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With this morning’s release of the Federal Reserve’s new real manufacturing output figures, we just got more data indicating both the impact of President Trump’s metals tariffs and his China levies. And, as with other manufacturing numbers, like employment statistics, the Fed output release mocks widespread claims that both kinds of trade curbs are already undermining U.S. domestic industry.

Here are the results for major metals-using sectors – with one caveat. Because it includes many goods so diminutive and stuffed with electronics that they’re clearly no longer using much steel or aluminum (unlike the large appliances), placing the small household appliances category on this list seems to have been mistaken all along. But I’m leaving them on so you can make up your own mind. The data start with April (because the first metals tariffs were imposed in late March) and go through October (the latest month covered by this Fed series). And I’m presenting the previously reported and revised September results in order to provide a sense of the trends’ momentum.

                                              old through Sept   new through Sept   through Oct

overall manufacturing:           +0.76 percent        +0.98 percent     +1.30 percent

durables manufacturing:        +1.41 percent       +1.46 percent      +1.93 percent

fabricated metals products:    +1.28 percent       +1.83 percent      +2.06 percent

machinery:                             +2.84 percent       +3.80 percent      +5.09 percent

automotive:                            +1.39 percent       +0.35 percent       -2.42 percent

small appliances:                    -1.23 percent        -3.67 percent        -6.62 percent

major appliances                    -0.87 percent        -0.99 percent        -3.32 percent

Superficially, the picture is somewhat mixed. But as I just said, in my view, the small appliances category should be ignored. Accelerating deterioration clearly characterizes the major appliances sector, but do tariffs (which include not only the metals levies but separate tariffs on household laundry machines that result from a trade law case initiated during the Obama years) deserve most of the blame? Maybe not, considering that the domestic housing sector – a big generator of major appliance sales – is in the middle of a noteworthy slowdown.

Momentum is clearly weakening in the automotive sector as well (where even the seasonally adjusted monthly Fed production numbers are notoriously volatile and subject to significant revisions). But it’s likely that sagging output is reflecting sales that are sagging overwhelmingly because of the industry’s own cyclical dynamics.

Indeed, these industry-specific developments look all the stronger considering that two other major metals-using sectors – fabricated metals products and non-electrical machinery – are gaining production momentum. So something other than the price of metals must be kneecapping the laggard sectors.

The new Fed data also shed noteworthy light on the impact of the President’s China tariffs. Levies on a total of $50 billion worth of goods began in July, and tariffs on $200 billion more worth of merchandise imports were imposed in September. So many products have been tariff-ed, and the lists contain so many producer as well as consumer goods, that even a genuinely deep dive into the data might not yield firm conclusions.

But here’s what we know from the 30,000-foot level about after-inflation domestic manufacturing output during the three months preceding the first China tariffs, and the three months following them:

                                             April-July                            July-Oct

overall manufacturing:     +0.29 percent                     +1.02 percent

durable goodsL                 -0.28 percent                      +2.22 percent

non-durable goods:          +0.87 percent                      -0.21 percent

Good luck finding much China damage on net from these numbers.

Back in the 18th century, Jonathan Swift lamented that “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” Will Mainstream Media coverage of the industrial production figures and Trump tariffs prove him right once again?

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