Time Will Tell If DOE Has Fixed The Problem

The Department of Energy (DOE), which has faced broad criticism over its slow handling of applications for a license to export liquefied natural gas (LNG), today finalized new procedures that it says will expedite the process. While we are glad that the DOE has responded to these criticisms proactively by taking steps to address the problem, only time will tell whether any of these procedural changes will actually work. We are disappointed that several of NAM’s proposed changes, which we believe would have strengthened the rule, were not accepted.

The bottom line for manufacturers is that this permitting process for energy exports should operate in a way that permits the market to function. If the DOE’s new procedures get us there, great. If not, then DOE should plan to hear a lot more from us.

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Exporters for Ex-Im: Bank A “Valuable Tool” For Commercial Cleaning System Exporter

Bob Toews, vice president of Kaivac Inc., says his company is defined by its entrepreneurial spirit. That resourcefulness helped them design a no-touch commercial cleaning system that can clean floors 30 times better than a mop – in a fraction of the time.

Their patented cleaning system has appeal across the globe. It’s used in London Heathrow and Amsterdam Airports, to name a few, as well as the iconic Louvre Museum in Paris. But as is the case for many businesses looking to tap into global demand, Kaivac found the Export-Import Bank to be a valuable asset in making those deals possible.

Kaivac is based in Hamilton, Ohio, and has 50 employees. When the company started to explore potential new markets, Toews said the company networked through friends and family to reach new customers. Their success, however, was limited by the fact that they needed required cash in advance for overseas sales.

The company needed to offer credit terms to grow, but the availability of private sector credit insurance did not, according to Toews, “reach down to their level.” In 2010, Toews started using Ex-Im Bank credit insurance and got five international customers qualified.

“Offering foreigners credit terms was a big benefit. It ratcheted up their interest and ability to buy,” he said

The result has been a significant uptick in overseas sales. Toews said that last year, the company doubled their export sales – about half of which were supported by Ex-Im credit insurance. In fact, the company has just hired another person solely dedicated to selling the cleaning systems internationally.

Toews says Ex-Im is so valuable because it is “a great tool to reach markets that are hard to reach without it.” He is disappointed about the current fight in Congress for reauthorization but is confident the benefits of Ex-Im will shine through.

“At the end of the day,” Toews noted, “what other programs really help small businesses?”

“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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Despite Higher Food Producer Prices in July, Overall Inflationary Pressures Eased Slightly

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that producer prices for final demand goods and services increased 0.1 percent in July, slowing from the 0.4 percent gain seen in June. Specifically, producer prices for final demand goods were unchanged for the month, with food prices up 0.4 percent but energy costs down 0.6 percent. The increase in food costs stemmed largely from higher prices for meats and shellfish; however, there was some relief from recent price gains for produce. On the energy side, producers have benefited from lower prices for natural gas and petroleum of late. For instance, the cost of West Texas intermediate crude oil declined from a recent peak of $107.95 per barrel on June 20 to $98.23 on July 31.

Beyond food and energy, core prices for final demand goods rose 0.2 percent in July. The largest increases were seen in apparel for women, girls and infants; commercial furniture; industrial chemicals; light motor trucks; pharmaceuticals; and transformers and power regulators. These were offset somewhat by declines in prices for floor coverings, gold and platinum jewelry, pet food, sanitary paper products, tires and x-ray equipment.

On an annual basis, producer prices for final demand goods and services rose 1.7 percent over the past 12 months. This was down for the third straight month, off from the 2.1 percent pace observed in April. Likewise, core inflation – which excludes food and energy costs – increased 1.6 percent over the past 12 months, down from 2.0 percent in May.

Overall, this suggests that inflationary pressures have eased slightly over the past couple months. While we have seen some acceleration in producer prices since the beginning of the year, costs remain below the Federal Reserve’s stated threshold of 2 percent. This indicates the inflation remains in-check, at least for now, and the recent deceleration should ease the pressure on the Federal Open Market Committee to expedite its plans to normalize rates. Of course, the final decision to raise short-term rates will hinge on economic data in the months to come.

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

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Manufacturing Production Rose One Percent in July, with Capacity Reaching a Six-Year High

Manufacturing production increased 1.0 percent in July, its fastest pace since February’s post-weather rebound earlier in the year. The jump in output helped to lift the year-over-year pace of manufacturing production to 4.9 percent, its fastest annual rate since June 2012. As such, it illustrates the recover in output in the sector since the winter months, with the year-over-year pace up from 1.5 percent in January.

Meanwhile, manufacturing capacity utilization increased from 77.2 percent in June (and just 75.5 percent in January) to 77.8 percent in July. This suggests that utilization rates for manufacturers have nearly reached their pre-recessionary levels, with July’s rate the highest level since February 2008.

Looking at sectoral performance, durable and nondurable goods output were both higher, up 1.7 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively. The largest increase stemmed from motor vehicle production, which increased by a whopping 10.1 percent in July, recovering from being flat in June. On a year-over-year basis, motor vehicles and parts output has risen 21.9 percent. This reflected the sizable gain in 2014, but it was also a function of softness in 2013 due to the sector gearing up for a new model year.

Other sectors with notable increases in July included apparel and leather (up 1.8 percent), textile and product mills (up 1.7 percent), furniture and related products (up 1.4 percent), petroleum and coal products (up 1.3 percent), nonmetallic mineral products (up 1.0 percent), primary metals (up 1.0 percent), machinery (up 0.9 percent) and computer and electronic products (up 0.8 percent). In contrast, just 3 of the 19 major sectors had declining production for the month, and these were: miscellaneous durable goods (down 0.8 percent); food, beverage and tobacco products (down 0.3 percent); and plastics and rubber products (down 0.3 percent).

On a year-over-year basis, durable goods production has risen by a healthy 8.2 percent since July 2013, with nondurable goods output up 2.1 percent. The five sectors with the fastest growth over the past 12 months include: motor vehicles and parts (up 21.9 percent), furniture and related products (up 9.2 percent), machinery (up 8.3 percent), plastics and rubber products (up 7.4 percent) and nonmetallic mineral products (up 7.3 percent).

Meanwhile, overall industrial production rose 0.4 percent in July, equaling the increase seen in June. It was the sixth straight monthly gain in production, following January’s weather-induced decline. Since January, industrial output has risen 3.0 percent, with 5.0 percent growth year-over-year. Mining production increased 0.3 percent, but utility output continues to soften, down 3.4 percent for the month. Total capacity utilization increased from 79.1 percent in June to 79.2 percent in July, its highest rate since June 2008.

In conclusion, manufacturers continue to expand strongly in July, recovering from weaknesses earlier in the year. Moreover, surveys suggest optimism for the months ahead, including respondents from the Empire State Manufacturing Survey released this morning. Yet, manufacturing leaders have also been disappointed with the slow pace of growth in the first half of this year, and their upbeat sentiment about the second half remains is filled with caution. For that reason, policymakers should focus on those initiatives which will keep the economy growing moving forward.

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

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NY Fed: Manufacturers in its District Have Expanded Strongly for Six Straight Months

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey from the New York Federal Reserve Bank said that businesses expanded strongly for the sixth straight month in August. Yet, while growth rates remain at decent levels, the pace of expansion eased somewhat for the month. The composite index of general business conditions declined from 25.6 in July, which was a four-year high, to 14.7 in August. Given the loftiness of July’s figure, it should probably not be much of a surprise that the index came back down to earth. The good news was that much of July’s increases were sustained, with 31.4 percent saying that conditions were better and 51.9 percent suggesting that they remained the same in August.

The underlying data were mixed. On the positive side, the growth rate for shipments (up from 23.6 to 24.6) and the average employee workweek (up from 2.3 to 8.0) both picked up, reflecting increased activity levels. At the same time, new orders (down from 18.8 to 14.1) and hiring (down from 17.1 to 13.6) decelerated slightly, even as they remained at decent growth levels. Pricing pressures remained elevated (up from 25.0 to 27.3), with nearly 30 percent of survey respondents suggesting that input costs were higher in August.

Meanwhile, manufacturers in the New York Fed’s district were significantly more optimistic about the next six months. The forward-looking composite index jumped from 28.5 to 46.8, its highest level since January 2012. Roughly 60 percent of those taking the survey said that they anticipate higher sales and output levels in the months ahead, with approximately 30 percent planning to hire more workers and invest in additional capital expenditures. Still, the average workweek is predicted to be unchanged six months from now, and 46.6 percent feel that raw material prices should increase.

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

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Senator, You’re Aiming At the Wrong Target

The NAM believes that recent M&A activity in the international arena highlights the critical need for a comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. tax system to reflect the global marketplace of the 21st century. In short, the answer is comprehensive tax reform, not punitive tax treatment of foreign-owned companies or other “on-off” tax changes that have been floating around Washington this summer.

The latest proposal, unveiled yesterday by Senate Finance Committee member Chuck Schumer (D-NY), takes aim at interest deductions by non-U.S. headquartered companies. Unfortunately, Sen. Schumer’s proposal seems to disregard the very important role that foreign direct investment plays in the U.S. economy. Indeed, U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies employee more than 2 million U.S. workers, over 17 percent of America’s manufacturing workforce The ability to deduct interest expense is a critical factor in a company’s decision to invest and create jobs in the United States

Foreign investment is particularly important in U.S. manufacturing, where one in every seven U.S. manufacturing workers is employed by foreign-owned firms in the United States. These firms contributed $649.3 billion to the economy in 2010, the most recent year with data. Foreign affiliates are major exporters and, in fact, accounted for nearly 18 percent of America’s global exports.

Because of the importance of foreign direct investment to the U.S. economy, it is critical that policymakers avoid imposing discriminatory taxes on foreign-owned companies. Congress should focus on tax policies that attract and maintain more capital investment, rather than discourage it.

 

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NAM in the Wall Street Journal: The EPA’s Latest Threat to Economic Growth

The clock continues to tick on EPA’s pending revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone. The new rule, expected in December, could cost the economy at large $270 billion each year and put millions of jobs at risk, as noted in the analysis we recently released with NERA Economic Consulting. At these costs – which would total more than $2 trillion in lost GDP through 2040 – new ozone standards would be the most expensive rule ever imposed on the American public.

NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons took to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal this week to discuss the economic threat posed by new ozone standards in an OpEd titled “The EPA’s Latest Threat to Economic Growth.” In the piece, Mr. Timmons sheds light on the historic scale of this regulatory threat:

According to a new study for the National Association of Manufacturers by NERA Economic Consulting, the new ozone standard could cost Americans $270 billion annually, put millions of jobs at risk, and drastically increase energy prices for consumers and manufacturers. No single regulation has come close to rendering this level of self-inflicted and ultimately unnecessary economic pain. 

The piece goes on to note the troubling reality that – even among regulators at the EPA – it’s not clear how this new standard could even be met without widespread reduction in economic activity:

Remarkably, the EPA has only identified one-third of the controls and technologies that companies and state governments will need to implement to meet the new standard. The other two-thirds are what the agency refers to as “unknown controls.”

However, we do know that the new ozone standard could mean shutting down, scrapping, and modifying power plants, factories, heavy-duty vehicles, farm equipment, off-road vehicles and even passenger cars. Costs would be passed on to consumers, who would have thousands less to spend every year.

The manufacturing renaissance currently underway has helped bring thousands of jobs back to the United States and fuel our economic recovery. A new ozone rule at the levels EPA staff are currently recommending could undo this growth, slamming manufacturers and businesses of all stripes with a mandate so aggressive that even national parks will fail to comply. That’s why we’ll continue our effort throughout this fall to educate lawmakers and the public alike about the threat on the horizon, urging the EPA to allow the significant cuts made by the existing standard to be fully implemented before considering a tighter standard.

Read Mr. Timmons Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal here, and check out our video describing ground-level ozone policies here.

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Europe’s Economy Slowed to a Halt in the Second Quarter

Eurostat reported flat real GDP growth in the second quarter for the Eurozone, the slowest pace since the first quarter of 2013. Since emerging from a deep recession in mid-2013, Europe has grown slowly, prompting deflationary worries and dampening what would otherwise have been a psychological boost. In the 18-member Eurozone, real GDP has expanded 0.7 percent over the past 12 months. Germany (down 0.2 percent) and Italy (down 0.2 percent) were among the countries in the second quarter with declining economic growth, with French growth unchanged for the second consecutive quarter. In contrast, the United Kingdom has been of the bright spots, with 0.8 percent growth in the second quarter and 3.1 percent growth year-over-year.

Given the sluggishness of recent income and economic activity growth in the Eurozone, we have also seen prices increase very slowly, up just 0.4 percent in July and down from 0.5 percent in June. This has prompted the European Central Bank to be more aggressive, and the latest data suggest even more monetary stimulus in the months ahead.

In the manufacturing sector, industrial production declined by 0.3 percent in the Eurozone in June. It has decreased in three of the past four months. On a year-over-year basis, industrial output was unchanged since June 2013 in the 18-member Eurozone. This represents a significant deceleration in the past two months, down from 1.8 percent in April. We will get our first look at August purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data on August 21, but this data suggest weaknesses for the month. The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI report in July provided mixed news, with activity expanding for 13 straight months but with growth in activity continuing to ease over the course of this year.

Overall, these data show that Europe’s economic challenges are still not behind them, with activity slowing over much of this year. For manufacturers, this has meant cautious consumption and slowing production for both durable and nondurable goods. Energy production has declined by the largest amount year-over-year (down 3.4 percent), and tensions with Russia could present even-greater downside risks for the continent as temperatures start to fall in the fall and winter months.

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

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Timmons in WSJ Op-Ed: Delhi Holds Trade Growth for Ransom

Less than two weeks after India took a hard and unexpected stance against a previously agreed upon WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), the international community is still reeling and contemplating the possible repercussions.  NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons recently outlined in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Asia op-ed the impact India’s decision to block an agreement that would have added an estimated $1 trillion boost to the global economy based on domestic concerns could have on global development:

Though India’s economic future was looking bright with the newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to improve India’s business environment, followed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s budget speech confirming that India was ready to facilitate trade and cut through some of the country’s red tape, the nation’s actions to block this critical agreement have signaled business as usual.

Why? New Dehli says it is protecting its agricultural programs, but many WTO members are calling its bluff. Timmons believes that India is using the deal as leverage since the global agreement requires consensus from all WTO members to move forward.

“This high-stakes gamble risks hurting economic growth worldwide while calling into question India’s respect for its international commitments,” said Timmons in the piece. Even more disappointing is that a trade facilitation agreement would stand to support growth in developing countries the most.

The bottom line is that the agreement would have benefitted all countries working to grow their economies by lowering international transaction costs. India boasts the world’s third largest economy and missed an opportunity to emerge as a world leader in trade and to show the world that it is indeed “open for business.”

As Timmons referenced in the WSJ, India must realize, “a trade-facilitation agreement that delivers on its promise will require strong coordination and assistance from donor countries, international financial institutions, multilateral organizations and the private firms.” All nations will benefit from a more open trading system.

Thousands of U.S. firms trade and do business across the Asia-Pacific region and globally, resulting in the injection of much needed foreign investment into both developing and developed countries. The new Government of India is well aware of this benefit and has expressed public commitment to opening up its borders to international trade on behalf. It is time Prime Minister Modi makes good on those claims to turn the tide on protectionist trade policies and focuses on future opportunities to prove to the international community that India is a viable and worthy trade partner.

Read the full text of Timmon’s piece here.

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Retail Sales Were Unchanged in July, Slowing from a Faster Pace in the Spring Months

The Census Bureau said that retail sales were unchanged in July. Since declining due to winter weather in December and January, retail spending had rebounded in the spring months, but it has since slowed significantly. Over the course of the past 12 months, retail sales have risen 3.7 percent, down from a 4.7 percent pace experienced in April. As such, it appears that consumers have become more cautious in their spending this summer even as we have continued to see relatively modest gains so far in 2014.

Motor vehicle sales (down 0.2 percent) declined for the second month in a row. Excluding auto sales, retail spending was up just 0.1 percent, indicating broader weaknesses. Bright spots included miscellaneous store retailers (up 0.9 percent), clothing and accessory stores (up 0.4 percent), health and personal care stores (up 0.4 percent), food and beverage stores (up 0.3 percent), food services and drinking places (up 0.2 percent) and sporting goods and hobby stores (up 0.2 percent).

Yet, these gains were largely offset by spending declines for department stores (down 0.7 percent), motor vehicle and parts dealers (down 0.2 percent), electronics and appliance stores (down 0.1 percent), furniture and home furnishings stores (down 0.1 percent) and nonstore retailers (down 0.1 percent).

On a year-over-year basis, segments with the fastest retail sales growth were health and personal care stores (up 7.3 percent), food services and drinking places (up 6.2 percent), motor vehicle and parts dealers (up 6.0 percent), nonstore retailers (up 5.9 percent) and building material and garden supply stores (up 5.1 percent).

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

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