Manufacturing production increased 0.6 percent in May, rebounding from a revised 0.1 percent decline in April, according to the Federal Reserve Board. We have seen relatively strong growth in the manufacturing sector since January’s winter-related decreases in output. Indeed, manufacturing production has risen 2.8 percent since January, with 3.6 percent growth over the past 12 months. That was the fastest year-over-year pace for the sector since October.
Capacity utilization for manufacturers also increased for the month, up from 76.7 percent in April to 77.0 percent in May. That was the highest level since March 2008, continuing a trend of reaching near pre-recessionary paces nearly five years after the economic recovery began. Still, on a year-over-year basis, manufacturing capacity has grown just 1.4 percent, which leaves room for improvement.
In May, durable goods production growth outpaced nondurable goods activity by 0.9 percent to 0.4 percent, respectively. In all, 12 of the 19 major sectors experienced output gains for the month, with most of the decliners among nondurable goods segments. The largest increases in production were in the plastics and rubber products (up 1.8 percent), wood products (up 1.7 percent), motor vehicles and parts (up 1.5 percent), petroleum and coal products (up 1.3 percent), electrical equipment and appliances (up 1.1 percent), and machinery (up 1.1 percent) sectors.
In contrast, textile and product mills (down 0.9 percent), paper (down 0.5 percent), apparel and leather products (down 0.4 percent), food, beverage and tobacco products (down 0.3 percent), primary metals (down 0.1 percent), and printing and support (down 0.1 percent) had lower production in May.
On a year-over-year basis, durable goods production jumped from 4.7 percent in April to 5.3 percent in May, and it has risen steadily since bottoming out at 3.1 percent in January. Several durable goods sectors have experienced robust growth over the past year, including motor vehicles and parts (up 7.7 percent), machinery (up 7.6 percent), furniture and related products (up 6.7 percent), and wood products (up 6.2 percent). At the same time, nondurable goods output rose 2.2 percent over the past 12 months, up from 0.3 percent in January and 2.0 percent in April. The fastest annual growth in the nondurable goods space was plastics and rubber products (up 5.9 percent).
Meanwhile, overall industrial production rose 0.6 percent in May, recovering from the 0.3 percent drop in April. In addition to the gain from manufacturing for the month, mining output also grew strongly (up 1.3 percent). Yet, utility production dropped for the fourth straight month (down 0.8 percent). Total capacity utilization increased from 78.9 percent to 79.1 percent, with year-over-year growth of 2.4 percent.
In conclusion, manufacturers began to see better production numbers in May, with decent growth over the past few months. The NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers also suggests that business leaders remain mostly upbeat about sales and output over the next year, which is definitely positive.
Yet, we could still do more to make this growth more broad-based, particularly extending these production gains to the nondurable goods sector. And, it is also clear that manufacturers remain somewhat cautious in their optimism, remaining particularly frustrated with the political environment. For that reason, policymakers should focus on those initiatives which will keep the economy growing moving forward, helping to fulfill the hopeful outlook seen in so many surveys, including ours.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.