Jan 28, 2023
Weaker Orders, Investment Underscore Ailing US Manufacturing
(Bloomberg) -- US manufacturing showed more signs this week of succumbing to the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest-rate hikes that are taking a bigger bite out of demand and risk upending the economic expansion.
The government’s first estimate of gross domestic product for the fourth quarter and a report on December factory orders for durable goods pointed to sizable downshifts in both spending on business equipment and bookings for core capital goods.
The durable goods report Thursday showed orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft — a proxy for business investment — dropped 0.2% in December after no change a month earlier. Over the fourth quarter, bookings for these core capital goods posted the weakest annualized gain since 2020. Shipments, an input for GDP, decreased for the third time in four months.
“Taken in tandem with the output data where industrial production has declined in six of the past eight months, it is increasingly evident that the manufacturing recession is well underway,” Wells Fargo & Co. economists Tim Quinlan and Shannon Seery said in a note to clients.
Also on Thursday, the GDP report showed outlays for business equipment dropped an annualized 3.7%, the largest slide since the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. That decline was part of a broader demand slowdown, which included a smaller-than-forecast advance in personal spending.
While GDP growth beat expectations, details of the report that offer a clearer picture of domestic demand were decidedly weak. Inflation-adjusted final sales to private domestic purchasers, which strip out inventories and net exports while excluding government spending, rose at a paltry 0.2% rate — also the weakest since the second quarter of 2020.
Last month’s retreat in core capital goods orders indicates manufacturing output, which already registered sharp declines in the final two months of 2022, may struggle to gain traction this quarter.
Read more: Weak US Retail Sales, Factory Data Heighten Recession Concerns
The slump in housing is also spilling over into producers of non-durable goods. Shares of Sherwin-Williams Co. tumbled this week after the paintmaker pointed to pressures stemming from a weak residential real estate market and inflation.
“We currently see a very challenging demand environment in 2023 and visibility beyond our first half is limited,” Chief Executive Officer John Morikis said on a Jan. 26 earnings call. “The Fed has also been quite clear about its intention to slow down demand in its effort to tame inflation.”
An accumulation of inventories only adds to the headwinds. Inventory building accounted for about half of the 2.9% annualized increase in fourth-quarter GDP. For the year as a whole, inventories grew $123.3 billion, the most since 2015.
With demand moderating, there’s less incentive to ramp up orders or production as companies make greater efforts to sell from existing stock.
In addition to the aforementioned data, the latest surveys of manufacturers show sustained weakness. Measures of orders at factories in four regional Fed surveys have all indicated multiple months of contraction.
All surveys released so far for this month are consistent with an overall contraction in activity that extends back through most of the second half of 2022.
Next week, the Institute for Supply Management will issue its January manufacturing survey and economists project a third-straight month of shrinking activity.
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