The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank said that manufacturing activity expanded in February at its fastest rate since June 2011. The composite index of general business conditions rose from 9 in January to 14 in February, expanding for the third straight month. As such, manufacturing conditions have continued to improve after notable challenges over the past two years from global headwinds and reduced commodity prices, especially for crude oil. Outside of the headline number, the underlying indices also suggested relatively healthy gains in new orders (up from 20 to 26), production (down from 20 to 11), shipments (down from 20 to 16), employment (up from 6 to 17) and the average workweek (up from 9 to 15), even with some easing in a couple of these measures. Exports (up from -5 to 9) were also stronger in the month, with positive growth for the first time in 15 months.
At the same time, manufacturers continue to be quite upbeat about the next six months, mirroring sentiment seen in other recent regional reports. The forward-looking composite index edged up from 27 to 29, its highest reading in the survey’s 16-year history. To illustrate the figure, 59 percent of respondents expect production to be higher moving forward, with 18 percent seeing declines in output. More than half also anticipate increased sales and shipments, with one-third predicting more hiring and 39 percent planning more capital spending. The exports data were also encouraging, particularly given that they have been a major drag for the Kansas City Fed region over the past couple years, with that index up from 4 to 13, a level not seen since June 2013.