Thursday, March 2, 2017

2017 Manufacturing Off To Good Start

Popular Economics Weekly

What is happening with manufacturing? The ISM manufacturing index jumped 1.7 points in February to a 57.7 level that beats the consensus by 1.3 points. This is the strongest rate of monthly growth in composite activity since August 2014. So does it mean Trump can keep his promise of bringing back those blue collar jobs lost to the likes of China?

It’s in spite of higher dollar exchange rates that have boosted consumer spending because of cheaper import prices, which dropped GDP growth in Q4 and the year, to 1.9 percent. (Import sales subtract from GDP growth.) So what gives? Is it the Trump euphoria over his promise to cut taxes and regulations?

The report in fact is filled with superlatives led by a 4.7 point jump in new orders to 65.1. This rate of monthly growth was last matched in December 2013 and last exceeded in August 2009. Backlog orders jumped 7.5 points to 57.5 in a reading last exceeded in March 2014. Production is also very strong, up 1.5 points to a 62.9 level that is the best since March 2011.This is while consumer confidence index continues to make new post-election highs and new cycle highs at a 114.8 February level, which beats consensus estimates and makes for a strong 3.2 point gain from January.

But beware, says Econoday, “This report perhaps is the greatest expression yet of post-election strength in anecdotal surveys, strength that has yet however to find its way to actual government data on the factory sector which have been consistently soft.”

The data includes just released auto sales, softer at 17.5 million units. Wrightson ICAP had estimated a seasonally adjusted annualized sales pace of 17.7 million.  That would still be a little below the December/January average of 17.9 million, but would represent an increase of roughly 1 percent in both month-to-month and YOY terms.  And it would be about 1.4 percent above the actual 2016 total of 17.46 million, which was a record high.

Then there is the January durable goods report for items that last 3 or more years. It shows the usual volatility behind which are sagging numbers for key readings, said Econoday. Aircraft, both domestic and defense, skewed durable goods orders sharply higher in January, up 1.8 percent to hit the consensus. Not hitting the consensus, however, are orders that exclude aircraft as well as all other transportation equipment. This reading fell 0.2 percent to come in well below Econoday's low estimate for a 0.2 percent gain.

The worst news in the report is a 0.4 percent decline in orders for core capital goods (nondefense ex-aircraft). This ends 3 months of strength for this reading and pulls the rug out from expectations for a first-quarter business investment boom as indicated by business confidence readings.

And longer term investments happen when core capital expenditures are on the increase. So will the manufacturing boom continue?

Harlan Green © 2017

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