March data pointed to a positive month for U.S. manufacturing business conditions, with momentum building again after a slowdown at the turn of the year. This was highlighted by stronger rates of output and new business growth, alongside sustained job creation during the latest survey period. New export sales remained a source of weakness in March, partly reflecting the stronger exchange rate. Meanwhile, input costs decreased for the third month running, which led to the weakest rise in factory gate charges since May 2014.
At 55.7 in March, up from 55.1 in February, the seasonally adjusted final Markit U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index™ (PMI™) registered above the 50.0 no-change threshold, thereby signalling an overall upturn in business conditions. The latest survey indicated a robust and accelerated expansion of manufacturing production levels. Anecdotal evidence cited stronger inflows of new business and improving domestic economic conditions. That said, the overall rate of output growth remained slower than the peaks seen last summer.
Volumes of new work also increased at a strong pace in March, with the latest upturn the fastest for six months. The launch of new products, successful marketing initiatives and greater underlying client demand were all cited as factors supporting new order growth. However, new export sales stagnated during the latest survey period, thereby ending a three-month period of modest expansion.
Manufacturers indicated greater pressure on operating capacity in March, as highlighted by a robust and accelerated rise in backlogs of work. The latest increase in unfinished work was the most marked since September 2014. Efforts to boost production schedules, as well as positive sentiment towards the business outlook, contributed to further job creation in March. The latest upturn in payroll numbers was the steepest for four months.
Suppliers’ delivery times lengthened in March, as has now been the case for 21 consecutive months. However, the rate of deterioration eased markedly since February, which some firms linked to better weather conditions and an alleviation of delays related to West Coast port strikes. Meanwhile, average cost burdens decreased at the most marked pace since June 2009, with manufacturers mainly citing lower raw material and energy prices.
Large manufacturers (500+ employees) recorded an especially sharp pace of output growth in March. Job creation was broad-based by company size, with the fastest rate of staff hiring seen at medium sized manufacturers (100-499 employees). By market group, consumer goods producers posted by far the steepest increase in output levels, followed by intermediate goods producers. Investment goods producers recorded the slowest rises in output and new business volumes in March.
The March PMI® registered 51.5 percent, a decrease of 1.4 percentage points from February’s reading of 52.9 percent. The New Orders Index registered 51.8 percent, a decrease of 0.7 percentage point from the reading of 52.5 percent in February. The Production Index registered 53.8 percent, 0.1 percentage point above the February reading of 53.7 percent. The Employment Index registered 50 percent, 1.4 percentage points below the February reading of 51.4 percent, reflecting unchanged employment levels from February. Inventories of raw materials registered 51.5 percent, a decrease of 1 percentage point from the February reading of 52.5 percent. The Prices Index registered 39 percent, 4 percentage points above the February reading of 35 percent, indicating lower raw materials prices for the fifth consecutive month. Comments from the panel refer to continuing challenges from the West Coast port issue, lower oil prices having both positive and negative impacts depending upon the industry, residual effects of the harsh winter, higher costs of healthcare premiums, and challenges associated with the stronger dollar on international business.”
Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 10 are reporting growth in March in the following order: Paper Products; Wood Products; Transportation Equipment; Fabricated Metal Products; Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Machinery; Chemical Products; Primary Metals; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; and Computer & Electronic Products. The seven industries reporting contraction in March — listed in order — are: Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Textile Mills; Petroleum & Coal Products; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Plastics & Rubber Products; and Furniture & Related Products.