U.S. Manufacturing Held Up Better Than Expected in June

American Manufacturing Mark DuncanAP
Mark Duncan/AP

Manufacturing lost a bit more steam in June but not quite as much as expected.

The Institute for Supply Management said Monday its manufacturing index fell to 51.7 in June from 52.1 in May. That was better than the 51.1 forecast by economists surveyed by Econoday.

The survey has come in lower than expected for the previous two months so the upside surprise is welcome. And since all readings above 50 percent indicate an ongoing expansion, June’s reading shows that manufacturing continued to expand despite lots of hand-wringing about the global economy and trade disputes.

On the other hand, 51.1 is the weakest reading in three years. And new orders, which drive future production, fell two points to 50.0, very close to the lowest level in four years.

The report continues a theme of strong labor market and strong consumers driving the economy. Even though new orders were weak, production and employment were solid.

It’s difficult to tease out exactly what role tariffs are playing here. On the one hand, tariffs were hiked on $200 billion of Chinese imports and the U.S. and China stopped trade talks. There were a few weeks in the period covered by the report when the headlines were full of President Donald Trump’s threat to raise tariffs on Mexican goods if our southern neighbor did not do more to combat the migration crisis.

The comments submitted by manufacturers contain a lot of complaints about tariffs. A computer and electronics executive complained, for example, that tariffs were  “wreaking havoc with supply chains and costs.”
“Tariffs are causing an increase in cost of goods, meaning U.S. consumers are paying more for products,” a chemicals executive complains.
On the other hand, the price components of the index do not show any sign of tariffs. The prices index dropped sharply in June to 47.9, deep in contractionary territory.

“Prices contracted in June for the first time since February, when the index registered 49.4 percent. Shortages and price increases remain in electronic components and food ingredients; they are offset by copper, steel, energy and aluminum price declines,” the chairman of the survey, Timothy Fiore, said in a statement.

There’s nothing in the report that is likely to bolster the arguments of any remaining hawks on the Federal Reserve’s board against reducing its interest rate target at the end of the month. That’s probably good for the stock market, where “bad” to “meh” economics reports are currently bullish, especially if they show signs of deflation and therefore make a Fed cut more likely.

 

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