The Fed manufacturing surveys continue to disappoint. Today, the Richmond Fed reading came in at -3 matching the lowest guess on Bloomberg.
The headline index is in the minus column for the second month in a row, at minus 3 vs March’s minus 8. New orders are in the negative column for the 3rd month in a row, at minus 6, while backlog orders, at minus 8, continue to extend their long negative streak. Shipments are negative, at minus 6, and capacity utilization is negative, at minus 4.
Yet despite the weakness in orders and despite the weakness in shipments, employment in this report, as it curiously has been in other manufacturing reports as well, is up, to plus 7 vs plus 6 in March. This must reflect confidence that ongoing weakness is only temporary and that order and shipment momentum is certain to build.
Other details include depressed price readings, consistent with other reports as well. The manufacturing sector is being held down by weak exports and trouble in the oil & gas sector, but it’s not keeping firms from hiring.
The Richmond Fed reports Manufacturing Sector Activity Remained Soft; Employment and Wages Grew Mildly
Overall, manufacturing conditions remained soft in April. The composite index for manufacturing moved to a reading of -3 following last month’s reading of -8. The index for shipments and the index for new orders gained seven points in April, although both indicators finished at only -6. Manufacturing employment grew mildly this month. The indicator gained one point, ending at a reading of 7.
Manufacturers looked for better business conditions in the next six months. Survey participants expected faster growth in shipments and in the volume of new orders in the six months ahead. Producers also looked for increased capacity utilization and anticipated rising backlogs. Expectations were for somewhat longer vendor lead times.
Survey participants planned more hiring, along with moderate growth in wages and a pickup in the average workweek during the next six months.
It’s important to note that a single firm hiring one person will counterbalance another firm firing 50. It’s entirely possible employment is not as strong as it looks (not that 7 is a particularly strong number in the first pace).
Finally, I suspect confidence is on the high side looking ahead. Given strength in the US dollar and a clearly slowing China, I see no reason to believe there is going to be a big second quarter recovery, or if there is one, that it will last.
This isn’t all due to the weather.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock