Talk about annoying! There I was last Thursday morning, all set to dig into the new detailed Federal Reserve U.S. manufacturing production numbers (for June) in order to write up my usual same-day report, and guess what? None of the new tables was on-line! Fast forward to this morning: They’re finally up. (And here‘s the summary release.) So here we go with our deep dive into the results, which measure changes in inflation-adjusted manufacturing output.
The big takeaway is that, as with last month’s report for May, the semiconductor shortage-plagued automotive sector was the predominant influence. But there was a big difference. In May, domestic vehicles and parts makers managed to turn out enough product to boost the overall manufacturing production increase greatly. In June, a big automotive nosedive helped turn an increase for U.S.-based industry into a decrease.
The specifics: In May, the sequential automotive output burst (which has been revised up from 6.69 percent in real terms to 7.34 percent) helped push total manufacturing production for the month to 0.92 percent after inflation (a figure that’s also been upgraded – from last month’s initially reported already strong 0.89 percent). Without automotive, manufacturing’s constant dollar growth would have been just 0.47 percent.
In June, vehicle and parts production sank by an inflation-adjusted 6.62 percent , and dragged industry’s total performance into the negative (though by just 0.05 percent). Without the automotive crash, real manufacturing output would have risen by 0.40 percent.
Counting slightly negative revisions, through June, constant dollar U.S. manufacturing production in toto was 0.60 percent less than in February, 2020 – the economy’s last full pre-pandemic month.
Domestic industry’s big production winners in June were primary metals (a category that includes heavily tariffed steel and aluminum), which soared by 4.02 percent after inflation; the broad aerospace and miscellaneous transportation sector, which of course contains troubled Boeing aircraft, (more on which later), and which turned in 3.75 percent growth, its best such performance since January’s 5.62 percent pop; petroleum and coal products (up 1.36 percent); and miscellaneous durable goods, which includes but is far from limited to CCP Virus-related medical supplies (up 1.21 percent).
The biggest losers other than automotive? Inflation-adjusted production of electrical equipment, appliances, and components, which dropped sequentially by 1.73 percent in real terms; the tiny, remaining apparel and leather goods industry (1.44 percent); and the non-metallic minerals sector (1.07 percent).
Especially disappointing was the 0.55 percent monthly dip in machinery production, since this sector’s products are used so widely throughout the rest of manufacturing and in major parts of the economy outside manufacturing like construction and agriculture.
But in one of the biggest surprises of the June Fed data (though entirely consistent with the aforementioned broad aerospace sector), real output of aircraft and parts shot up by 5.24 percent – its best such performance since January’s 6.79 percent. It’s true that the May production decrease was revised from 1.47 percent to 2.61 percent. But with Boeing’s related and manufacturing and safety-related woes continuing to multiply, who would have expected that outcome?
And partly as a result of this two-month net gain, after-inflation aircraft and parts output as of June is 7.83 percent higher in real terms than in pre-pandemicky February, 2020 – a much faster growth rate than for manufacturing as a whole.
The big pharmaceuticals and medicines sector (which includes vaccines) registered a similar pattern of results, although with much smaller swings. May’s originally reported 0.22 percent constant dollar output improvement was revised down to 0.15 percent. But June saw a 0.89 percent rise, which brought price-adjusted production in this group of industries to 9.33 percent greater than just before the pandemic.
Some good news was also generated by the vital medical equipment and supplies sector – which includes virus-fighting items like face masks, face masks, protective gowns, and ventilators. Its monthly May growth was upgraded all the way up from the initially reported 0.19 percent to 1.18 percent. And that little spurt was followed by 0.99 percent growth in June.
Yet despite this acceleration, this sector is still a mere 2.27 percent bigger in real terms than in February, 2020, meaning that Americans had better hope that new pandemic isn’t right around the corner, that the Delta variant of the CCP Virus doesn’t result in a near-equivalent, or that foreign suppliers of such gear will be a lot more generous than in 2020.
As for manufacturing as a whole, the outlook seems as cloudy as ever to me. Vast amounts of stimulus are still being pumped into the U.S. economy, which continues to reopen and overwhelmingly stay open. That should translate into strong growth and robust demand for manufactured goods. The Trump tariffs are still pricing huge numbers of Chinese goods out of the U.S. market. And the shortage of automotive semiconductors may actually be easing.
But the spread of the Delta variant has spurred fears of a new wave of local and even wider American lockdowns. This CCP Virus mutation is already spurring sweeping economic curbs in many key U.S. export markets. Progress in Washington on an infrastructure bill seems stalled. And for what they’re worth (often hard to know), estimates of U.S. growth rates keep coming down, and were falling even before Delta emerged as a major potential problem. (See, e.g., here.)
I’m still most impressed, though, by the still lofty levels of optimism (see, e.g., here) expressed by U.S. manufacturers themselves when they respond to surveys such as those sent out by the regional Federal Reserve banks (which give us the most recent looks). Since they’re playing with their own, rather than “other people’s money,” keep counting me as a domestic manufacturing bull.