By Jeremy West, Internet Truckstop Economist
Over the past few months, it has seemed like U.S. manufacturers are treading water. Factory output isn’t dramatically sinking, as occurs whenever the economy is entering a recession. But, on the other hand, we’re not seeing any production gains worth cheering about either.
Two basic metrics are tracked for manufacturing output: the quantity of current production and the volume of orders for future production. Last Thursday, the Census Bureau reported that new orders in August for factory production fell 5.2% month-over-month and 2.5% year-over-year. This was the first year-over-year decline in new orders since November 2009.
Much of this decline resulted from a 101.8% drop in orders for commercial aircraft. As shown in the figure, orders excluding transportation equipment increased by 0.28% YOY. Regardless, the message is clear: manufacturing production is stalling.
Separately, the Institute for Supply Management reported that the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) increased to 51.5 during September. This was positive news: any value above 50 indicates manufacturing growth, and the index has been below 50 since May. The next few months will show whether this represents a temporary spike in manufacturing activity or a reversal of the contraction seen in the manufacturing sector during 2012Q2.
So, the production picture isn’t entirely gloomy, and some regions of the country are performing better than others. During September, manufacturing output improved in Texas and in the Central Atlantic regions, worsened in New York and in much of the Midwest, and remained largely flat in the Philadelphia region.
Taken together, these reports offer a mixed outlook for total manufacturing—and, subsequently, trucking—with aggregate production activity trending to the downside. The next Federal Reserve Industrial Production and Manufacturing report is scheduled for October 16th. Don’t be surprised to find that factories continued to slowly churn.