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Although they’ll be revised twice more in the next two months alone, the December manufacturing output figures released Friday by the Fed just gave us more of the kinds of new full-year numbers that make data geeks (figuratively) salivate – and that everyone else needs to know about.

They mean that we can speak with added confidence about where domestic industry does and doesn’t stand since the financial crisis triggered the Great Recession eight years ago – and some of the crucial details show that American manufacturing could be in even more serious trouble than is already recognized.

First, these first full-year 2015 industrial production data indicate that domestic manufacturing keeps growing more slowly even than the rest of the sluggish U.S. economy. That matters because one of the biggest lessons taken from the financial crisis by a wide range of leading American public figures was that the nation needed to rely for its growth more on sectors that create real wealth (like manufacturing) and less on sectors that largely rearrange wealth (like finance). President Obama was only the best known

We won’t get the first full-year numbers on the economy’s overall 2015 growth until the end of this month, but through the first three quarters of the year, it expanded by 2.15 percent after adjusting for inflation. The manufacturing figures during the same period? 1.79 percent.

Moreover, the gap is unlikely to have narrowed much in the final three months of 2015. The Federal Reserve reports that real manufacturing output expanded by a mere 0.16 percent from the end of the third quarter through the end of the fourth quarter. That’s about the same rate as the total gross domestic product projection put out by the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s impressively reliable growth tracker.

Second, real production growth in the automotive sector slowed tremendously in 2015, and automotive has until now been manufacturing’s biggest growth leader by far. Inflation-adjusted output of vehicles and parts did improve more (3.70 percent) last year than overall manufacturing output (0.74 percent). But that automotive growth rate is down from 9.78 percent the year before, and is automotive’s worst growth performance since its 32.81 percent near freefall in 2008. In fact, as noted in Friday’s post on the industrial production figures, the automotive sector entered technical recession in December, with its after-inflation production down on net over a seven-month stretch.

Automotive’s boost to manufacturing is also clear from examining statistics going back to start of the last recession. Real output for American industry is now down 1.51 percent since the downturn’s December, 2007 onset – eight years ago. Without automotive, that production slump is 4.81 percent. Moreover, no other major sectors of manufacturing show any signs of picking up the slack.

Finally, these new 2015 manufacturing output numbers should remind us that the sector has also been powered by growth engine where the numbers are downright dubious – information technology hardware. Last year, the Federal Reserve tells us, inflation-adjusted output in computers and parts, semiconductors, telecommunications gear, and similar sub-sectors rose by 1.61 percent – more than twice as fast as overall manufacturing. And since the last recession began, its growth has been a stellar 45.83 percent. In fact, without these high tech industries, American manufacturing output would be down by 5.29 percent.

But as I’ve written before, here’s the problem: The inflation-adjusted data for information technology hardware likely overstate output by a considerable amount. The reason: These products tend to have a high import content, and this import content has probably been under-counted because the prices of these info-tech goods are falling faster than government economists can track. As a result, when this import content is adjusted for inflation, the numbers come out too low – and the domestic content figures that make up the rest of these products come out too high.

In his State of the Union address four years ago, President Obama rightly emphasized the need to create “an economy that’s built to last -– an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.” And he pointedly noted that “this blueprint begins with American manufacturing.” As he enters his last year in the White House, this goal with respect to manufacturing sadly remains un-achieved.

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