Policy and Legal

Manufacturers Should Be Cautiously Optimistic About the Economy

With a recession so far failing to materialize and inflation showing signs of weakening, manufacturers may begin to grow less wary about the economy. Recent data suggests that despite continuing risks, the bright spots may win the day.

Growth: GDP grew at a 2.4% annual rate in the second quarter of 2023. This number is notably higher than the 2.0% growth that analysts had expected for the quarter.

Employment: The overall employment rate sits at a very low 3.6%, defying expectations that the Fed’s inflation-reduction moves might create a surge in unemployment. Meanwhile, women in particular are enjoying an employment renaissance, including in manufacturing.

  • Manufacturing had about 3,786,000 female employees in June, meaning that women made up 29.1% of the industry’s workforce, according to NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray.
  • That number is just slightly lower than the 3,788,000 found in May, which was the highest number of female workers in manufacturing since September 2009.

Wages: At the same time that overall economic strength is growing, the United States is also seeing positive signs in wage inequality, with average income for the lowest-earning 50% of Americans increasing  faster than all other population groups except for the ultra-wealthy.

Inflation: Inflation has been a significant pain point for manufacturers, but it now seems to be moderating. According to the latest Consumer Price Index data, inflation rose 3% in June from a year earlier—a big drop from the whopping 9.1% annual inflation rate in June 2022.

The last word: “Real GDP data suggests that while demand and output in the manufacturing sector remain challenged, there are other pockets of strength in the larger macroeconomy,” said Moutray.

  • “The Federal Reserve is working to navigate a ‘soft landing’—something that is possible, even as recession risks continue to permeate the conversation.”
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Input Stories

New Home Sales Decline

Sales of new single-family homes dropped 2.5% in June after increasing for three consecutive months, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

What’s going on: New construction sales fell to a seasonally adjusted 697,000 units last month from a revised May rate of 715,000 units.

  • The median sales price of new homes in June was $415,400, down from $416,300 in May.
  • Purchases of new homes declined in Midwest and West, but continued to grow in the Northeast and South.

Still higher than 2022: However, June’s sales rate is 23.8% above last June’s estimated rate of 563,000 units.

Supply: June also saw a new-home supply of 7.4 months, up from May’s 7.2 months.

The NAM’s take: “The housing market continued to be challenged by affordability issues and an uncertain economic outlook,” NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray said. “Still, with inventories low, tremendous demand and need exist for more housing.”

Input Stories

IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast

The International Monetary Fund raised its growth forecast for the international economy on Tuesday despite slowing activity in China, according to CNBC.

What’s going on: “In the latest update to its World Economic Outlook, the IMF raised its 2023 global growth prediction by 0.2 percentage points to 3%, up from 2.8% at its April assessment. The IMF kept [its] 2024 growth forecast unchanged at 3%.”

  • The IMF expects inflation to improve, too, and sees core inflation “declining more slowly to 6% this year, from 6.5% last year.”
  • IMF Chief Economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas wrote in a blog post Tuesday that “the signs of progress are undeniable.”

However … Global economic challenges remain on the horizon, the IMF cautioned, citing a less-than-robust Chinese economic recovery from the pandemic, weakness in China’s real-estate market and an expected contraction of Germany’s economy.

  • In Germany, manufacturing output declined in Q1 2023.
  • Across nations that use the euro, “[d]ata released Monday showed business activity shrinking at a faster pace than expected.”

Our take: “While there continue to be significant challenges in the manufacturing sector globally, it is encouraging to see signs of resilience—not just in the U.S. economy, but in other markets as well,” said NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray.

Input Stories

Manufacturing Activity Declines

Manufacturing activity in July has contracted for the eighth time in nine months, though the pace of decline has slowed markedly. The S&P Global Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI rose to 49.0 in July from June’s 46.3.

The details: Output increased to 50.2 in July, from 46.9 in June. New orders rose to 48.5 from 42.9.

  • Export demand saw significant progress (up to 48.7 from 44.9).
  • Hiring increased to 52.8 from 52.3
  • Future output picked up speed, increasing to 69.8 from 63.6.

However … The S&P Global Flash U.S. Services Business Activity Index dipped to a five-month low of 52.4, down from June’s 54.4, indicating a decline in business activity among service providers.

Across the pond: Manufacturing activity continues to decline in Europe, particularly in Germany, according to the S&P’s HCOB Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI.

  • The headline Eurozone index fell to 42.7 in July from June’s 43.4, signaling a post-COVID-19 low.
Workforce In Focus

On the Job Market: Current Trends – July 2023

Which manufacturing sectors experienced the most growth in job openings over the past year? We used Lightcast™ to dive into the 789,969 unique job postings for the past 12 months (May 2022 to May 2023) and organized by North American Industrial Classification (NAICS) codes. In this case, we are better able to understand what sectors are experiencing the most growth. As a reminder, the data get more granular with increased digits.

The top manufacturing sectors over the past 12 months at the 3-digit NAICS level, ordered by the number of unique postings, were:

  1. Computer and Electronic Products (NAICS 334) – 103,507 unique postings
  2. Transportation Equipment (NAICS 336) – 93,075
  3. Food Manufacturing (NAICS 311) – 78,397
  4. Machinery (NAICS 333)– 74,193
  5. Chemicals (NAICS 325) – 72,254

The top manufacturing sectors over the past 12 months at the 4-digit NAICS level, ordered by the number of unique postings:

  1. Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing (NAICS 3345) – 66,411 unique postings
  2. Beverage Manufacturing (NAICS 3121) – 54,837
  3. Aerospace Products and Parts (NAICS 3364) – 40,541
  4. Pharmaceuticals and Medicines (NAICS 3254) – 27,442
  5. Motor Vehicle Manufacturing (NAICS 3361) – 25,006

➔   The takeaway: Though growth in manufacturing has been broad-based, many of the sectors leading job creation over the past year require advanced skills and yield high salaries. Looking at only the top five 4-digit NAICS manufacturing sectors list above, the median advertised salaries for those five sectors over the past 12 months was $36.12 per hour.  

* Lightcast™ data accessed on June 16, 2023.

Input Stories

Industrial Production Declined in June

Industrial production declined 0.5% in June for the second month in a row, the Federal Reserve reported today, according to Bloomberg (subscription).

What’s going on: “The June index of production at factories, mines and utilities decreased 0.5% for a second [consecutive] month, Federal Reserve data showed Tuesday. Manufacturing output declined 0.3% in June, the most in three months.”

  • The central bank’s index of manufacturing output has dipped 0.3% from June 2022, with production hamstrung “by lackluster export markets, efforts to work down inventories and more limited consumer spending on merchandise.”

The details: Consumer goods output declined 1.3% in June, the biggest drop in more than two years and a reflection of decreased production across a wide swath of categories, including automotive vehicles, apparel and appliances.

  • Materials output also declined, while production of business equipment was flat.

Some good news: “[M]anufacturing may benefit some in coming months as retailers get inventories more in line with sales and the pace of goods inflation slows. Separate data on Tuesday showed retail sales rose by less than forecast, while an underlying measure of household spending pointed to a more resilient consumer at the end of the second quarter.”

Input Stories

Q1 GDP Stronger Than First Thought

The U.S. economy grew more robustly in Q1 of 2023 than previously calculated, according to a large upward revision from the Commerce Department on Thursday, CNBC reports.

What’s going on: “Gross domestic product increased at a 2% annualized pace for the January-through-March period, up from the previous estimate of 1.3% and ahead of the 1.4% Dow Jones consensus forecast. This was the third and final estimate for Q1 GDP. The growth rate was 2.6% in the fourth quarter.”

Why it’s important: The news may indicate that the U.S. is not headed toward economic recession.

  • A separate report released this week shows that layoffs were below expected levels, “indicating that labor market strength has held up even in the face of the Federal Reserve’s 10 interest rate hikes totaling 5 percentage points.”
  • Unemployment claims were down last week, too, according to the Labor Department.

The NAM says: “While the latest NAM Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey  revealed that most manufacturers predict a recession in the next 12 months, it is also possible that the U.S. economy could achieve the ‘soft landing’ that the Federal Reserve and other policymakers have been seeking,” said NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray.

  • “This is particularly true if the labor market remains solid and if spending continues to hold up. The current outlook is for the U.S. economy to expand 1.7% in 2023, with 1.2% growth in 2024.”
Input Stories

Energy Jobs Grow

There was notable growth in energy-sector jobs last year, according to a new Department of Energy report cited by The Hill.

What’s going on: The number of positions in both traditional and renewable energy grew from 2021 to 2022.

  • Jobs in renewables increased 3.9%, while conventional-energy jobs grew even more. Positions in natural-gas fuel rose 24%, those in coal fuel rose 22% and those in petroleum 13%
  • “Overall, the energy sector grew by nearly 300,000 jobs, employing 7.8 million people in 2021 and more than 8.1 million in 2022.”

Outsize expansion: The energy sector’s job growth was more significant than that of jobs in general.

  • “The report said jobs in the battery electric vehicle field had the most growth overall, expanding by 27 percent from 2021 to 2022.”

The NAM’s view: “The growth in energy-sector jobs demonstrates the strength of domestic energy production, but misguided regulations could undo all this momentum,” said NAM Vice President of Energy & Resources Policy Brandon Farris. “The NAM is working to achieve permitting reform and rein in unbalanced regulations so it doesn’t go to waste.”

Input Stories

Another Rate Increase Likely

The Federal Reserve will likely raise interest rates again in the near future, Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

What’s going on: Powell said that because the Fed lifted rates so quickly last year, the effects haven’t been fully realized yet.

  • “‘Policy hasn’t been restrictive for very long … so we believe there’s more restriction coming,’ Powell said during a panel discussion with other central bankers at the European Central Bank’s annual symposium in Sintra, Portugal.”
  • Core inflation will probably not reach the Fed’s target of 2% until 2025, Powell added.

The background: While central banks throughout the world have increased interest rates quickly in the past year in an effort to control inflation, they “have been astonished so far at the resilience of their economies to higher borrowing costs.”

  • Earlier this month, the European Central Bank raised its rates a quarter percentage point. Last week, the Bank of England raised its key interest rate by a relatively aggressive half percentage point, citing a resilient economy, tight labor market and large pay increases for workers.
  • At its meeting earlier this month, the Fed left the benchmark federal-funds rate at 5% to 5.25%, following 10 consecutive rate increases at prior meetings.

What it means: “Slowing down rate increases, including by possibly raising rates at every other meeting, represents an ‘effort to get more information from the data to see how much restraint is really coming,’ [Powell] said.”

What’s next: Most central banks—including the Bank of England—will probably raise rates again in the near future, according to the Journal.

Input Stories

Consumer Confidence Bounces Back

Consumer confidence hit its highest level in nearly a year-and-a-half in June, Reuters (subscription) reports.

What’s going on: “The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index rose to 109.7 this month, the highest reading since January 2022, from 102.5 in May. Economists polled by Reuters had expected the index to climb to 104.0.”

On jobs: The survey’s labor market differential, which comes from respondent views on the difficulty of getting jobs, increased to 34.4 in June from 30.7 in May—a sign that many still view the labor market as tight.

  • This finding is in keeping with a key data point in the NAM’s Q2 Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, in which the majority (74.4%) of manufacturers cited attracting and retaining a quality workforce as a top challenge.

What we’re saying: The latest consumer confidence index is good news, according to NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray.

  • “Americans felt more upbeat in their assessments of both current and future conditions, with improved prospects for jobs and a strengthened overall economic outlook, including for household finances,” he said.

In other good news: Sales of new homes increased to a 15-month high in May, up 20% from a year ago, bolstering hopes that the U.S. economy might avoid a recession.

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