(What's Left of) Our Economy, appliances, automotive, capex, capital spending, CCP Virus, coronavirus, COVID 19, Federal Reserve, furniture, household appliances, housing, inflation-adjusted growth, Institute for Supply Management, machinery, manufacturing, real growth, recession, recovery, Wuhan virus
Today’s monthly Federal Reserve report on U.S. manufacturing production was full of surprises, but not enough were of the good kind. And with signs of economic slowing on the rise, the new figures – for September – could mean that, for the time being, industry’s relative out-performance during the pandemic era will begin weakening markedly as well.
The surprises start with the overall figure for the September monthly change in inflation-adjusted output for American factories. Despite an abundance of encouraging data from so-called soft surveys like those issued by the private Institute for Supply Management and the Fed system’s regional banks (see, e.g., here) real manufacturing production dropped by 0.29 percent sequentially. The decrease was the first since April, when national economic activity as a whole bottomed due to the spread of the CCP Virus and resulting shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.
The biggest bright spot in the report came from the upward nature of most revisions. August’s initially reported 0.96 percent monthly gain is now judged to have been 1.13 percent. The July result was upgraded from 3.97 percent to 4.30 percent. And June’s previous 7.64 percent improve was reduced to 3.61 percent. Further, these advances built on similar upward revisions that accompanied last month’s Fed report for August.
In fact, the revisions effect was strong enough to leave domestic industry’s cumulative after-inflation production performance during the virus-induced downturn better than the Fed’s estimate from last month. As of that industrial production report (for August), manufacturing constant dollar production had fallen 6.39 percent from its levels in February – the final month before the pandemic began impacting the economy. Today’s new September release now pegs that decline at only 5.81 percent, and even the monthly September decrease left it at 6.08 percent.
Nevertheless, the breadth of the September monthly decrease in overall price-adjusted manufacturing output unmistakably disappointed. Yes, the automotive sector (vehicles and parts combined) saw its on-month production tumble by 4.01 percent. But in contrast to most of the manufacturing data during the CCP Virus period, automotive didn’t move the overall manufacturing needle much, as real output ex-auto rose only fractionally in September.
Also discouraging –and unexpected, considering the good recent capital spending data reported by the Census Bureau (see, e.g., the “nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft” numbers for new orders in Table 5 in this latest release) – was the 0.41 inflation-adjusted production decline in the big machinery sector following five months of growth.
And even though the U.S. housing sector has been booming during the recession, real output of furniture also slumped for the first time in six months (by 0.96 percent), while price-adjusted household appliances production was down 4.99 percent after its own good five-month run.
As indicated by today’s revisions, these glum September manufacturing output figures could be upgraded in the coming months. Yet given the CCP Virus’ return – which will at best greatly complicate the challenge of maintaining recovery momentum for industry and the entire national economy – no one can reasonably rule out the possibility that, for now, Americans have seen peak post-virus manufacturing production.