Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:
The latest NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers found that businesses are generally upbeat about the coming months. Manufacturing respondents expect 4.4 percent growth in sales on average over the next 12 months, the fastest pace of expected growth in new orders since the first quarter of 2012, when the sector was expanding more robustly. Indeed, nearly half of those taking the survey anticipate sales growth of at least 5 percent. Capital investment and hiring trends have also moved in the right direction, with manufacturers planning to increase capital spending and employment by 2.5 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively. The hiring figure represents substantial progress from the lackluster pace of job growth in 2013, which averaged just 0.8 percent. Overall, 87.3 percent said that they were positive in their outlook, the highest reading in two and a half years.
Nonetheless, the more positive attitude needs to be balanced against other issues. First, enthusiasm for expanded new orders and production is often nuanced by anxieties that events might prevent the economy from gaining traction—much as it has time and again in this recovery. Certainly, many of them are disappointed with the slow economic growth in the first half of 2014, even if they remain hopeful about the second half.
Second, manufacturers—like many Americans—continue to be frustrated with Washington. The top business challenges remain rising health insurance costs and an unfavorable business climate, cited by 77.1 percent and 73.1 percent, respectively, in the survey. Along those lines, the NAM released a study showing the disproportionate burden placed on small businesses and manufacturers when complying with federal regulations. Total federal compliance costs in 2012 were estimated to be $2.028 trillion, with an average cost of $19,564 per employee for manufacturers, or twice the level of all businesses.
Beyond these issues, there was encouraging news on the consumer front. Retail sales rose 0.6 percent in August, rebounding from softer increases in the previous three months. Prior to this release, there were worries that a more cautious consumer might derail brighter prospects for growth. This data suggests that the public might be more willing to spend. Retail sales have risen 3.8 percent year-to-date, or 5.0 percent over the past 12 months. Moreover, the consumer also appears to be less hesitant about borrowing, with July consumer credit up 9.7 percent in July. This included a sizable pickup in revolving credit, which includes credit cards. Another positive was the increase in consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters, ending a lull in that measure throughout 2014 and marking its highest point since July 2013.
This morning, we will get new data on industrial production. Production in the sector jumped one percent in July, and the expectation is for modest gains in manufacturing output in August. It is also anticipated that housing starts and permits will once again exceeding one million annualized units when August figures are released on Thursday. This would suggest that residential construction activity has begun to recover from softness earlier in the year. Beyond those figures, the biggest headlines will come from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting this week, which is not expected to make any major shifts in monetary policy. Quantitative easing should end in October, with the largest focus being uncertainty over when the Federal Reserve will start raising short-term rates. With that said, new consumer and producer price data should reflect the recent easing in inflationary pressures, particularly from lower energy costs.
Other data releases this week include the latest findings on manufacturing activity in the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks’ districts and data on home builder confidence, leading indicators and state employment.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.