Tags

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

Today’s Federal Reserve after-inflation U.S. manufacturing data (for November) were refreshingly (though encouragingly) boring, with one exception – some genuinely eye-popping revisions in specific, high-profile industries.

Overall real manufacturing output improved on month by 0.68 percent, adding to the evidence that domestic industry has bounced back from summer and early fall doldrums caused partly by damage from Hurricane Ida and partly by a global semiconductor shortage that depressed automotive production.

And in this vein, the November results weren’t dramatically impacted by the vehicle and parts sector, whose inflation-adjusted production rose by a 2.22 percent figure that’s clearly strong but decidedly un-dramatic compared with the roller-coaster it’s been on for most of the year.

In addition, revisions for manufacturing as a whole were modest and mixed.

The list of November’s biggest monthly manufacturing growth winners indicates how broad-based industry’s sequential constant dollar output gains were in November. No fewer than six of the major manufacturing subsectors tracked by the Fed enjoyed price-adjusted production advances of more than one percent. Aside from automotive, they were aerospace and miscellaneous transportation (whose 1.64 percent increase included another strong rise in aircraft, as will be detailed below); paper (up 1.63 percent); plastics and rubber products (1.45 percent); non-metallic mineral goods (1.25 percent); and textiles (1.21 percent).

The biggest losers were petroleum and coal products (down 1.24 percent on month); machinery (off by 0.66 percent); apparel and leather goods (0.53 percent); and printing and related support activities (0.50 percent).

But even in this group, hopeful signs can be found. As RealityChek regulars know, drps in machinery production are worrisome because its products are used so widel in the rest of manufacturing and in big non-manufacturing sectors like construction and agriculture.

But the November decline followed one of those eye-popping revisions. October’s originally reported 1.27 percent sequential decrease is now judged to be a 0.59 percent increase.

Moreover, the printing and petroleum and coal products fall-offs were both preceded by October real production advances that have been downwardly revised (from 4.97 percent to 3.79 percent for the former, and from 1.41 percent to 1.18 percent for the latter) but were still impressive.

Manufacturing industries that have been prominent in the news during the pandemic generally performed worse in November, save for aircraft and parts – whose performance was spurred by news from industry giant Boeing that continues to be pretty good. (See, e.g., here and here.) After-inflation production climbed by 1.90 percent month-to-month in November, and October’s 1.43 percent increase was revised up to 1.54 percent.

Even with a second downward revision to September’s inflation-adjusted output (from 0.45 percent all the way down to a negligible 0.09 percent), constant dollar output in aircraft and parts is now 15.86 percent higher than in February, 2020 – the last full data month before the CCP Virus began seriously distorting the U.S. economy.

Pharmaceuticals and medicines, however, lost even more growth momentum. Despite major demand for and use of vaccines, their price-adjusted output dipped by 0.15 percent sequentially in November, and October’s decrease was revised from 0.51 percent to 0.76 percent. But September saw another one of these enormous revisions – from a downgraded 1.04 percent production fall to a 0.76 percent gain. All told, these industries are now 13.54 percent bigger in constant dollar terms as of November than in February, 2020.

The news was worse in the crucial medical equipment and supplies sector – which includes virus-fighting items like face masks, protective gowns, and ventilators. Real production in November was off by 0.61 percent month-to-month in November, and October’s previously reported 1.08 percent decrease is now estimated at a greater 1.91 percent. Moreover, September’s results saw their second big downgrade – first from an initially reported 1.53 percent growth to a 0.73 percent gain, and this morning to one of just 0.16 percent. So since February, 2020, after-inflation production in this sector is up a mere 0.65 percent.

As with the entire economy, the manufacturing sector is being pushed and pulled by what seems to be an unprecedented number and type of forces and government decisions. On balance, though, unless the Omicron variant of the CCP Virus prompts much more voluntary or officially mandated disruption at home or abroad than seems likeliest now, further manufacturing growth still looks like the best bet for the foreseeable future.

Although prospects for stimulus from President Biden’s Build Back Better bill seem barely on life support due to West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s continuing objections, and the Federal Reserve yesterday announced further reductions in its stimulative bond-buying (AKA quantitaive easing), infrastucture bill money should soon begin flowing.  Further, the central bank still made clear that heavy levels of quantitative easing will continue for months more, and is in no rush to start raising interest rates.

Most consumers still have plenty of money to spend, even though further inflation could weaken their appetites. U.S. employment levels keep rebounding strongly by most measures. Supply chain knots continue untangling, albeit not always quickly. Mr. Biden is keeping nearly all of his predecessor’s China tariffs in place, which is preventing predatory Chinese competition from taking customers from domestic manufacturers. The brightening Boeing picture will help its entire vast U.S.-based supply chain. And American and overseas demand for both CCP Virus vaccines and now therapeutics will surely keep growing whatever the rest of the domestic or global economies do.

One set of gathering clouds shouldn’t be neglected, however. I don’t mean to sound alarmist, and don’t believe conflicts are imminent, but what the investment community calls “geopolitical risk” is troublingly on the rise in Asia (due to mounting Chinese pressures on Taiwan) and Europe (due to Russia’s military buildup on the Ukraine border). Moreover, although negotiations to slow Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons capability have resumed, this has been ongoing and nearing critical threshholds. And it’s far from clear how well a nuclear Iran would go down with Israel – just as it’s far from clear how well domestic manufacturing and the rest of the economy could withstand a second major non-economic disruption in a very few years.