The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said that manufacturing activity accelerated in July, continuing to rebound from softer levels earlier in the year. The composite index of general business activity rose from 11.4 in June to 12.7 in July. It was the 14th consecutive month of expanding levels of activity; however, manufacturers reported a near-stagnant pace in February. In July, the underlying data were mostly higher across-the-board, including the pace of growth for new orders (up from 6.5 to 13.0), production (up from 15.5 to 19.1), shipments (up from 10.3 to 22.8), capacity utilization (up from 9.2 to 18.0) and capital expenditures (up from 12.7 to 13.3).
With that said, employment growth (down from 13.1 to 11.4) eased slightly, one of the few areas that decelerated in the month. Still, hiring has generally improved from where it was two months ago, with the index up from 2.9 in May. Moreover, one-quarter of respondents to the Dallas Fed survey said that they had added workers in July, with just 13.6 percent suggesting that employment was declining for their company. In addition, the average number of hours worked (up from 4.7 to 6.3) increased somewhat.
Along those lines, a fabricated metal manufacturer noted difficulties in attracting and retaining workers in the sample comments. They wrote, “Skilled employee turnover is getting out of control. There are too many employers chasing too few skilled workers.” Other commenters spoke about the pickup in demand seen in July, with one computer and electronics product respondent adding, “The second quarter was a sold quarter from start to finish….”
Looking ahead six months, Texas manufacturers remain positive about future levels of activity. At least 45 percent of those taking the survey expect sales, production, and shipments to increase over the coming months, with just single-digit percentages anticipating declines. Beyond that, 31.5 percent plan to bring on new workers, and one-quarter are expecting to increase their capital expenditures. The one downside would be the forecast of higher raw material costs moving forward, with a pickup in pricing pressures. In all, 40.7 percent predict increased producer prices in the coming months, with just 6.5 percent expecting declines.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.