Yesterday’s figures from the Federal Reserve showed that U.S.-based manufacturing is still growing – by the barest of margins.
The data, covering August, revealed that domestic industry expanded in inflation-adjusted terms by just 0.09 pecent. Revisions were slightly negative.
As a result, after adjusting for prices, U.S. manufacturing output is 3.49 percent higher than in February, 2020 – just before the CCP Virus and assorted mandated and voluntary behavioral curbs sparked a short but scary downturn and touched off waves of distortion that persist to this day. As of last month’s Fed report, industry’s inflation-adjusted production had risen by 3.69 percent during the pandemic period.
Among the broadest manufacturing sub-sectors tracked by the Fed, the biggest August winners were:
>petroleum and coal products, whose 3.54 percent constant dollar monthly output surge was its best since the 11.49 percent jump of March, 2021, when the industry was bouncing back from the damage inflicted by that winter’s Texas blizzards. Revisions were mixed. July’s originally reported after-inflation drop of 0.94 percent upgraded to one of 0.25 percent. June’s preliminary figure, revised up last month from a real decrease of 1.92 to one of 1.50 percent revised back down to a 2.80 percent decline. But May’s initially reported 2.33 percent constant dollar sequential monthly shrinkage of 2.61 pcerent now standing as a fall of 1.30 percent.
Since immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, inflation-adjusted production by these companies is up by 1.45 percent, versus the 1.27 decrease calculable last month;
>aerospace and miscellaneous transportation equipment, which rose month-to-month by 2.08 percent in real terms for its best such performance since February’s 2.52 percent. Revisions were slightly positive. June’s initially reported 1.54 percent improvement is now pegged at 1.55 percent. June had advanced from a fractional increase to a 0.14 percent dip to a 0.20 percent increase. But May’s results have deteriorated here, too – from an initially reported 0.85 percent decrease to a 1.25 percent drop.
In price-adjusted terms, this cluster is now 24.07 percent larger than in February, 2020, versus the 21.30 percent calculable last month;
>miscellaneous durable goods, a diverse sector containing the personal protective equipment and other medical gear used to widely to fight the CCP Virus saw inflation-adjusted production grow by 1.71 on month in August, its best such performace since last December’s 1.85 percent. Revisions, however, were negative. July’s initially reported 1.23 percent increase was revised down to one of 0.89 percent. June’s results have been downgraded from an advance of 2.25 percent to one of 0.87 percent to the 0.67 percent reported yesterday. And May’s improvement, first estimated at 1.17 percent, is now just to have been 0.63 percent.
Consequently, real production in miscellaneous durable goods has now increased by 13.92 percent since February, 2020, just before the pandemic’s arrival in force, versus the 13.38 percent calculable last month; and
>computer and electronics products, where constant dollar output climbed by 1.27 sequentially for their best month since May, 2021 (2.44 percent). Revisions were slightly negative, July’s results were downgraded from a decrease of 0.65 percent to one of 0.68 percent. June’s initially reported 0.21 percent was upgraded to a 0.67 percent gain before dropping back to one of 0.46 percent. And the initially reported May monthly rise of 0.50 percent is now recorded as a decrease of 0.11 percent.
After-inflation growth in this broad sector is now reported at 6.11 percent since that last CCP Virus data month of February, 2020 versus the 5.93 percent calculable last month.
Not so coincidentally, August’s two worst manufacturing production losers among the biggest manufacturing sub-sectors were closely related to the nation’s hard-pressed housing sector:
>furniture and related products, which suffered it sixth straight monthly price-adjusted production decrease. Moreover, the 2.13 percent shrinkage was the worst since February, 2021’s 2.77 percent. Moreover, revisions were overall negative. July’s initially reported retreat of 1.57 percent was revised up to one of 0.80. percent. But the June losses have been downgraded from one of 0.55 percent to one of 1.33 percent and then to one of 1.87 percent. And May’s initially reported 0.94 percent increase is now judged to have been a 0.96 percent decrease.
The furniture cluster is now 7.30 percent smaller after accounting for inflation since February, 2020, versus the 5.56 percent calculable last month’
>wood products, whose inflation-adjusted production slip of 1.70 percent was its second month-to-month decrease in a row and its worst since April’s 1.89 percent. Revisions were mixed. July’s initially reported 0.72 percent increase is now pegged as a -0.03 decline. June’s initially reported 0.73 percent rise has been revised down to one of 0.42 percent and yesterday to a 0.62 loss. But May’s results have been upgraded from a 2.64 plunge to a decrease of just 0.28 percent.
Whereas last month’s Fed release showed this sector to be 6.79 percent bigger since just before the pandemic began roiling and distorting the economy, this month’s estimates this increase to have been just 2.67 percent;
>automotive, whose roller-coaster ride continued with real output sinking by 1.44 percent in August. Worse, July’s initially reported 6.60 percent monthly production burst was cut by more than half – to an increase of 3.24 percent. June’s initially reported 1.49 percent decrease was first upgraded to one of 1.27 percent but now stands at 1.31 percent. And May’s initially reported 0.06 percent on month real output dip is now judged to have been a decrease of 1.96 percent.
As of last month’s Fed report, inflation-adjusted vehicle and parts production was recorded as being up by 4.73 percent since February, 2020. Now it’s pegged as being off by 0.20 percent; and
>electrical equipment, appliances (also related to housing), and components, whose inflation-adjusted production contraction (1.01 percent) was its second straight. Revisions, though, were overall positive. July’s initially reported 1.41 percent fall-off is now estimated as one of 1.44 percent., but June’s results have been upgraded a second consecutive time – from an advance of 1.34 percent to one of 1.42 percent to yesterday’s 1.45 percent. And although May remained an output loser, the decrease has been upgraded from an initially reported 1.83 percent to one of 1.68 percent (which was still its worst results since December’s 2.48 percent slump).
All told, though, this cluster’s price-adjusted shrinkage since that last pre-pandemic data month of February, 2020 fell to just 4.53 percent, versus the 4.83 percent fall-off calculable last month; and
>fabricated metal products, another volatile industry. After-inflation production was off by 0.95 percent sequentially in August, after improving by a figure of 1.79 percent that was revised down from an initially reported 2.05 percent but was still the best such result since February’s 2.49 percent jump. Other revisions were mixed, with June’s initially reported decrease of 0.83 percent revised down first to one of 1.40 percent and now to one of 1.59 percent, and May’s initially reported drop of 1.16 percent now pegged at just 0.98 percent.
As of last month’s Fed report, fabricated metals products’ constant dollar output had closed to within 0.14 percent of its immediate pre-CCP virus level. Now it’s off by 1.42 percent.
Better news came from the big and diverse machinery sector, which is a bellwether for both the rest of manufacturing and the rest of the entire economy, since so many industries use its products. It grew in real terms sequentially in August by 0.91 percent – its best such result since April’s 1.97 percent. Revisions were mixed. July’s initially reported 0.50 percent increase is now estimated to have been 0.68 percent. June’s results, first downgraded from a 1.14 percent decrease to one of 2.16 percent were revised back up to one of 1.75 percent. And May’s initially reported drop-off of 2.55 percent is now recorded as one of 3.20 percent – the worst since the 18.64 percent nosedive of April, 2020, during the height of the pandemic’s first wave.
Machinery has now grown by 5.07 percent during the pandemic period, versus the 2.82 percent calculable last month.
Interestingly, except for the still-shortage-plagued semiconductor industry, August was a banner output month for the sectors that consistently have made headlines during the pandemic.
Real output of microchips and related products did decrease by 0.57 percent, but the decline was the first in three months. Revisions were negative, though. July’s initially reported 1.16 percent rise has been downgraded to one of 0.77 percent and following a major upward revision from 0.18 percent growth to 2.09 percent, June’s real output now stands at 0.88 percent. But after a massive downgrade from 0.52 growth to 2.24 percent shrinkage, May’s performance is now recorded as a just a 0.72 percent loss.
After-inflation semiconductor production is now up 17.46 percent since pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, versus the 21.98 percent calculable last month.
Aircraft and parts surged by 3.11 percent sequentially in August after inflation, these industries’ strongest such performance since the 8.61 percent burst in January, 2021. Revisions were mixed, as July’s initially reported 1.02 percent real monthly output rise to one of 1.52 percent, but June’s initially reported 0.26 percent advance revised down to one of 0.18 percent and then back up to just 0.24 percent, and May’s initially reported 0.33 percent advance now judged to be have been a 0.47 percent retreat.
Even so, constant dollar aircraft and parts output is up by 30.60 percent since February, 2020, versus the 26.67 percent calculable last month.
In pharmaceuticals and medicines, real production was up month-to-month in August by 1.62 percent, these sectors’ best such performance since last August’s 1.96 percent. Revisions here, too, were mixed. July’s initially reported 0.29 percent increase was bumped up to growth of 0.30 percent. June’s results stayed at a 0.32 percent increase after being downgraded from 0.39 percent. But May’s initial growth figure of 0.35 percent now stands at 1.20 percent after some ups and downs.
Since just before the CCP Virus’ arrival in force, pharmaceuticals and medicines output (including vaccines) is now up 16.56 percent in real terms, versus the 14.69 percent calculable last month.
And medical equipment and supplies firms (including those that make anti-CCP Virus products) boosted their price-adjusted production in August by three percent in constant dollar terms – their best such performance since January’s 3.15 percent. Revisions were negative on net. July’s initially reported inflation-adjusted improvement of 1.90 percent was downgraded to an increase of 1.58 percent. June’s original 3.12 percent real growth figure has now been revised down twice – to 1.01 and 0.67 percent. May’s initial estimate of 1.44 percent real growth is now pegged at 1.36 percent.
Yet real production in this sector is now 17.81 percent higher than in immediately pre-pandemic-y February, 2020, versus the 16.15 percent calculable last month.
At this point, it’s easy to make the case that the headwinds facing domestic manufacturing are stronger than the tailwinds. There’s not only continued tighter inflation-fighting and growth-slowing monetary policies being pursued by the Fed along with mounting evidence that America’s overall economic growth will remain slow at best. There’s the end of the mammoth government deficit spending that’s also supported that growth for so long, and especially during the CCP Virus emergency. And don’t forget the continually darkening outlook for the global economy – and for the export markets on which U.S.-based industry relies significantly (nearly 18 percent of its gross output in 2021 by my calculations).
U.S.-based industry has been resilient since the pandemic arrived, but it wasn’t able to escape the undertow of the domestic and overseas economic downturns it generated. That seems like as good a forecast as any for domestic manufacturing output over the next few months, too.