U.S. manufacturers indicated a strong end to the first quarter of 2015, with output, new business and employment all rising at an accelerated pace in March. As a result, the seasonally adjusted Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index™ (PMI™) picked up to 55.3 in March, up from 55.1 in February and well above the neutral 50.0 threshold. The latest reading signalled the strongest overall improvement in manufacturing business conditions since October 2014.
March data pointed to a steep expansion of manufacturing production volumes, with the latest upturn the fastest for six months.
Anecdotal evidence cited improving demand from domestic clients, successful new product launches and, in some cases, a catch-up effect following disruptions related to adverse weather earlier in the year.
Manufacturing new order levels increased at a robust and accelerated pace in March, driven by improving economic conditions and positive overall spending patterns among clients. The latest rise in incoming new work was the fastest for five months, but still less marked than the average for 2014 as a whole. Some manufacturers commented that weak demand from clients in the oil industry remained a factor weighing on new business gains, while a number of firms also pointed to softer export sales.
The latest survey indicated a decline in new work from abroad for the first time in four months, which survey respondents mainly linked to competitive pressures and the impact of the strong dollar/euro exchange rate.
Resurgent output and new business growth contributed to a further upturn in manufacturing payroll numbers during March. Higher levels of employment have now been recorded for 21 months in a row, and the latest increase was the fastest since last November. Additional staff hiring also reflected renewed pressures on operating capacity, as highlighted by the sharpest rise in backlogs of work for six months in March.
Average cost burdens decreased for the third month running in March, to signal the longest continuous period of falling input prices since mid-2009. As a result, factory gate charges increased at the joint-slowest rate since August 2012.
Manufacturers indicated another lengthening of suppliers’ lead-times. However, the latest deterioration in vendor performance was less marked than the 12-month low recorded in February. Some manufacturers noted that disruptions related to adverse weather and U.S. west coast port strikes had started to diminish.
Meanwhile, manufacturers continued to boost their input buying and inventory levels in March, which survey respondents linked to rising production schedules and a positive outlook for overall client demand.