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.