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Earlier in the CCP Virus era, the U.S. manufacturing production story was largely an automotive production story – because the industry shut down so suddenly and completely during the pandemic’s first wave and the deep economic downturn it triggered, and then began reopening at a record pace. And today’s Federal Reserve figures show that domestic industry’s growth is being driven by dramatically fluctuating vehicles and parts output once again – but this time it seems due significantly to the global semiconductor shortage that’s deprived the sector of critical parts.

Also noteworthy about today’s Fed manufacturing release (which covers May): It incorporates the results of the benchmark revision of these data for the 2017-19 period. As explained in yesterday’s post on the subject, the new numbers create a new baseline for pre-pandemic manufacturing growth, and therefore a new picture of how big the virus-induced downturn was, and how strong the recovery has been – at least until the next benchmark revision. And of course, the new figures therefore supersede those in the April Fed release I reported on last month.

Automotive’s influence on the May numbers is clear from the following: Total inflation-adjusted sequential growth for U.S.-based manufacturing hit a strong 0.89 percent last month. Without automotive (whose 6.69 percent monthly output pop followed a 5.57 percent April drop), the increase would have been just over half that – a still solid 0.50 percent. Don’t be surprised if the microchip shortage keeps these results on a roller coaster.

Its May increase brought total real domestic manufacturing output back within 0.31 percent of its last pre-pandemic level, in February, 2020. In March and April, such production plummeted by 19.41 percent. Since then, it’s surged by 23.90 percent. For the record, as I wrote yesterday, the pandemic-spurred Spring, 2020 nosedive was slightly shallower (0.92 percent) than judged before the revisions (1.42 percent) but the comeback through this past April was a bit weaker (22.81 percent versus 23.27 percent).

Machinery making enjoyed a good month in May, and as known by RealityChek regulars, that’s good news for all domestic manufacturing and the rest of the economy, since its products are so widely used. Constant dollar output improved by 0.78 percent last month, and consequently, the sector is now 2.35 percent bigger in these terms than just before the virus started depressing the economy. One downside should be noted, though: The new revision indicates that the machinery recovery has actually be significantly slower than previously estimated.

Manufacturing’s list of other big inflation-adjusted production winners in May featured some real surprises. The apparel and leather goods industries remain shadows of their historic selves, but their real output last month jumped 2.59 percent – their best such result since January’s 2.06 percent. Moreover, this sector has grown in real terms by 6.74 percent since just before the pandemic – much faster than manufacturing as a whole.

After-inflation production in the small printing and related activities industry grew by 2.59 percent – also its best result since January (3.99 percent).

But some big sectors saw healthy gains in May, too – notably chemicals (whose products are also used throughout the economy) and computer and electrnics products. The former saw real production advance by 2.19 percent sequentially last month – its best such result since March’s weather-aided 4.08 percent. And the latter grew in May by 1.60 percent.

The biggest losers? Paper led this pack by far, with May constant dollar production sinking by 1.59 percent on month – its worst such showing since January’s 1.78 percent decrease.

Likely due to Boeing’s continuing production and safety problems (more on which later), the aerospace and miscellaneous transportation sector’s after inflation production sank by 0.95 percent sequentially in May – and that followed a 2.55 percent nosedive (no pun intended) in April. And wood products real output fell by 0.82 percent.

But the losers’ list contains a big surprise, too. Complaints keep coming that that the domestic steel and aluminum industries (and especially the steel-makers) have responded to tariffs simply by enjoying the higher resulting prices and sitting on these winnings. So it’s noteworthy that even after a 0.82 percent monthly real output decline in May, primary metals production after inflation is slightly (0.15 percent) higher than in immediate pre-pandemic-y February, 2020 – another such performance that’s bested that for all manufacturing.

The aforementioned problems suffered by Boeing keep coming through in the real output data for the aircraft and parts sub-sector of the aerospace and miscellaneous transportation industry. In May, inflation-adjusted output was down 1.47 percent on month – much bigger than the larger industry fall-off. And that came on the heels of April’s 2.21 percent decrease. Real aircraft and parts production is still 4.36 percent above its immediate pre-pandemic level, but given the ongoing post-CCP Virus worldwide rebound in air travel, these figures are definitely disappointing – and moving in the wrong direction.

By contrast, the big pharmaceuticals and medicines sector is still benefitting from reopening headwinds. May’s 0.22 percent monthly real output increase was admittedly modest, especially since this sector includes vaccine production. But it’s grown by 8.44 percent since the virus began spreading rapidly in the United States. on g – also delivered a disappointing performance in April, especially since it includes vaccines.

But both the May real production numbers and the benchmark revision left the vital medical equipment and supplies sector a conspicuous production laggard. This industry – which includes virus-fighting items like face masks, face masks, protective gowns, and ventilators – grew in real tems by just 0.19 percent sequentially in May, and April’s after inflation output was down 1.66 percent. As a result, this sector is turning out only 0.35 percent more product than just before the pandemic’s arrival – which doesn’t seem to augur well for national preparedness for the next pandemic.

If I was a betting person (I’m not), I’d still wager on better days ahead for U.S. domestic manufacturing – because so many powerful supportive trends and developments remain in place, ranging from massive government spending and other forms of stimulus to the virus’ continuing retreat to waning consumer caution to huge amounts of pandemic-era consumer savings to ongoing Trump tariffs that keep pricing huge numbers of Chinese goods out of the U.S. market.

But no one should forget about a list of threats to the pace of manufacturing growth, if not growth itself – like the prospect of higher taxes and more regulations, and the possibility that consumer demand will keep growing but switch away from goods to the hard-hit but quickly reopening service sectors (which of course do buy manufactures). Inflation isn’t good for strong (real) growth, either, though I’m an optimist on this front.

Ultimately, though, I’m most struck by evidence of domestic manufacturers’ continuing optimism about the prospects of their businesses. If they’re still confident about their futures, that remains good enough for me.