Here is the summary for this month’s Global Manufacturing Economic Update:
Net exports have been a drag on the U.S. economy so far through the first half of this year, with manufacturers continuing to experience sluggish sales growth in international markets. With that said, the U.S. trade deficit narrowed a bit in July to its lowest level in six months, with growth in goods exports outpacing growth in goods imports. Petroleum trade accounted for a significant portion of the change in each, and in general, energy has helped to narrow the deficit from that of a couple years ago. Another positive note was the fact that each of the top-five trading partners for U.S.-manufactured goods experienced increases in manufactured goods exports year-to-date relative to the same time frame last year using non-seasonally adjusted data.
Along those lines, manufacturers worldwide saw modest growth, with a slight improvement from the month before. The J.P. Morgan Global Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose marginally, up from 52.4 in July to 52.6 in August. The good news is that this marks the 21st straight month of expanding activity globally; yet, it is also clear that the pace of growth has not changed much this year. Still, manufacturing activity in August expanded in 9 of the top 10 markets for U.S.-manufactured goods, an improvement from just five markets in May.
Nonetheless, the data also show signs of softness, most notably in Europe and in China. Real GDP in the Eurozone fell 0.2 percent in the second quarter, with recent industrial production and retail sales data trending lower, as well. The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI declined from 51.8 to 50.7, its lowest level since July 2013, when Europe was just emerging from its deep recession. Still, the economic health of various European nations varies widely, ranging from deteriorating activity in France to relatively robust growth in Ireland. For its part, the European Central Bank has once again lowered interest rates in the hope of spurring more economic activity and additional lending. With these actions and slow growth in Europe, the euro has depreciated against the dollar, down from a recent high of $1.3924 for one euro on May 6 to yesterday’s close of $1.2921 on September 11.
Meanwhile, Chinese manufacturers have reported expanding levels of activity for three straight months (June to August), which by itself is progress after starting the year with five months of contraction. However, the HSBC China Manufacturing PMI declined from 51.7 to 50.2, or just barely above neutral, with decelerating levels of new orders, output and exports. Moreover, while real GDP in China picked up slightly from a year-over-year pace of 7.4 percent in the first quarter to 7.5 percent in the second quarter, we expect to continue to see an easing in growth rates moving forward. We have also seen decelerating rates of growth—albeit still healthy ones by our standards—for industrial production, fixed asset investments and retail sales. Slower growth in China has also helped to pull down overall manufacturing activity in the emerging markets.
U.S. trade talks continue this month with both Asia-Pacific nations and Europe, while the World Trade Organization seeks to move forward both trade facilitation and environmental goods discussions. Domestically, a range of trade and international financing legislation awaits action, including the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, whose charter expires on September 30.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.