Given the contraction seen in the Eurozone economy in the second quarter, analysts were eagerly anticipating the preliminary Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data released this morning. Indeed, the HSBC Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI decelerated from 51.8 in July to 50.8 in August, suggesting that growth in manufacturing activity on the continent has slowed to a crawl. Germany (down from 52.4 to 52.0) eased slightly, but with output falling to its slowest pace since June 2013. French manufacturers (down from 47.8 to 46.5) continue to struggle, with its Flash Manufacturing PMI contracting for the fourth straight month and new orders declining at their quickest pace since in 16 months.
For the Eurozone as a whole, manufacturing activity was slower across-the-board. New orders (down from 52.1 to 51.0), output (down from 52.7 to 50.9), exports (down from 52.6 to 52.1) and employment (down from 49.9 to 49.1) were all lower in August, with the latter contracting for the second consecutive month. Production growth was at its weakest point since Europe emerged from its deep recession 13 months ago. In essence, the good news was that European manufacturing activity did not contract in August, but it is clear that demand and output are moving in the wrong direction. These data will continue to be fodder for those looking for economic stimulus in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, the HSBC Flash China Manufacturing PMI was also much softer for the month, down from 51.7 in July to 50.3 in August. As such, manufacturing expanded for the third straight month, but only barely so. New orders (down from 53.3 to 51.3), output (down from 52.8 to 51.3) and export sales (down from 52.6 to 51.4) downshifted from a modest pace to slower growth, and employment (down from 49.4 to 48.2) deteriorated further. In fact, hiring has been negative in 16 of the past 17 months. While China has begun to stabilize its economy after weaknesses earlier in the year, these data show that there remains room for improvement.
Japan’s economy contracted in the second quarter, falling 1.7 percent in the second quarter or 6.8 percent year-over-year. Yet, the Markit/JMMA Flash Japan Manufacturing PMI (up from 50.5 to 52.4) seem to indicate that manufacturers are in a better mood, with a pickup seen in demand and output. This was the fastest pace since March, or before the imposition of a new tax in April that sent the economy lower. The underlying data were mostly higher, including sales (up from 51.2 to 54.4), production (up from 49.8 to 53.2), exports (up from 50.8 to 53.0) and hiring (up from 50.2 to 51.1).
Closer to home, the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI was up sharply, up from 55.8 to 58.0. This was the highest level for manufacturing activity in the U.S. since April 2010. Both new orders (up from 59.5 to 60.8) and output (up from 59.7 to 60.2) were above 60, suggesting strong growth and closely mirroring similar data from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). New export orders (up from 50.3 to 54.4) and employment (up from 51.2 to 54.6) were both higher, as well, with each recording modest expansions. Overall, these data were quite positive, indicating that the recent rebound in manufacturing activity in the U.S. (after softness in the early months of 2014) has begun to take hold.
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 in early September.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.