Tag: sentiment surveys

Monday Economic Report – February 25, 2013

Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank’s Business Outlook Survey continued to show significant weaknesses in the manufacturing sector in its district. There were some areas of progress, including shipments and employment, and respondents were mostly positive about higher activity this year. Yet, the composite index was sharply lower on reduced new orders, dragging the overall sentiment lower. The New York Federal Reserve Bank’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey showed similarly worrisome figures. Meanwhile, although the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index—which foreshadows future U.S. economic activity—was higher, sluggish hiring and sales growth continued.

Despite these troubling indicators, at least one source reports that manufacturing production is on the upswing. Although the Markit Flash Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for the United States edged slightly lower from 55.8 in January to 55.2 in February, the output measure rose to its highest point since March 2011. Even in this survey, however, the pace of growth for new orders, employment and raw materials prices slowed down somewhat. Nonetheless, the Markit data tend to find that the U.S. economy is growing moderately, despite a number of persistent headwinds. In contrast, Flash PMI data for the Eurozone suggest that its problems are far from over. On the positive side, European exports to the United States and Asia have improved.

Other data points mainly focused on housing and inflation. The residential sector has been one of the faster-growing segments of the U.S. economy over the past year. This has been welcome news for many manufacturers that have been eager for this still-struggling sector to recover. While the headline number for housing starts was lower in January, this was mainly due to decreases of multifamily starts, which have risen significantly year-over-year even with last month’s decline. New single-family residential construction rose to its highest point since July 2008, and we have seen single-family starts rise 20 percent over the past 12 months. Permits have also been on a long-term upward trend.

Regarding prices, consumers and manufacturers have benefited from an easing in inflationary pressures over the course of the past year, mainly due to falling energy costs. Price increases have been modest overall, with core inflation at both the consumer and producer level below the Federal Reserve Board’s goal of 2 percent. In January, consumer food prices were higher, particularly for fruits and vegetables, but gasoline prices were lower. However, the recent rise in crude petroleum prices could lead to higher prices for finished energy and other goods in coming months if these are sustained. But, the forecast continues to be for moderate inflation.

This week, there will be several reports released on the current state of manufacturing. On Friday, the Institute for Supply Management will release its PMI report, and it is expected to show the sector growing slowing, with data not much different than the month before and possibly reflecting some pullbacks in activity. This would be in contrast to the Markit data, but it would be consistent with some of the regional studies. There will be regional sentiment surveys released from the Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks this week. Other highlights include new releases on construction spending, consumer confidence, durable goods orders, personal income and a revision to fourth-quarter 2012 real GDP. Given recent data that have come out, look for real GDP to be revised higher, up from the earlier estimate of -0.1 percent to around 0.5 percent, according to consensus forecasts.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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Monday Economic Report – February 19, 2013

Here is the summary for this week’s economic report:

After some improvements in late 2012, industrial production declined in January. Manufacturing activity fell 0.4 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Board, with reduced production in motor vehicles pushing the index lower. Year-over-year, manufacturing production was up just 1.7 percent, well below the 6.3 percent pace of January 2011 or the 5.2 percent pace of January 2012. As noted by NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons in his speech before the Detroit Economic Club, the United States can do better. One of our goals should be to strive for 4.5 percent growth in industrial production annually on average between now and 2020—part of what he calls a “20/20 vision.” With faster industrial activity, manufacturers can once again provide return to an outsized role for output and employment growth, reminiscent of what we saw coming out of the Great Recession.

Many other economic data released last week were mixed. In contrast to the industrial production figures, the Empire State Manufacturing Survey showed improvements in activity in January. This was the first non-contracting month for the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s District since July, led by improved sales and increased expectations. Even with these gains, progress in the composite index stemmed mostly from people shifting their views from negative to neutral, hinting that many respondents remain tentative. This is true even though manufacturers are more cautiously optimistic for higher levels of orders, shipments, employment and capital investment over the next six months. Meanwhile, retail sales figures, while increasing 0.1 percent in January, were at their slowest pace since October. Once again, reduced auto sales helped to drag the figure lower, with higher payroll taxes also contributing.

Consumers and small businesses were slightly more upbeat in the most recent sentiment surveys, and yet, they continue to highlight persistent concerns. The National Federation of Independent Business’s (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index, for instance, found that owners remain worried about the economy and frustrated with the political environment. The index, while edging higher in January, has not recovered from November’s steep decline, and small business owners continue to cite sluggish levels of sales, earnings, hiring and capital investment. Consumers, meanwhile, were more confident in the latest University of Michigan survey, which has fallen of late on fiscal cliff worries and higher payroll taxes. Even with this month’s improvements, consumer sentiment remains subpar.

This week, the economic focus will turn to housing and inflation. New residential construction soared to 954,000 in December, capping a year that saw tremendous gains in housing activity and showing that the still-struggling sector has begun to move in the right direction. The January housing starts figures are expected to show a slight pullback, but the longer-term trend should be for residential starts and permits to move upward. In addition to housing, we will also get new data on consumer and producer prices, both of which have eased over the course of the past year, mainly on lower energy costs. While there has been a pickup in some prices in January, I would expect for the trend of modest inflationary pressures to continue. Core inflation was 2 percent in December, which was in-line with Federal Reserve Board targets.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

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