Thanks to last Friday’s release of the Federal Reserve’s report on December U.S. manufacturing production, it’s possible to identify the sector’s biggest winners and losers for inflation-adjusted growth. And their ranks include some notable surprises. (As with all U.S. government economic data, though, there’ll be plenty of revisions over the next few years.)
First, let’s keep in mind that the following categories are pretty broad, including a wide range of products whose performances have varied just as widely. For example, as noted previously (e.g., here), “machinery” contains everything from machine tools to heating and cooling equipment to semiconductor production gear to turbines to construction equipment to farm machinery.
Still, these groupings are specific enough to show how much care is needed when generalizing about the performance of a piece of the economy as big as manufacturing. Moreover, they’re the categories that come early on in the incredibly detailed presentation each month of manufacturing output results deep in the weeds of the Fed’s own website.
With these observations in mind, the five strongest growers (or most modest shrinkers) in manufacturing during 2020 were automotive (vehicles and parts combined) at plus-3.64 percent; food, beverage, and tobacco products (up 0.40 percent), wood products (0.38 percent), computer and electronics products (up 0.14 percent), and non-metallic mineral products (down just 0.52 percent).
The biggest losers? Petroleum and coal products (down 13.34 percent); printing and related activities (off by 10.41 percent); furniture and related products (down 9.86 percent); non-durable miscellaneous manufactures (down 8.57 percent); and aerospace and other non-automotive transportation equipment (an 8.27 percent contraction).
Some of these results were entirely predictable. For example, petroleum and coal products essentially entails the fossil fuels industries, which have been decimated by the overall U.S. and global economic slumps triggered by the CCP Virus, and by the particular hit taken by business and leisure travel. And don’t forget the lingering effects of Boeing’s safety troubles. Moreover, of course those Boeing woes in turn have taken their toll on the aerospace sector.
On the flip side, despite major concern about the strength of America’s food supply chain, it proved impressively resilient. And since Americans didn’t stop eating, real food production expanded – although as the table below shows, its this expansion was much slower than in 2019.
I’m not sure what’s been up with furniture, though, especially considering that the good performance of wood products surely reflects the strength of a domestic housing industry that should have spurred production of furniture. Moreover, so far, the 2020 trade statistics reveal no significant increase in imports.
Non-durable miscellaneous manufactures are something of a puzzle, too. This category includes items like jewelry, silverware, sporting goods, toys, and musical instruments. Since on-line shopping has propped up consumption during the pandemic period, purchases and domestic production of these goods should have remained strong, too – even though many of these sub-sectors have long dominated by imports.
And speaking of imports, a clear sign of their importance is the negligible growth of the domestic computer and electronics industries. It’s clear that the virus and related lockdowns and stay-at-home orders has greatly increased demand for information technology products. But it’s evident that the biggest winners weren’t U.S.-based suppliers. In fact, 2020 growth was way below 2019’s, as the table below shows.
Meanwhile, the solid growth of the automotive sector is pretty remarkable, since the sector literally shut down almost completely in March and April. That looks like awfully strong evidence that much of the economic damage of the pandemic period has stemmed from government restrictions, and not from any inherent weakness in the economy.
In any event, below are the results for all of manufacturing’s main big industry groups, along with the data for the durable goods and non-durable goods super-sectors, and industry overall. For comparison’s sake with the pre-CCP Virus period, I’ve also presented their after-inflation growth for 2019. And a year from now, the final Fed 2021 statistics will permit judging just how complete a retun to normalcy has been achieved.
manufacturing -1.06 -2.63
durable goods -1.70 -2.97
wood products +3.58 +0.38
non-metallic mineral products -1.17 -0.52
primary metals -2.69 -7.66
fabricated metals products -1.72 -5.38
machinery -2.39 -3.80
computer & electronics products +6.19 +0.14
electrical equipmt, appliances & components -1.71 -1.68
motor vehicles and parts -9.05 +3.64
aerospace and misc transporation equipment +0.29 -8.27
furniture and related product +0.34 -9.86
miscellaneous manufactures +0.30 -3.67
non-durable goods -0.72 -2.24
food, beverage and tobacco products +2.67 +0.40
textiles and products -2.24 -5.04
apparel and leather goods -7.50 -3.64
paper -2.37 -1.91
printing and related activities -3.20 -10.41
petroleum and coal products -1.32 -13.34
chemicals -2.07 -1.31
plastics and rubber products -3.24 -0.78
other manufacturing -8.59 -8.51