Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Think for a moment about this morning’s very good manufacturing production figures from the Federal Reserve (for December) and a case for major optimism about U.S. industry’s foreseeable future is easy to make. Not only has the advent of highly effective vaccines greatly boosted hopes for a return to normality sooner rather than later. But much of the underlying data was collected before the vaccine production surge began.

Moreover, although Boeing aircraft is still dealing with manufacturing problems, its popular 737 Max model is being recertified or nearly recertified for flight by numerous countries (including the United States) and any continued significant rebound in air travel levels is sure to help the company’s order book for all of its jets.

And again, the data themselves were strong. According to this first Fed read for the month, American inflation-adjusted manufacturing output rose by 0.95 percent sequentially. Moreover, November’s initially reported 0.79 percent improvement was upgraded to 0.83 percent, and October’s results were revised upward for a second time – to 1.34 percent.

These noteworthy advances – which add up to eight straight months of increases – brought price-adjusted U.S. manufacturing production to 22.05 percent above the levels it hit during its CCP Virus-induced nadir in April, and to within 2.40 percent of its last monthly pre-pandemic numbers (for February).

Especially interesting, and another cause for optimism: The December manufacturing growth was so broad-based that it was achieved despite a 1.60 percent monthly drop in constant dollar automotive production. Combined vehicle and parts output has rebounded so vigorously since its near-evaporation last spring (by just under six-fold) that on a year-on-year basis, it’s actually grown by 3.64 percent. But today’s Fed report represents evidence that many other sectors are now catching up.

The crucial (because its products are used so widely throughout the entire economy) machinery sector enjoyed a good December, too, with after-inflation production increasing by 2.07 percent sequentially. That welcome news more than offset a downward revision in the November results, from a 0.51 percent to 0.99 percent shrinkage. Due to this growth, this real domestic machinery output is now just 1.53 percent off its pre-pandemic level.

As for the pharmaceutical industry, its price-adjusted output expanded by a solid 2.12 percent sequentially in December, but November’s disappointing initially reported 0.76 percent fall-off was downgraded to a 0.84 percent decrease, and October’s results stayed at minus 1.01 percent.

Moreover, year-on-year constant dollar pharmaceutical production is up only 0.18 percent – anything but what you’d expect for a country suffering through an historic pandemic.

But the first batch of Pfizer anti-CCP Virus vaccines didn’t leave the factory until December 13, and key data behind this first read on the month’s performance were gathered beforehand. So it’s likely that the huge ramp in vaccine out could start showing up in the revised December results in next month’s Fed manufacturing report (for January), which will reflect more relevant statistics.

Similar optimism seems warranted for the U.S. civilian aerospace industry and especially its beleaguered collosus, Boeing. Despite the safety woes of the popular 737 Max model and its consequent production suspension, the domestic aircraft and parts sectors have actually staged a powerful real output recovery since a 32.85 percent nosedive in February and March. Since then, inflation-adjusted production has boomed by 52.30 percent, fueled in part by December’s 2.78 percent sequential jump and November’s upwardly revised 2.39 percent growth.

In fact, constant dollar output in civilian aerospace is now actually 2.27 percent higher than its last pre-CCP Virus level. The 737 effect isn’t over yet, as made clear by the 11.49 percent real production decline since last December. But it seems evident that the industry is and will remain on the upswing barring any new seriously bad news.

Unfortunately, little such optimism appears justified in the case of medical equipment and supplies – including face masks, protective gowns, ventilators, and the like. Inflation-adjusted production in their larger subsector sank in December by 0.36 percent on month, and although the November increase has been revised up from 1.56 percent to 1.60 percent, October’s growth has been downgraded again – from an initially judged 3.54 percent all the way down to a decidedly non-pandemic-y 1.75 percent.

And since April, the after-inflation production recovery has been only 21.02 percent – still less than that for all of manufacturing. The year-on-year December result is no better, as it’s down 5.44 percent. And of course, those 2019 levels were revealed by the pandemic to have been dangerously inadequate.

But before ending, I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t say something about tariffs, and as with last month’s Fed manufacturing figures, the performance of the primary metals sectors for December is sending this loud and clear message to President-Elect Joe Biden: Keep them on.

For in constant dollar terms, these protected industries have recorded strong monthly growth since June, and November’s upwardly revised sequential 3.98 percent pop has now been followed by a 2.51 percent increase in December.

All told, since the April bottom, price-adjusted production has risen by 29.01 percent – expansion that looks inconceivable without the trade curbs preventing the U.S. market from being flooded with Chinese steel and aluminum along with product transshipped through the ports of those U.S. allies with whom Biden is so keen on repairing tattered Trump era ties, and greater metals shipments they often send America’s way to offset their own China-related losses.