The HSBC Flash China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) expanded for the second straight month in July, rebounding from softness from January through May. The headline index rose from 50.7 in June to 52.0 in July, its highest level since March 2011. The underlying data were mostly higher, including new orders (up from 51.8 to 53.7), output (up from 51.8 to 52.8) and exports (up from 50.6 to 52.7). The sales pace was the fastest since January 2011, and each of these measures are a sign that recent stimulative actions taken by the Chinese government have had a positive impact. Some downsides in the PMI survey contracting hiring rates for the 16th consecutive month (up from 48.7 to 49.5) and slightly accelerated raw material prices (up from 50.8 to 52.9).
Meanwhile, Japanese manufacturing activity also expanded for the second straight month, but it eased slightly in July. The Markit/JMMA Flash Japan Manufacturing PMI declined from 51.5 to 50.8. The recent uptick in activity has materialized as the Japanese economy has recovered from an increased in taxes that went into effect on April 1st. Still, manufacturers in the country cannot cheer yet, as output growth came to a halt in July (down from 51.8 to 50.0, or neutral). Other indicators were mixed. Export sales (up from 49.0 to 51.6) and employment (up from 49.8 to 50.8) both shifted to positive growth, but the pace of new orders decelerated somewhat (down from 52.0 to 51.1).
In other news, the Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI edged marginally higher, up from 51.8 to 51.9. The Flash Eurozone PMI Composite PMI was up more strongly, increasing from 52.8 to 54.0, suggesting healthier growth in the service sector. For manufacturers, the data suggest slightly faster growth in production (up from 52.8 to 53.0) and exports (up from 52.4 to 52.7), but the pace of growth for new orders (51.9) and employment (50.3) were unchanged.
Overall, these figures provide a limited degree of encouragement for the manufacturing sector in Europe, which has worried of late about slow economic and income growth. It is also still clear that the data vary on country-by-country basis, with German manufacturing activity (up from 52.0 to 52.9) accelerating in July but with French manufacturers noting yet another deterioration in sales and output. Indeed, the French economy remains in a rut, with manufacturing activity positive in just three months since January 2013.
Closer to home, the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI decreased from 57.3 to 56.3. Despite the slight easing in July, manufacturing activity continues to grow at relatively decent rates. Through the first seven months of 2014, the top-line index has averaged 55.9, stronger than the 53.5 average noted for 2013 as a whole. The July data show both new orders (down from 61.7 to 59.8) and output (down from 61.0 to 60.4) growing at a healthy paces, albeit with some deceleration for the month. Yet, hiring growth remains more modest (down from 53.8 to 52.1) and export sales (down from 50.9 to 50.6) were just barely growing, suggesting that there remains room for improvement.
Flash data give us an advance estimate of manufacturing activity incorporating “approximately 85% of the usual monthly survey replies,” with the final PMI data for the month released on August 1.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.