The Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) rose very strongly, with the headline figure rising from 57.1 in July to 59.0 in August. This was the highest level since March 2011, and it reflected a robust recovery from weaknesses earlier in the year. Indeed, new orders (up from 63.4 to 66.7) and production (up from 61.2 to 64.5) appear to be expanding at quite healthy paces, with indices for both exceeding 60 once again. The production measure has been over 60 for three straight months; whereas the new orders index was at its fastest pace since April 2004. Export sales (up from 53.0 to 55.0) were also improved.
The sample comments tend to echo these strong figures. As one electrical equipment manufacturer said, “Overall business is improving. Order backlog is increasing. Quotes are increasing. Much more positive outlook in our sector.” This pretty much summed up the increase in demand seen in many of the other comments, as well. Yet, those taking the ISM survey also noted some challenges, particularly the geopolitical risks and the ability to attract labor. The other concern noted in past surveys was pricing pressures, but they appear to have eased somewhat in August (down from 59.5 to 58.0).
On this latter point, the employment index was marginally lower (down from 58.2 to 58.1), but hiring growth has clearly picked up from recent months. The hiring index averaged 52.7, for instance, through the first six months of the year, further highlighting the July and August acceleration in the data. This should bode well for manufacturing jobs numbers out on Friday, which have averaged 22,000 between May and July and 15,000 each month over the past year.
Overall, this report shows that manufacturers are seeing strong growth more recently in demand and output, which is definitely positive given the disappointing start to the year. Manufacturing leaders are mostly positive about the second half of 2014, even as they are keenly aware of possible risks on the horizon. This includes geopolitical events, a cautious consumer and labor shortages, among other concerns. Still, it is nice to see the sector hitting on all cylinders, and the outlook for strong growth over the coming months remains positive.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.