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Manufacturing & The Economy

Texas Manufacturing Slump Moderates, Outlooks Improve

Texas factory activity declined slightly in July, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, remained negative but rose for a second month in a row to -1.9, suggesting further moderation in the decline in manufacturing output.

A similar pattern was seen among other measures of current manufacturing activity in July. The capacity utilization index edged up to -4.2, and the shipments index increased to -4.3. These negative index levels indicate contraction, but the upward movement again this month suggests the pace of decline continued to slow. The new orders index rebounded strongly in July and posted a reading of 0.7 after six months in negative territory. The growth rate of orders index jumped 11 points from -16.5 to -5.2.

Perceptions of broader business conditions were mixed. The general business activity index remained negative, but it rose for a second month in a row and reached -4.6 in July. Manufacturers expect improved conditions ahead. The company outlook index surged nearly nine points and posted its first positive reading in seven months, coming in at 1.2.

U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims at Lowest Level Since 1973

In the week ending July 18, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 255,000, a decrease of 26,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 281,000. This is the lowest level for initial claims since November 24, 1973 when it was 233,000. The 4-week moving average was 278,500, a decrease of 4,000 from the previous week's unrevised average of 282,500. There were no special factors impacting the week's initial claims.

NAM Monday Economic Report - July 27, 2015

Just two weeks ago, the Greek debt drama overshadowed the plunge in the Shanghai stock market, but with Greece receiving a bailout (and staying in the Eurozone, at least for now), more attention is being paid to China’s decelerating growth. Those worries have become more evident with manufacturing activity in China dropping to its lowest level since April 2014. The Caixin Flash China General Manufacturing PMI has now contracted in seven of the past eight months, with new orders, output and exports each slipping further into negative territory in July. In contrast, Europe has fared pretty well, particularly given the uncertain environment regarding Greece over the past few weeks. The Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI fell slightly in July but remained just shy of June’s reading, which had been the highest since April 2014. Notice the coincidence between China and the Eurozone regarding April 2014, a sign that these two regions are moving in opposite directions right now.

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U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness Up Vs. Other Developed Nations

The rise of the U.S. dollar against the euro and other world currencies over the past year has reduced the cost-competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing compared with economies such as Germany, France, Japan, Australia, and Brazil. But the U.S. still maintains a very significant cost advantage over these economies, and therefore manufacturers are unlikely to shift production to other nations. These are among the findings of new research released today by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Research conducted last year found that manufacturing cost competitiveness around the world had changed dramatically over the previous decade. Several economies traditionally regarded as having high costs, such as the U.S., had become much more competitive. Most emerging markets known for low costs -- particularly the largest market, China -- had become far more expensive. 

Closing the Skills Gap by Closing the Gender Gap

With women representing nearly half of the total U.S. labor pool, but just over a quarter of the manufacturing workforce, there is plenty of ground to gain. The good news is there is not a lack of supply, according to a new report from the NAM-affiliated Manufacturing Institute titled Minding the Manufacturing Gender Gap. In fact, women are projected to overtake men in the work force any time now, accounting for 51% of the increase in total labor force growth between 2008 and 2018 (women currently occupy 26% of the manufacturing jobs in the U.S). It is more a matter of manufacturers being able – or not – to attract and retain the needed resources, in this case in the form of talented female employees, to get the job done. 

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