University of Michigan: Consumer Confidence Slipped Somewhat in July

The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters said that preliminary data on consumer confidence slipped somewhat in July. The Consumer Sentiment Index unexpectedly decreased from 82.5 in June to 81.3 in July. The consensus expectation had been for a slight gain. Over the course of the last eight months (December to July), the index has averaged 81.8. In essence, after consumer attitudes recovered from the government shutdown in December, they have not really moved that much. The April reading of 84.1 is the one outlier in that time frame.

Looking specifically at the July data, it is clear that the drop in consumer sentiment in the month stemmed from weaker expectations about the future economy. The forward-looking component has declined from 74.7 in April to 71.1 in July. In contrast, views about the current economic environment were more mixed, with an improvement in July (up from 96.6 to 97.1) but with slightly weaker perceptions than seen in April (98.7).

This nuanced perception could be influenced by the competing news about the health of the U.S. economy, with disappointing data on real GDP growth in the first quarter perhaps outweighing better labor market headlines of late. Either way, it suggests that consumers continue to remain cautious.

We will get final data on July consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan on August 1. The Conference Board will also release its June survey data on consumer confidence on July 29.

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

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Remembering David Olson

David Olson, President of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

David Olson, President of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Manufacturers lost a great leader. Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson will be missed greatly by manufacturers, his fellow NAM Board Members and many more across the country.

David left us after a life not long enough, but long enough for joy and love and laughter and good times – and long enough to leave a lasting footprint on the business community, his state and his country.

He inspired all of us and will be remembered by the countless individuals whose lives he made better. David always had colorful stories to tell, laughs to laugh, words to write, legislators to buttonhole, lobbies to walk and battles to fight. He passionately led the business community in Minnesota for decades with great optimism and strong faith. As a champion for economic growth, he provided pragmatic solutions that transcended party politics.

What most of us remember best is not specifically what David did or said, but how he did it – as a unique, wonderful, patriotic and highly intelligent human being. He connected with each of us in some unusual way to get a job done. Through his words and actions, he made us proud and proud to know him.

He was the epitome of hardworking Minnesotan values and a leader among his peers. I was fortunate enough to count him as my friend.

In an industry that seems to grow more homogenized every day, David had very much his own voice. His lifetime of dedication serves as a monument to the exemplary man he was.  His integrity and hard work will encourage those who knew him and will continue to benefit those who make Minnesota their home for years to come.  Among the best things David has left behind is his shining example.

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NLRB Loses in the Fifth Circuit, But the Controversy Continues

For reasons not entirely clear to legal experts, the NLRB opted to not appeal a Fifth Circuit ruling in D.R. Horton, Inc. v. NLRB reversing their stance that a company cannot require its employees to consent to mandatory arbitration and class action waivers.  The Fifth Circuit is not alone; other federal and state courts have also disfavored the NLRB’s viewpoint.  Despite this trend and although the NLRB allowed the deadline to pass without requesting certiorari, attorneys involved in the controversial issue expect the that the agency will not change its position.

When the case entered federal court, the NAM filed an amicus brief. on June 6, 2012 arguing that prohibiting mandatory arbitration and class action waivers upon employment will increase costs for companies and result in unnecessary litigation.  Furthermore, the NAM challenged the NLRB’s authority to regulate individual contracts dealing with rights not covered by the National Labor Relations Act.  The court agreed and determined that the NLRB’s decision went beyond its statutory authority.

As the landscape now stands, companies will likely prevail in federal court on the issue, but will still battle the NLRB at the agency level.  It is possible that the NLRB refused to appeal the case to the high court because it feared an adverse ruling.  If this clash between agency and federal court continues, the Supreme Court will likely have to review the issue.  The NAM will continue to weigh in on this issue and take whatever steps appropriate to prohibit the NLRB from stepping outside its statutory authority.

Ryan Sims is a Law Clerk for the Manufacturing Center for Legal Action

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House Votes to Ease Regulation of Non-Banks Under Dodd-Frank

The  Dodd-Frank financial reform law enacted in 2010 in response to the crippling financial crisis imposed new regulations on financial markets and companies. Unfortunately, the law’s vast reach sweeps manufacturers into areas of new oversight and regulation, even though manufacturers had nothing to do with the financial crisis.

We have written many times before about the negative impact of Dodd-Frank derivatives requirements on manufacturers, but another provision of the law, which grants broad regulatory authority over companies involved in financial activities, threatens to designate some manufacturers as systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs).

The Dodd-Frank Act created a council of regulators made up of representatives from several different regulatory bodies called the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) that is charged with identifing existing or emerging systemic risks to the financial system. Section 113 of the Act authorizes the Council to consider whether a nonbank financial company could pose a threat to financial stability and if they determine that there is a threat, then they can subject that company to Federal Reserve supervision and “enhanced” prudential standards – aka more regulation.

The problem is the FSOC looks at a company’s size and scope as part of its determination for what is a nonbank financial SIFI, threatening some large global manufacturers that must engage in lending and financing as part of their everyday course of business. Despite the global reach of these companies, manufacturers did not contribute to the financial crisis and do not engage in the same type of financial activities that banks do, especially not ones that would threaten the financial system. A SIFI designation can bring unnecessary costs for companies that could be put to better use by investing in the business and creating jobs. The NAM wrote to FSOC previously to express concerns with their proposal.

FSOC has already begun to designate companies as nonbank SIFIs, but the House this week adopted an amendment to the financial services appropriations bill offered by Rep. Garrett (R-NJ) to the put an end to this process by ceasing funding for the FSOC designation of non-bank companies as SIFIs. Manufacturers that need to be engaged in financing large projects or machinery as a part of their regular business, should not be regulated as if they were large banks.  The NAM applauds the House action. Global manufacturing companies already face enough challenges remaining competitive internationally, and the NAM will continue to support efforts aimed at preventing unnecessary regulation of these businesses.

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Support the United States: Enact Comprehensive Tax Reform

Manufacturers in the United States have struggled to compete under our nation’s broken tax system for years so it’s natural that the NAM is a leader in calling for pro-growth, pro-competitive tax reform. Even though some say tax reform is “stalled” in Congress, NAM continues a constant drumbeat on the need to reform our nation’s tax code to bring us into the 21st century. Indeed, our voices are getting louder by the day as we see Washington policy makers drag their feet on reform or, worse yet,  suggest one-off changes to the tax code to address problems that would be eliminated entirely by overall reform.

While the NAM is a strong advocate for comprehensive reform of our current tax code, we also believe it is critically important to keep our current tax system in place until policymakers agree on a final reform plan. Piece-meal changes or repeal of long-standing rules will inject more uncertainty into business planning, making U.S companies even less competitive and threatening economic growth and U.S. jobs. A key objective for the association, as outlined in NAM’s “A Growth Agenda: Four Goals for a Manufacturing Resurgence in America,”[1]  is to create a national tax climate that promotes manufacturing in America and enhances the global competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers.  Manufacturers want the United States to be the best place in the world to manufacture and attract foreign direct investment. The way to do this is to enact a pro-growth, pro-competitive tax code

[1] Available at http://www.nam.org/

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Exporters for Ex-Im: U.S. Solar Cell Manufacturer Shines With Help of Bank

Suniva Inc., a metro-Atlanta based manufacturer of high-quality, high-efficiency crystalline silicon solar cells and modules, and the Export Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) of the United States have been working together since 2007. Suniva has benefitted from the Ex-Im Bank’s buyer financing and working capital guarantees to support its exports to global markets.

Most recently, Suniva announced that Ex-Im Bank will guarantee a $780,000, 10-year loan to be made by UPS Capital Business Credit to finance the export of Suniva’s photovoltaic (PV) solar to a rooftop solar-power project of Grupo Metal Intra S.A.P.I. de C.V. (GMI). GMI Suniva Queretaro Airport 1MW 2014 02

“High-quality American solar products are coveted in many emerging markets. In these markets where there is an abundance of sun, and power is unreliable and/or expensive, solar power is particularly attractive,” said John Baumstark, chief executive officer of Suniva.

“It is critical for American companies to export to help strengthen our economy, and U.S. Ex-Im Bank has been instrumental in providing unique products that enhance the competitiveness of American companies around the world.  It is most fitting that the first major export and installation of our modules in Mexico is utilizing a guarantee from the U.S. Export-Import Bank with which we have a longstanding and valuable relationship,” said Baumstark.

“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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MAPI: Manufacturing Activity Continued to Improve in the Second Quarter

The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) said that its Composite Business Outlook Index rose from 69 in March to 71 in June. Indeed, this was the sixth consecutive quarterly gain in the manufacturing outlook, up from 55 in December 2012. Index readings over 50 indicate expansion, and as such, these data suggest mostly positive trends in the sector. The pace of new orders (up from 71 to 78) and export sales (up from 60 to 67) accelerated, and profit margins edged higher (up from 66 to 70).

In terms of investment, manufacturers completing the MAPI survey said that they were increasing their capital spending levels both in the U.S. (up from 59 to 67) and abroad (up from 59 to 64). At the same time, the rate of research and development spending slowed slightly in this survey (down from 69 to 67), albeit a still-healthy paces.

Yet, the forward-looking indicators provided mixed news. Prospective shipments within the U.S. eased slightly (down from 88 to 87) but are still expected to grow relatively strongly. Similarly, export shipments also decelerated somewhat (down from 81 to 76). Overall, the data indicate that there is still room for improvement. The percentage of respondent companies that were operating at above 85 percent capacity dropped from 35.7 percent to 30.0 percent.

Overall, though, these data support the notion that manufacturing activity continues to improve, mirroring similar findings from other indicators. As reported last month, MAPI has a generally upbeat outlook for this year. They predict that manufacturing production will increase by 3.2 percent and 4.0 percent in 2014 and 2015, respectively, suggesting accelerating growth from the 2.6 percent pace of 2013.

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

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On MTB, the Time for Talk has Expired; Manufacturers Need Action NOW

A year ago today, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) legislation, H.R. 2708, along with his colleagues, Representatives Sander Levin (D-MI), Devin Nunes (R-CA), and Charles Rangel (D-NY). Unfortunately, the House has not taken any further action on MTB legislation and neither has the Senate.

It has been 562 days since the 2010-passed MTB expired and manufacturers have been calling on Congress to extend it ever since. It is long past due time that both chambers of Congress act on critical MTB legislation. As a result of Congressional inaction on an MTB package, manufacturers in America have been facing higher taxes that substantially increase their production costs and concretely threaten their competitiveness as well as their ability to retain and create new manufacturing jobs for American workers.

While some members of Congress provide explanations as to their inaction, there is no excuse. The MTB passed in 2010 enjoyed broad bipartisan support and sailed through the House by a vote of 378-43 and the Senate by unanimous consent. If both chambers acted on this crucial jobs legislation today, we would expect a similar show of support from both sides of the aisle.

In response to inside-the-beltway concerns that MTB provisions resemble earmarks, even stalwart conservatives like Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, has emphasized the importance of passing the MTB, saying that MTB measures “are not spending bills; they are tax cuts, period….While earmarks favor only a special few, the tariff-cuts benefit wide swaths of American industry and help create U.S. jobs and economic growth.” Mr. Norquist aptly points out that, without Congressional action, “the United States is applying a tax that only makes it harder for American companies to compete with their foreign competitors – and harder for them to create or even maintain existing jobs and economic growth.”

Job creators like PING, Bayer, BASF, and Lasko Products cannot afford to wait any longer for this cost-cutting legislation to be enacted.  If Congress is serious about supporting manufacturing in the United States, they will move MTB legislation without further delay.

Members of Congress can call the MTB whatever they like, but for manufacturers, it is nothing less than a jobs bill and it is time that Congress act on it now to support American manufacturers and workers.

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Philly Fed: Manufacturing Activity Expanded at Fastest Pace in Over 3 Years

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that manufacturing activity expanded at its fastest pace in over three years (March 2011). The Business Outlook Survey’s composite index of general business activity increased from 17.8 in June to 23.9 in July. The shift stemmed largely from a drop in the percentage of manufacturers in the Philly Fed district who said that conditions had worsened, down from 18.6 percent to 8.9 percent. This helped to push the overall diffusion index higher in July, with roughly one-third of the respondents noting improvements for the month in overall conditions.

The pace of new orders (up from 16.8 to 34.2) and shipments (up from 15.5 to 34.2) were both up significantly in this report. Hiring (up from 11.9 to 12.2) and the average employee workweek (up from 7.3 to 12.5) continued to move in the right direction. One downside was elevated costs for raw materials, with nearly 36 percent of those taking the survey saying that input costs were increased in the month.

Over the course of the next six months, manufacturers in Philly Fed district were overwhelmingly upbeat about future activity. In fact, 56.1 percent of survey respondents said that they anticipate increased sales, and 60.4 percent predict higher shipment levels. Moreover, even as the indices edged a bit lower in July, roughly one-third of those completing the survey said that they planned to add workers and over one-quarter were going to increase their capital expenditures in the next six months.

In a couple special questions, 38.6 percent of manufacturing respondents noted increased exports over the past year, with just 7.0 percent saying that they had moderate decreases. The region exported mainly intermediate products (39.6 percent), with final business products (24.5 percent), capital goods (18.9 percent) and final consumer products (11.3 percent) also important components.

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

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Housing Starts Were Unexpectedly Lower in June

The Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that housing starts unexpectedly declined for the second straight month. Starts dropped from an annualized 985,000 in May to 893,000 in June. This was down from the faster pace of 1,063,000 in April; although, that figure appears to be a bit of an outlier. Excluding April, the average rate of new housing starts through the first half of 2014 was 930,600. Even with that in mind, June’s pace was disappointing and a sign that the housing market remains weaker than we would prefer.

Indeed, new housing starts were off for both single-family (down from 632,000 to 575,000) and multi-family (down from 353,000 to 318,000) units.The pace for single-family starts was the lowest level since November 2012, highlighting some persistent softness in the residential construction market so far this year. While the longer-term trend remains positive, single-family housing starts have fallen 4.3 percent over the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, housing permits data also fell, down from 1,005,000 units at the annual rate in May to 963,000 in June. Unlike the starts figures, however, there were some encouraging signs. Single-family permitting rose for the second straight month, up from 597,000 in April to 615,000 in May to 631,000 in June. This could suggest stronger growth in the housing market in the coming months for single-family homes. At the same time, multi-family units have been weaker, pulling the headline figure lower. Multi-family permitting dropped from 462,000 to 390,000 to 332,000 over the same three months, with the most recent pace being the slowest in 10 months.

Overall, June’s housing numbers were quite discouraging. There was optimism a couple months ago that residential activity was beginning to pick up after weakness since last summer, and the consensus expectation had been for housing starts to exceed one million again in June. Yet, the housing market continues to underperform through the first six months of this year. Financial difficulties in obtaining credit (particularly for first-time home buyers) and economic uncertainties remain obstacles for some. Still, I continue to predict housing starts of 1.1 million by year’s end, and we can put some hope in the single-family housing permits figures and the possibility of improved activity moving forward.

For its part, the Housing Market Index (HMI) from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Wells Fargo, released yesterday, suggested that builders were more upbeat of late. The HMI increased from 49 in June to 53 in July, the first time the index has surpassed the all-important threshold of 50 since January. When the HMI exceeds 50, it indicates that more home builders are positive than negative in their views of the market. More importantly, the index of single-family sales increased from 53 to 57, with expected sales over the next six months rising from 58 to 64.

As such, NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe was more positive in his assessments of the housing market, with recently better jobs numbers boosting sentiment. He said, “As employment increases and those with jobs feel more secure about their own economic situation, they are more likely to feel comfortable about buying a home.” Hopefully, this improvement in home builder confidence helps to foreshadow better sales in the months ahead.

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

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