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The new (May) U.S. manufacturing production report from the Federal Reserve doesn’t mainly indicate that industry may be facing a crossroads because the sector’s inflation-adjusted output dropped on month for the first time since January.

Instead, it signals that a significant slowdown may lie ahead for U.S.-based manufacturers because its downbeat results dovetail with the latest humdrum manufacturing jobs report (also for May), with results of some of the latest sentiment surveys conducted by regional branches of the Fed (e.g., here), and with evidence of a rollover in spending on machinery and equipment by the entire economy (which fuels much manufacturing output and typically reflects optimism about future business prospects).

Domestic industry shrank slightly (by 0.07 percent) in real output terms month-to-month in May. On the bright side, the strong results of recent months stayed basically unrevised, and April’s very good advance was upgraded from 0.75 percent to 0.77 percent.

Still, the May results mean that real U.S. manufacturing production is now up 4.94 percent since just before the CCP Virus began roiling and distorting the American economy (February, 2020), rather than the 5.07 percent calculable from last month’s report.

May’s biggest manufacturing growth winners were:

>Petroleum and coal products, where after-inflation jumped by 2.53 percent sequentially in May. The improvement was the fourth straight, and the increase the best since February’s 2.68 percent. As a result, constant dollar production in these sectors is now 1.21 percent higher than in immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020;

>Non-metallic mineral products, whose 1.78 percent sequential growth in May followed an April fall-off that was revised way down from -0.67 percent to -1.72 percent. March’s 0.76 percent decrease was downgraded to a 1.29 percent retreat, but February’s sequential pop was revised down just slightly to a still outstanding 4.37 percent surge. All told, the sector has grown by 2.58 percent after inflation since February, 2020 – exactly the same result calculable from last month’s Fed release; and

>Furniture and related products, whose 1.23 percent May inflation-adjusted output rise was its first such increase since February’s, and its best since that month’s 4.96 percent surge. Moreover, the May advance comes off an April performance that was revised up from a -0.60 percent sequential dip to one of -0.12. In all, these results were enough to move real furniture production above its Februay, 2020 level – by 0.08 percent.

May’s biggest manufacturing production losers were:

>wood products, whose 2.56 percent real monthly output decline was its first decrease since January and its worst since February. 2021’s 3.65 percent. Moreover, April’s previously reported 1.13 percent advance is now estimated to have been just 0.97 percent – all of which means that constant dollar production by these companies is now 5.24 percent higher than just before the pandemic arrived, not the 7.85 percent calculable last month;

>machinery, whose May inflation-adjusted output sank by 2.14 percent – the biggest such setback since February, 2021’s 2.59 percent. As known by RealityChek readers, machinery production is one of those aforementioned indicators of capital spending because it’s sold to customers not just in manufacturing but throughout the economy.

It’s true that machinery’s revisions were mixed. April’s after-inflation production increase was upgraded all the way fom 0.85 percent to 1.69 percent – its best such performance since last July’s 2.85 percent. But March’s performance was revised down from 0.36 percent to one percent shrinkage, and February’s increase was revised up again, but only from 1.17 percent to 1.22 percent. Consequently, whereas as of last month, machinery production was 8.31 percent higher in real terms than in February, 2020, this growth is now down to 6.29 percent.

>electrical equipment, appliances and components, where real output sagged for the second consecutive month, and by a 1.83 percent that was its worst such monthly performance since February, 2021’s 2.34 percent decrease. Revisions were modest and mixed, with April’s previously reported 0.60 percent sequential drop upgraded to -0.42 percent, March’s downgraded 0.04 percent dip upgraded to a 0.19 percent gain, and February’s real output revised up again – from 2.03 percent to 2.08 percent. These moves put real growth in the sector post-February, 2020 at 2.19 percent, less than half the 5.55 percent calculable last month.

By contrast, industries that consistently have made headlines during the pandemic delivered solid May performances.

Aircraft- and aircraft parts-makers pushed their real production up 0.33 percent on month in May, achieving their fifth straight month of growth. Moreover, April’s excellent 1.67 percent sequential production increase was upgraded to 2.90 percent (the sector’s best such result since last July’s 3.44 percent), March’s estimate inched up from a hugely downgraded 0.47 percent to 0.50 percent, and the February results were upgraded again – from 1.34 percent to 1.49 percent. This good production news boosted these companies’ real output gain since immediately pre-pandemic-y 16.37 percent to 19.08 percent.

The big pharmaceuticals and medicines industry performed well in May, too, as after-inflation production increased by 0.42 percent. Revisions were overall negative but small. April’s initially reported 0.20 percent real output slip is now judged to be a0.15 percent gain, but March’s upwardly revised 1.23 percent increase is now pegged at only 0.32 percent, and February’s downwardly revised 0.96 percent constant dollar output drop revised up to -0.86 percent. All told, inflation-adjusted growth in the pharmaceuticals and medicines sector is now up 14.78 percent since February, 2020, as opposed to the 14.64 percent increase calculable last month.

Medical equipment and supplies firms fared even better, as their 1.44 percent monthly real output growth in May (their fifth straight advance) was their best such result since February, 2021’s 1.53 percent. Revisions were positive, too. April’s previously recorded 0.06 percent dip is now estimated as a 0.51 percent increase, March’s downgraded 1.28 percent figure was upgraded to 1.41 percent, and February’s 1.46 percent improvement now stands at 1.53 percent. These sectors are now 11.51 percent bigger in terms of constant dollar output than they were just before the CCP Virus arrived in force – a nice improvement from the 8.92 percent figure calculable last month.

May also saw a production bounceback in the shortage-plagued semiconductor industry. Its inflation-adjusted production climbed 0.52 percent on month, but April’s previously reported 1.85 percent drop – its worst such performance since last June’s 1.62 percent – is now judged to be a 2.25 percent decline. At least the March and February results received small upgrades – the former’s improving from a previously downgraded 1.83 percent rise to 1.92 percent, and February’s upgraded growth of 2.91 percent now estimated at 2.96 percent. The post-February, 2020 bottom line: After-inflation semiconductor production is now 23.82 percent higher, not the 23.38 pecent increase calculable last month.

And since the automotive industry’s ups and downs have been so crucial to domestic manufacturing’s ups and downs during the pandemic era, it’s worth noting its 0.70 percent monthly price-adjusted output growth in May.

Revisions overall were negative. April’s previously reported 3.92 percent constant dollar production growth was revised down to 3.34 percent, March’s 8.28 percent burst was upgraded to 8.99 percent (the best such result since last October’s 10.64 percent jump), and February’s previously upgraded 3.86 percent inflation-adjusted production decrease was downgraded to a 4.24 percent plunge.

But given that motor vehicle- and parts-makers are still dealing with the aforementioned semiconductor shortage, these numbers look impressive, and real automotive output is now 1.17 percent greater than in pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, as opposed to the 0.77 percent increase calculable last month.

Domestic manufacturing has overcome so many obstacles since the CCP Virus’ arrival that counting it out in growth terms could still be premature. But an obstacle that it hasn’t faced since the pandemic-induced downturn have s looming again — a major economy-wide slowdown and possible recession that could result from monetary tightening announced by the Federal Reserve to fight torrid inflation.  And with the world economy likely to stay sluggish as well and limit export opportunities (see, e.g., here), the possibility that industry’s winning streak finally ends can’t be dismissed out of hand.