As with the last few Federal Reserve reports on U.S. manufacturing production, today’s release (covering June) is mainly a combined CCP Virus/automotive story. And intriguingly, if worker pressures to re-close at least some of the nation’s vehicle and parts factories succeeds due to the surge seen in virus cases in recent weeks, this pattern could well continue.
The overall results – which measure domestic manufacturing output in inflation-adjusted terms – were decidedly encouraging. Last month, this real production sequentially jumped by 9.06 percent – the biggest such increase on record, and smashing the old mark of 7.03 percent recorded in August, 1997. (File this date away for future reference.)
Of course, this constant dollar output improvement, along with May’s upwardly revised 5.06 percent advance, have followed historic after-inflation monthly production nosedives. And these revisions have only been slightly mixed (April’s drop is now judged to be 16.94 percent, not the previously reported 15.66 percent, while the March decrease was shaved from 5.27 percent to 4.09 percent.) So the hole out of which U.S. based industry must dig itself out was just about as deep as originally estimated. (Of course, all these figures, along with those for the previous several years, will be further revised by the Fed sometime later this year, so don’t view them as being set in stone.)
But the automotive results keep driving (pun intended?) the overall manufacturing growth figures. In June, combined real output of vehicles and parts soared by 115.02 percent. In other words, it more than doubled in a month. And that surge followed a monthly automotive comeback in after-inflation terms of 117.12 percent – another more-than-doubling. Moreover, this figure has revised down only from a previously reported 120.83 percent .
As with manufacturing in general, though, these remarkable increases have followed deep decreases in April and March (now judged to have been 77.81 percent and 28.05 percent, respectively, with revisions minimal) due to a CCP Virus-led decision by the automakers to suspend most of their operations . Indeed, as of June, constant dollar automotive production is still 25.47 percent below February’s pre-pandemic level.
History, moreover, makes clear that outsized automotive influence on the total manufacturing production numbers is a well-established pattern. For example, the previous record increase for after-inflation monthly overall U.S. manufacturing production (that 7.03 percent rise in August, 1997) stemmed largely from a 49.17 percent increase in real automotive output – which in turn resulted from the end of a strike at General Motors.
And strikes aside, production in the sector fluctuates tremendously during the summer because that’s when factories have often been shut down to get their acts together for the upcoming model year. Don’t expect this kind of boost this year, though, as a number of automakers have decided to skip these annual retooling and maintenance pauses since their virus-related factory closings have already hit them hard enough.
One more sign of how profoundly the auto figures have distorted manufacturing’s overall recent production performance – stripping out this sector, real manufacturing output would have risen on mont in June not by 9.06 percent, but by 5.45 percent. That’s still a great performance, though – in fact, it’s the best since the 6.32 percent improvement in August, 1967.
Indeed, without the automotive sector, U.S. price-adjusted manufacturing output is down only 7.13 percent from its last pre-pandemic reading in February. Add in automotive, and this figure becomes 8.82 percent. But due the CCP virus, lockdown and reopening decisions, and restiveness in some of the nation’s automotive workforce, the road ahead for domestic manufacturing is anything but clear.