Last Wednesday, as yields on shorter-term bonds surpassed those of longer-term bonds, the U.S. economy briefly experienced an “inverted yield curve”. Historically, such an inversion has been a reliable predictor of recessions to come.
Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, explains the significance of the yield curve and whether manufacturers should worry that a recession is on the way.
What is a yield curve?
In its simplest terms, if I lend money to you over several years, I would expect to get receive a higher interest rate to compensate me for giving up access to my money for a longer time frame. In a healthy economy, interest rates should be upward-sloping as the length of maturities increases.
What does it mean if a yield curve inverts?
An inverted yield curve means that the interest rate for short-term loans is higher than for longer maturities. This would imply that financial markets might be more pessimistic in its outlook.
An inverted yield curve can foreshadow a recession. The spread between 10-year and 2-year Treasury bonds is often seen as an important barometer. Since World War II, when this yield curve has inverted, the U.S. economy has entered a recession within the following 12 to 18 months.
The yield curve between 10-year and 2-year Treasury yields inverted last week. It’s positive now, but still close to inversion. The last time this spread inverted was June 2007, predating the start of the Great Recession by five months.
Should manufacturers be worried? Does that mean that a recession is just around the corner?
There are warning signs that we are closely following. Broadly, the global economy is clearly slowing, as noted in our most recent monthly report, and financial markets have been highly volatile in recent weeks, exacerbated by trade uncertainties. As a result, businesses in the U.S. have become more hesitant in their spending and there are worries that the economic slowdown abroad could find its way to the U.S. Within the manufacturing industry, production is contracting both in the U.S. and abroad, and hiring has slowed in the sector.
However, a yield curve inversion does not necessarily mean that a recession is imminent. Yields may be influenced by other factors, and there are positive economic signs too. Consumer spending remains strong, and the labor market remains near 50-year lows. The U.S. economy should also grow 2.3 percent in 2019.
What can policymakers do to avoid an economic downturn?
Central banks around the world are easing monetary policies to stimulate growth, or to provide an “insurance policy” for the economy so economic recovery can be sustained. These trends have pushed 10-year Treasury yields to their lowest levels since October 2016.
Manufacturers remain optimistic about the future, but in order to keep growing, we need to address the workforce crisis and resolve trade uncertainties. Namely, passing the USMCA, reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank and securing a bilateral trade agreement with China are necessary to ensure manufacturers in the U.S. can continue to grow.
The Trump administration wants to allow Americans to import drugs from Canada as part of the President’s larger goal to lower prescription drug prices.
Robyn Boerstling, Vice President of Infrastructure, Innovation and Human Resources at the National Association of Manufacturers, explains the proposal and how drug importation affects manufacturers.
Why is drug importation coming up now?
This has been one of President Trump’s priorities since the 2016 campaign. More broadly, lowering prescription drug prices has been a top priority for manufacturers and policymakers for some time now, as health care costs continue to rise.
However, manufacturers in the U.S. think importing drugs from Canada poses a serious health risk, especially considering the counterfeit challenges we already face.
How does drug importation fit into the larger conversation on health care?
The NAM insists something must be done to address high health care costs. But it shouldn’t just be about the transaction at pharmacy counter. Any solution has to be holistic, addressing the systematic challenges without sacrificing competitiveness and free enterprise in the process.
How does drug importation affect manufacturers?
The biopharmaceutical industry has experienced tremendous growth recently, supporting 1,100 manufacturing plants across the U.S. and Puerto Rico and employing thousands of high-skilled employees. In fact, the biopharmaceutical industry was the top manufacturing sector for job postings in 2018, according to Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insights.
These companies are at the cutting edge of creating the cures of tomorrow, and America’s policies on drug prices should take into consideration both the desire to lower prescription drug prices and the opportunities and benefits provided by this sector. Moreover, other countries don’t guarantee the same standards as drugs made in the U.S—and we should not be looking outside our carefully managed supply chain as a source of our medicines.
Why is drug importation a threat for consumers?
Counterfeit and substandard drugs are a growing problem worldwide. The challenge is most acute in the developing world, impacting about 10 percent of the drug supply according to the World Health Organization. Fortunately, the U.S. has the safest drug distribution system in the world, but importing drugs from Canadian pharmacies would be a direct challenge to that proven model.
Would drug importation work in the United States?
If this plan led by the Trump administration is truly a way to lower costs, we have to ask: Are the savings guaranteed for the patient? The infrastructure that will be necessary to assure safety will be costly. It’s difficult to ignore the question, “Will importation actually reduce prescription drug expenditures?”
It’s worth noting, in 2004 when the Congressional Budget Office looked at this issue, significant long-term savings on prescription drug spending did not materialize, especially in a Canada-only importation scenario.
There is something broken when people have access to but cannot afford the drugs they need. If the United States can build the safest medical supply in the world, we can find ways to be more affordable to the people who need relief the most.
In September 2018, the National Association of Manufacturers acquired the Manufacturing Leadership Council, an association for manufacturing executives that is dedicated to helping the industry transition to the digital era. Nearly one year later, the MLC wraps up its 15th Anniversary Manufacturing Leadership Summit and continues to provide its members with programs and services around digitization.
MLC’s Co-Founder, Vice President and Executive Director David R. Brousell shares the groundbreaking work of the organization and why it matters to manufacturers today.
What is the Manufacturing Leadership Council?
The MLC is designed to help senior manufacturing executives and emerging leaders define and shape a better future for themselves, their organizations and the industry at large by focusing on the intersection of critical business and technology issues that will drive growth today and in the future. We do live events like conferences; we do plant tours that enable members to see firsthand how different companies are implementing the latest digital technologies; and we publish in-depth articles that focus on best practices and cutting-edge ideas on the use of technologies and the leadership requirements of the digital age.
How is leadership changing in the digital age?
It’s changing in some very important ways. There’s a whole new layer of competency that has to be added to the traditional functions of leadership. We call this “digital acumen,” which has to do with understanding the potential of advanced technologies like analytics, artificial intelligence, collaborative robotics, 3D printing and other technologies. It’s not just improving efficiencies, but also offering new business models, ways of doing things and services.
This new era in manufacturing requires leaders to manage organizations that are flatter and more collaborative, with more and more employees having the benefit of information at their fingertips. Managing in prior years was around a top-down structure. That doesn’t cut it in the digital age.
What benefit do companies get from being a part of this group?
The MLC presents the opportunity to be part of a community that is collectively sharing ideas, insights and best practices to as the industry continues its radical transition. The truth is, you can’t do this alone as a company. You can’t make this transition to the digital era by yourself. You need to be with other companies, to learn from them, to learn what’s possible, to see what works and what may not work well in your company and to form that bond. It’s a tremendous learning experience.
What does the future look like for manufacturing—and how does the Manufacturing Leadership Council fit in?
The future looks very, very bright for manufacturing. We’re going to increase efficiency and produce products that satisfy personalized needs—everything from cars to medicine. We’re going to be able to have better quality and create jobs that are fulfilling, exciting and intellectually stimulating. The extent of innovation happening right now in manufacturing is mind-blowing.
But this is not an easy transition. The future offers tremendous opportunities, but only if we make the transition industry-wide. If we’re able to do that, not only will individual companies be more successful globally, but the U.S. manufacturing industry as a whole will continue to lead the world. There’s a lot at stake for manufacturers. That’s why the partnership between the Manufacturing Leadership Council and the NAM is so important.
In May, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominees to the Export-Import Bank board. The board now has a quorum for the first time in four years, allowing it once again to consider deals larger than $10 million. Manufacturers’ attention now turns to securing congressional reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank.
NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons explains what’s at stake.
The NAM is leading the fight for Ex-Im Bank reauthorization. Start with the basics. What does that mean?
Later this year, Congress will have to vote on whether to keep the Ex-Im Bank open and authorize it to continue helping manufacturers in the United States compete for deals around the world.
Why does the Ex-Im Bank matter so much to manufacturers?
It’s a vital tool to support manufacturing jobs in the United States. The Ex-Im Bank has supported 2.5 million jobs since 2000. Typically, more than 90 percent of the Ex-Im Bank’s transactions directly support small businesses.
And here’s something that’s really impressive — the Ex-Im Bank has generated $9.6 billion for taxpayers since 1992. It’s a government agency that makes money!
Other countries are running nearly 100 other export credit agencies. So, if we don’t have the Ex-Im Bank, we are at a big disadvantage.
You mention “export credit agencies.” You mean other countries have their own versions of the Ex-Im Bank?
Exactly. And they use those agencies to lure manufacturers to their countries, support their own manufacturers and steal manufacturing jobs away from the United States. That’s not going to change. So, we can “disarm” ourselves here in the United States and let other countries like China have the advantage. Or we can support the Ex-Im Bank.
So this all comes back to China?
Definitely. It helps level the playing field for manufacturers in the United States to compete with China, as well as other countries.
Two of China’s export credit agencies provided $45 billion in medium- and long-term investment support for projects around the world, more than the rest of the world combined. That’s what we have to compete against.
What can manufacturing workers or manufacturing supporters do to make a difference?
Contact your senators and representatives. Tell them to support the Ex-Im Bank and reauthorize it. Let them know that supporting the Ex-Im Bank is supporting American manufacturing workers.
Last month, the European Union announced that U.S. exports of liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe had increased nearly 300% since 2016. This news came on the heels of a series of executive orders from President Trump designed to speed up energy infrastructure projects that enable manufacturers to carry natural gas to market.
Rachel Jones, the National Association of Manufacturers’ senior director of energy and resources policy, helps us break down what it all means.
Why is the U.S. experiencing a natural gas boom?
North America has more shale gas than any other place in the world. Technology is the other huge driver. The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies is unlocking vast natural gas resources and changing the face of modern manufacturing in America.
This boom is set to keep growing. According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. shale gas production is projected to more than double again over the next 25 years.
What is “liquified” natural gas (LNG)?
It’s really just natural gas that has been refrigerated until it turns into a liquid. When it comes out of the ground, natural gas is actually very thin and light. To make it easier to move around the world, it is turned into a liquid.
Why are investments in LNG export infrastructure so important for the U.S. manufacturing industry?
LNG terminals are massive infrastructure projects that create tens of thousands of jobs.
Golden Pass is a $10 billion investment in the Gulf Coast that will create jobs across the country for manufacturers who make compressors, heat exchangers, storage tanks, pipes, valves and other components of these state-of-the-art infrastructure projects. Golden Pass alone is projected to create 45,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction, plus several thousand more during operation. Cheniere’s Sabine Pass and Corpus Christi projects together represent an investment of approximately $30 billion in U.S. energy infrastructure. And the Driftwood project is poised to invest another $30 billion, creating nearly 50,000 direct and indirect jobs in at least 18 states.
How do President Trump’s recent executive orders promote LNG infrastructure development?
Manufacturers in the United States are ahead of their global competitors in the race to build the infrastructure needed to export LNG; however, an unnecessarily protracted regulatory process could cause a major disadvantage for these exporters.
In a big win for U.S. manufacturing workers, President Trump signed two long-anticipated executive orders intended to cut red tape and speed up the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects. These orders will promote badly-needed development of infrastructure to meet U.S. energy demand, create and support jobs for U.S. manufacturing workers, and provide reliable and affordable energy to U.S. consumers.
How does natural gas help manufacturers achieve sustainability goals?
Climate Change is one of the biggest global challenges we face. Manufacturers understand this and are taking real action to protect our environment; natural gas is part of that story.
Modern natural-gas plants that replace aging power plants can mean an 80% reduction in carbon emissions. Further, because solar and wind can produce varying amounts of energy, having natural gas available on demand actually enables us to further invest in renewable resources.
In many ways, manufacturing has never been doing better. Record numbers of manufacturers are optimistic about the future. Many are growing, investing, and hiring. Yet, this success is also fueling a growing crisis: too many manufacturing jobs and not enough workers to fill them.
Carolyn Lee, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute (MI)—the education and workforce partner of the National Association of Manufacturers—helps explain manufacturing’s “skills gap” workforce crisis and what the MI is doing to help solve it.
Carolyn, just how bad is the problem currently?
There are more than half a million open jobs in manufacturing right now, and based on a study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, 2.4 million jobs could go unfilled and about $2.5 trillion worth of GDP could be at risk over the next decade if we don’t get this under control soon. So this is a problem for manufacturing, yes, but it’s also a problem for the economy overall.
What’s driving it?
There are three main drivers. Some don’t know these jobs exist, some don’t have the right skills to land them, and some just don’t see the point. That last challenge—the perception challenge—is particularly tricky. Many envision manufacturing jobs the way their grandparents remember them. But that really isn’t how modern manufacturing careers look today.
Well, how do they look?
Modern manufacturing careers are increasingly high-tech, high-skill, and high-pay. The possibilities in manufacturing will become even more exciting as Manufacturing 4.0 technology continues to revolutionize the industry. Tomorrow’s manufacturing jobs will increasingly rely upon irreplaceable human skills—things like creativity, critical thinking, design, innovation, engineering and finance—and, by the way, many of these careers don’t require a four-year degree or the debt that can come with it.
What is the Institute doing to address this challenge?
We have a variety of programs designed to excite, educate and empower the manufacturing workforce of today and tomorrow, with a particular focus in four key areas: women, veterans, youth and lifelong learning. We are empowering women already in the industry and giving them tools to inspire and mentor others (STEP Women’s Initiative), we are connecting transitioning service members and veterans to great careers in manufacturing plus arming them with the exact skills and qualifications needed to excel (Heroes MAKE America), we are helping excite the next generation by encouraging companies and educational institutions across the country to open their doors to the reality of modern manufacturing careers (MFG Day), and we are engaged in a variety of initiatives to help current manufacturing workers access training for newer technology-intensive jobs—among many other programs and initiatives.
What can others do to help be a part of the change the MI is trying to enact?
One thing I’d recommend, and something the Institute is working to facilitate, is for people to educate themselves, their families, and their friends on what jobs in manufacturing truly look like. It’s an exciting time to be a manufacturer and there are lots of great opportunities in the industry, so come join us.
NAM Senior Vice President of Communications and Brand Strategy Erin Streeter discusses the NAM’s digital strategy and the shift to become a news source for the industry.
Why is the NAM diving into becoming more of a news source for the industry?
First, it’s a direct response to the needs of our members. We’re committed to ensuring that our members and allies have the tools they need to be nimble and effective advocates for our industry. We also want to be a platform for our members to tell their stories of success and achievement.
Second, in this disruptive environment, becoming America’s manufacturing news source isn’t really a choice. We saw this tidal wave of change hitting advocacy and communications coming, and we’ve been building a messaging, rapid response (“War Room”) and newsroom operation that has drawn the attention of some the most powerful leaders in our country and is watched by key business reporters and decisionmakers. We can’t let up now. If we don’t write our story and if we don’t present the facts, we are ceding control of our industry’s future to others.
Building “brand newsrooms” and operating like a media organization aren’t things trade associations have been known to do. Can you explain the rationale for a trade association like the NAM moving in these directions?
That’s right—but it is critical if we want to continue to position the NAM as a leader not only in the manufacturing industry, but also in Washington and across the country.
With today’s noisy, fragmented media environment, manufacturers need a resource they can trust and resource that can get their stories out to the public and key decision-makers. And lawmakers and the public need an authority on all things manufacturing.
What is new about NAM.org?
Everything. The whole concept is new. Take a look around. You’ll see various streams of relevant, timely news on a range of topics. You’ll see interviews with leading experts and CEO perspectives. This site is the next step in our mission to be a constant presence in people’s lives, using new technology, data and analytics to provide customized user experiences that interest, educate and drive action for the manufacturing sector.
With this new site, we are supercharging our ability to provide a best in class user experience across our social, email and mobile products.
In what ways can manufacturers leverage this site and NAM news platforms, such as the Input morning email newsletter?
They can tell their stories. This is their platform. Manufacturers across this country are transforming their communities, innovating great new products and giving people new opportunities for high paying jobs. We want to show the world the great things our industry is doing and how we’re keeping our promises to invest in our people and our communities.
There’s no organization that knows the industry better than the NAM, the one-stop shop for manufacturers. So we’re well-positioned to be a credible and compelling platform—and outlet—for stories about our members. Just like anyone might think of CNBC, Fox Business or Bloomberg as a place to drive business news, I hope we’ll be looked at as a place where our members—and all manufacturers—want to break news because of the quality of our reporting and our proven capacity to reach audiences that matter.
Will the general public or casual reader find a home at nam.org?
Absolutely. Anyone who cares about manufacturing in America—and everyone should care!—can learn something from this site. Again, it’s America’s manufacturing news source. It might be breaking news about a new manufacturing facility coming to their community. Or it might be a helpful Q&A to understand what’s really going on in Congress.
Our Creators Wanted video series is a great example of the compelling content that is designed with the general public in mind. The series tells the stories of real modern manufacturing workers. In their own words, they describe the reason they love the industry. These are targeted to younger people (and their parents) who are making decisions about their future careers. So by inspiring that next generation, this content is supporting the mission of the NAM and our education and workforce partners, The Manufacturing Institute—and it’s changing lives.
There’s truly something for everyone…and we’d love to get feedback on how we can make it even better!