The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reported that manufacturing activity continued to expand solidly in March, even as it pulled back from the best reading since May 2004 in February. The ISM Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index declined from 60.8 in February to 59.3 in March, but the data continue to indicate strength in the sector overall. Indeed, the indices for new orders (down from 64.2 to 61.9) and production (down from 62.0 to 61.0) have exceeded 60—a threshold suggesting robust expansions for both measures—since at least June 2017. Exports (down from 62.8 to 58.7) and employment (down from 59.7 to 57.3) growth also remain quite healthy despite some deceleration in the March figures. Exports, for instance, had expanded at the fastest rate since April 2011 in February, with international sales helping to fuel stronger overall demand. Read More
The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank reported that manufacturing activity continued to expand strongly in March, with the composite index of general business conditions unchanged at 17. Employment remained one of the bright spots in the latest survey (up from 23 to 26), with the index rising to a new all-time high in the survey’s 17-year history. This reflects an ever-tightening labor market, with the average workweek also widening to the best reading in seven years (up from 11 to 15). At the same time, production (down from 21 to 20) and shipments (down from 24 to 12) slowed a little in March, with new orders contracting for the first time since August 2016 (down from 16 to -1). Exports were also softer than desired (down from 2 to 1). Read More
As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) ended its March 20–21 meeting by hiking short-term rates by 25 basis points. This was the first FOMC meeting chaired by Jay Powell, and the Federal Reserve is likely to increase the federal funds rate at least two (and maybe three) more times in 2018. The economic projections of the participants were consistent with two more rate hikes this year, with the midpoint of the federal funds rate rising from 1.625 percent now to 2.1 percent by year’s end. It is worth noting that the Federal Reserve’s current outlook is more aggressive than it was in December for the next two years. Respondents now see the federal funds rate increasing to 2.9 percent and 3.4 percent by year’s end in 2019 and 2020, respectively, up from 2.7 percent and 3.1 percent three months ago. As always, the actual pace of rate hikes will hinge on incoming data.
The acceleration of rate hikes likely stems from expectations of faster growth, especially after passage of tax reform and continued signs of strength in the global economy. In December, the Federal Reserve forecasted 2.5, 2.1 and 2.0 percent growth for 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. That outlook has risen for real GDP growth of 2.7, 2.4 and 2.0 percent in the latest survey. The FOMC also anticipates that the unemployment rate will fall to 3.8 percent in 2018 and 3.6 percent in 2019. The December projections called for 3.9 percent in both years. Read More
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that manufacturing activity continued to be healthy in its district in March. The composite index of general business activity eased somewhat from 25.8 in February to 22.3 in March, but new orders (up from 24.5 to 35.7) and shipments (up from 15.5 to 32.4) accelerated strongly at their fastest paces in 12 months. More importantly, just over 52 percent of respondents said that new orders had increased in March, with just 16.4 percent noting declines. In addition, the labor market remained tight, with employment (up from 25.2 to 25.6) strengthening slightly and nearly 35 percent of those completing the survey suggesting that hiring had picked up in March. The average workweek (down from 13.7 to 12.8) slowed a bit in this report but was strong overall. Read More
Manufacturing activity in the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s district continued to show solid gains in manufacturing activity in March. In the latest Empire State Manufacturing Survey, the composite index of general business conditions rose from 13.1 in February to 22.5 in March. After decelerating for four straight months from the three-year high of 28.8 in October, it was encouraging to see the headline index rebound once again. Many of the key underlying data points were also higher in March, including faster expansions for new orders (up from 13.5 to 16.8), shipments (up from 12.5 to 27.0), the average workweek (up from 4.6 to 5.9) and inventories (up from 4.9 to 5.6). Read More