s manufacturing workforce. As we’ve said many times before, we don’t need more tinkering with our broken tax code, what our country needs is a pro-growth, pro-competitive, fairer, simpler and predictable tax climate.

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U.S. Trade Deficit at Lowest Level since January

The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau said that the U.S. trade deficit narrowed for the second straight month, down from $44.66 billion in May to $41.54 billion in June. This was the smallest trade deficit since January’s $40.05 billion level. Still, it is notable that the U.S. trade deficit has been larger in 2014 averaging $43.34 billion over the first six months of the year than it was in 2013, which averaged $39.70 billion for the year as a whole. The larger year-to-date trade deficit has largely stemmed from growth in goods imports outpacing growth in goods exports.

With that said, in June, goods imports declined (down from $200.05 billion to $197.16 billion); whereas, goods exports were marginally higher (up from $136.74 billion to $136.87 billion). This explained the bulk of why the U.S. trade deficit narrowed for the month. The petroleum trade deficit was another factor, narrowing slightly in June (down from $8.89 billion to $8.15 billion).

Looking specifically at goods exports by sector, the data were mostly positive, but not significantly so. Consumer goods (up $411 million), automotive vehicles and parts (up $163 million), industrial supplies and materials (up $51 million) and non-automotive capital goods (up $33 million) experienced growth in exports in June. In contrast, exports of foods, feeds and beverages (down $264 million) were off for the month because of reduced international sales for soybeans and fish and shellfish. The trade deficit’s June decline can be explained by falling goods imports for consumer goods (down $1.28 billion), automotive vehicles (down $1.07 billion), industrial supplies and materials (down $548 million) and non-automotive vehicles (down $259 million).

Goods exports to our top 5 export markets for U.S.-manufactured goods were higher through the first six months of this year relative to the same time frame last year. This included (using non-seasonally adjusted data):

  • Canada (up from $150.97 billion to $154.56 billion)
  • Mexico (up from $110.72 billion to $118.33 billion)
  • China (up from $54.97 billion to $58.67 billion)
  • Japan (up from $32.24 billion to $33.31 billion)
  • Germany (up from $23.76 billion to $25.43 billion)

That is encouraging news, particularly given recent weaknesses in growing export sales. Overall, manufactured goods exports have increased from $588.58 billion year-to-date in 2013 to $591.17 billion in 2014 (non-seasonally adjusted). This represents an increase of just 0.4 percent from last year, which would be a deceleration from last year’s 2.4 percent pace. (We should be able to update this figure with seasonally adjusted data as soon as Trade Stats Express is revised to include second quarter data.)

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Monday Economic Report – August 4, 2014

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

The U.S. economy has rebounded after a slow start to the year, with a number of data sources last week showing manufacturing activity growing strongly of late. First, real GDP increased by a healthy 4.0 percent in the second quarter, more than offsetting the 2.1 percent drop in output during the first quarter. Consumer and business spending spurred the higher figure. Inventory investments alone contributed one-third of the growth in real GDP for the quarter, with higher investment levels for housing, nonresidential structures, equipment and intellectual property. In addition, goods spending increased at its fastest pace since the fourth quarter of 2010. Net exports, however, continued to be a weakness, with growth in goods imports outstripping increases in goods exports. Moreover, one cannot help but be frustrated with weak economic growth so far this year, even if the outlook has improved. Real GDP rose by a frustratingly slow 0.9 percent in the first half of 2014. Fortunately, manufacturers are cautiously upbeat about future growth.

The Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) increased from 55.3 in June to 57.1 in July. More importantly, the production index has measured 60 or more for each of the past three months, indicating strong output growth. Demand and hiring were also up sharply, but export sales growth eased, and raw material costs remained elevated. Similarly, the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank’s survey also noted accelerating manufacturing activity, with overall activity up for the 14th consecutive month. The underlying data in that report were mostly higher across-the-board, and at least 45 percent of respondents expect sales, production and shipments to increase over the coming months, with just single-digit percentages anticipating declines. These findings mirror those of other recent regional surveys.

Meanwhile, the latest jobs report was mostly positive, with manufacturers adding 28,000 workers on net in July. More than half of that stemmed from the automotive sector, signifying that, if anything, employment growth could be more broad-based within the sector, extending in particular to the nondurable goods sector more. Yet, manufacturing employment has picked up, averaging 22,000 over the past three months and nearly 15,000 per month since August. Moreover, we continue to hear about skills shortages in many locations, which could create wage pressures moving forward. In fact, during the second quarter, manufacturing wages and salaries increased at their fastest pace in more than a decade, driving up overall employment costs. Nonetheless, total compensation for manufacturers has risen by 2.1 percent year-over-year, suggesting that wage pressures remain in check for the most part—at least for now.

Along those lines, personal income and spending both increased by 0.4 percent in June. Since January, when winter weather dampened purchases, personal spending has risen 2.2 percent, with year-over-year growth of 4.0 percent. This suggests that Americans continue to spend at a decent pace, even if their purchase decisions remain selective and cautious. Furthermore, there were two consumer confidence surveys released last week, with each moving in opposite directions. The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters found that sentiment edged lower in July, with little change in confidence since December and persistent anxieties about the future direction of the economy. In contrast, the Conference Board observed that sentiment was at its highest point since the beginning of the recession (December 2007), led by an improved perception about the labor market. However, rising confidence did not necessarily translate into increased buying intentions.

For its part, the Federal Reserve Board noted recent improvements in the economy, but it also believes there continues to be “significant underutilization of labor resources.” The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted to continue tapering its long-term and mortgage-backed security purchases, down from $35 billion to $25 billion per month. These purchases are expected to end by October. While the FOMC will keep short-term rates near zero for now, these rates are predicted to begin rising sometime early in 2015. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve will continue to monitor incoming economic data, including inflationary pressures. Recent data have shown prices accelerating, but at least for now, they appear to be under control. For instance, core inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, has increased 1.6 percent over the past 12 months, according to personal consumption expenditure deflator data released last week.

There are just a handful of data releases this week. Highlights include the latest data on exports, factory orders and productivity.

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

real GDP forecast - aug2014

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