Hiring in the manufacturing sector continued to expand in January, averaging 15,500 per month since August. This uptick in employment for manufacturers has corresponded to the acceleration in product demand and production in the second half of 2013, with cautious optimism for 2014. However, the overall jobs numbers were disappointing for the second straight month. Nonfarm payrolls grew by just 75,000 and 113,000 in December and January, respectively, which was well below the consensus expectation of 175,000 and the 2013 average monthly gain of 193,500.
Some of the releases out last week show the negative impact that weather has had on activity. For instance, new factory orders declined 1.5 percent in December, with broad-based weaknesses in the durable goods sector pulling the data lower. Shipments were also down. Likewise, manufacturing construction spending fell 5.1 percent in December, which was notable because of a mostly upward trend from June to November. Overall construction activity edged marginally higher in December, boosted by strong residential construction activity, but nonresidential and public spending was down.
The Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) report showed a considerable decline in manufacturing sentiment, down from 56.5 in December to 51.3 in January. The biggest declines were in new orders, output and employment, but the pace of export orders was off only slightly. The pace of export orders was off only slightly. This indicates that domestic factors were the main contributors of the decline.
Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit rose from $34.56 billion in November to $38.70 billion in December, but the deficit narrowed for 2013 as a whole. Petroleum was a major factor in the smaller trade deficit last year, with increased petroleum exports and fewer imports. Unfortunately, manufactured goods exports did not increase as much last year as we would have preferred, up just 2.4 percent in 2013 versus 5.7 percent in 2012. We hope stronger global economic growth will produce improved manufactured goods exports in 2014.
In other news, the Congressional Budget Office released its 10-year budget and economic outlook. The deficit will be $514 billion in fiscal year 2014, an improvement from the more than $1 trillion deficits in fiscal years 2009–2012 and the $680 billion deficit in fiscal year 2013. The report shows the growth of mandatory spending rising from $2.03 trillion in fiscal year 2013 to $3.74 trillion in fiscal year 2024. Because of this, federal deficits will start to rise again beginning in fiscal year 2017, with deficits exceeding $1 trillion in fiscal year 2022. With such facts, it should not be a surprise that 86.3 percent of manufacturers want policymakers to find a long-term federal budget deal that tackles the debt and deficit, including reining in entitlements.
This week, we will get new industrial production data on Friday. The last report showed manufacturing output rising at an annualized 4.2 percent rate in the second half of 2013, but we will see if the data show production easing somewhat in January due to weather or other factors. The consensus expectation is for modest output gains of roughly 0.3 percent. Other highlights will be the latest figures on consumer confidence, job openings, retail sales and small business optimism.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.