The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that manufacturing activity eased slightly, but growth remained strong in its district. The Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey’s composite index of general business activity declined from 28.0 in August to 22.5 in September. While the figure decreased somewhat, it is important to note that August’s reading was the fastest pace since March 2011, and a modest pullback should have been anticipated. Many of the key indicators continued to expand at healthy rates, keeping the underlying trends positive.
As evidence of this, the paces for new orders (up from 14.7 to 15.5), shipments (up from 16.5 to 21.6) and employment (up from 9.1 to 21.2) accelerated. The percentage of respondents saying that their sales had increased in the month rose from 32.3 percent in August to 37.6 percent in September. Roughly one-quarter of respondents noted additional hiring in both months, with the percentage citing declines in employment dropping from 15.6 percent to 4.5 percent. Therefore, fewer manufacturers were cutting workers in September, which was encouraging. Still, the average workweek (down from 13.3 to 4.4) narrowed a bit.
Manufacturers remained overwhelmingly upbeat in their outlook despite a decrease in the forward-looking composite measure (down from 66.4 to 56.0). In fact, 55.1 percent of respondents anticipate increased new orders in the next 6 months, with 58.8 percent seeing higher shipment levels. Regarding employment, 43.6 percent expect to add new workers in the coming months, with just 4.0 percent indicating possible declines. Capital spending (up from 17.5 to 23.7) was also expected to increase at decent rates. The one downside was pricing pressures for raw materials, with almost half of those taking the survey predicting higher input costs ahead.
As further evidence of this optimism, manufacturers responded to a special question about production in the third quarter. Nearly 59 percent of them said that output would increase for their company in the third quarter relative to the second quarter, with 28.7 percent stating declines. On average, production was expected to increase by 2 percent in the third quarter. For the fourth quarter, those predicting an acceleration in activity (53.8 percent) outpaced those forecasting a deceleration (21.2 percent).
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.