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If the Federal Reserve’s monthly industrial production report for February (released in March) was the last such data set assessing domestic U.S. manufacturing’s health before the full force of the CCP Virus pandemic struck the American economy, today’s release (covering November) might be viewed in retrospect as marking the close of the industry’s virus-induced slump – or at least the beginning of the end.

Clearly, the entire U.S. economy remains far from fully recovered from the pandemic and the shutdowns and lockdowns and behavioral changes it produced. Moreover, the virus’ second wave could well prompt renewed restrictions – though lockdown fatigue will probably keep them more limited than their springtime predecessors.

But shortly after the Fed compiled the figures for November came two developments capable of boosting domestic manufacturing output considerably – Washington’s certification clearing Boeing’s troubled 737 Max model jetliner for flight once again, and the announcements that large-scale final-phase clinical trials for two anti-CCP Virus vaccines revealed amazing efficacy rates and reassuring safety results.

At the same time, these last pre-737 and vaccine manufacturing production numbers showed once again how relatively well domestic industry has held up during the CCP Virus period so far, and how strong its post-April recovery has been. By the same token, the data once more make clear the benefits of the Trump administration’s sweeping tariffs on products from China and its levies on steel and aluminum imports – which sharply limited the extent to which U.S. demand for these goods could be met from abroad.

The 0.79 percent November monthly increase in after-inflation manufacturing output recorded by the Fed was weaker than the October figure. But that month’s increases was revised up from a strong 1.04 percent to an even better 1.19 percent. September’s previously reported fractional increase remained basically the same.

As of November, therefore, real manufacturing production has improved by 20.67 percent above its April pandemic-induced trough and, just as important, stands just 3.50 percent lower than its final pre-CCP Virus level in February.

The November numbers are also notable for the outsized role played once again by the automotive sector. Although its October sequential inflation-adjusted output performance has been revised from a virtual “no change” to a 1.14 percent drop, these first November results show a 5.32 percent surge. More important than this volatility, though, is that combined vehicle and parts output is now just 0.38 percent lower than its final pre-pandemic level in February.

One indication of at least short-term concern from the November results: Constant-dollar production in the big machinery sector slipped by 0.51 percent on month. This industry matters greatly because its products are used so widely throughout the economy (e.g., construction, agriculture), and because it contains the capital goods products on which manufacturers themselves rely so heavily to turn out their own goods.

Longer term, the machinery picture looks better, though, as in line with the generally strong capital investment data kept by Washington, its price-adjusted output is now off by just 3.52 percent since February.

As for the tariff angle mentioned above, its importance is evident not simply from the strong overall manufacturing recovery, but from the performance of the primary metals sector, whose performance since March, 2018 has been profoundly affected by levies on steel and aluminum from most major exporting countries.

Constant dollar output of primary metals plunged by 25.46 percent during the peak pandemic months of March and April – a rate faster than that of manufacturing’s total 20.03 percent. Since then, however, its grown in real terms by 25.63 percent (faster than manufacturing’s total 20.67 percent advance).

November, moreover, was no exception, as primary metals’ inflation-adjusted production rose by a robust 3.75 percent. These numbers might give apparent President-elect Joe Biden pause if he’s thinking of lifting the steel and aluminum levies as part of his announced goal of repairing U.S. alliance relations he believes have been gravely damaged by President Trump.

If the beginning of the end of pandemic really is at hand, the November Fed figures show that it can’t come soon enough for the nation’s beleaguered aircraft industry as well as for its pharmaceutical sector. The latter’s after-inflation output remained steady last month, but the levels themselves remained remarkably subdued. November’s 0.76 percent monthly constant dollar production decline followed a downwardly revised 1.01 percent October decrease, and year-on-year, inflation-adjusted output is off by 2.37 percent.

Despite Boeing- and travel-related woes, the aerospace industry has fared considerably better. After a real output nosedive of 32.85 percent in February and March, such production is up by a spectacular 47.75 percent since. And thanks partly to the 2.07 percent on-month improvement in November, real output is down just 3.77 percent since the last pre-pandemic figure in February.

Nonetheless, the 737 Max news and any sign a significant air travel comeback will be welcome for civilian aircraft and parts makers, as after-inflation production is still 15.40 percent less than it was last November.

But despite the number of inspiring anecdotal accounts of medical equipment and supplies manufacturers boosting production of face masks, protective gowns, ventilators, and the like in response to the medical emergency, overall real production of these vital products remained uninspiring in November. Real output rose on-month by 1.56 percent, but the October’s initially reported 3.54 percent after-inflation sequential production increase has now been downgraded to 2.04 percent.

Since April, moreover, the price-adjusted production rebound has been a mere 21.75 percent – not much stronger than that for the total manufacturing recovery. Perhaps most discouraging: Real output in this sector is actually down 5.60 percent – from levels revealed by major continuing reliance on imports to have been dangerously inadequate.