Friday’s report finds that winners and losers faithfully reflect other information that’s come in on the virus’ body blow to the economy.
By Alan Tonelson
There was never any point in expecting Friday’s Federal Reserve manufacturing production figures (for April) to change significantly what’s known about the CCP Virus’ body blow to the American economy overall, and to industry in particular. As with the case last month, however, the details reveal a great deal about how the pandemic is changing patterns of U.S. factory output – which in turn to some extent reflect changing patterns of the spending (by both consumers and businesses) that remains the main driver of the nation’s growth (or, nowadays, contraction).
The big takeaways are that:
>The March revisions show that the virus damage to manufacturing that month was a good deal less (with inflation-adjusted output falling by 5.53 percent on month) than the 6.27 percent drop initially reported.
>The April 13.78 percent month-to-month real production was by far the biggest such decrease on record (going back to 1972) – surpassing March’s previous record.
>As with March, the steepest fall-offs in price-adjusted output came in the durable goods sector – which consists of items whose active use or shelf life is expected to be three years or greater. In March, the sequential production decrease was revised from 9.14 percent to 8.23 percent. But in April, the plunge was more than twice as great: 19.27 percent.
>The March monthly shrinkage of non-durable goods production is also now judged to be smaller than first reported – 2.64 percent rather than 3.21 percent. But in April, the rate of sequential deterioration was even faster than for durable goods, speeding up to 8.23 percent.
>Within durable goods (e.g., steel, autos, computers, industrial machinery, furniture, appliances, aircraft), the automotive sector remained by far the weakest industry. It was bad enough that March’s horrific on-month after-inflation output crash dive was thought to be even greater than first estimated (29.96 percent rather than 28.04 percent). But in April, inflation-adjusted output was down by another 71.69 percent.
>And within the automotive sector, the big story was vehicles, not parts. The former’s constant dollar March production is now judged to have been 37.77 percent, not the originally reported 34.76 percent. But then in April, it careened down by 93.60 percent. That is, it nearly stopped.
>For an idea of how profoundly automotive’s tailspin has affected manufacturing’s performance, if it’s removed from the total, factory output’s April monthly contraction would have been 10.29 percent in real terms, not 13.78 percent. That is, still a terrible (and record) performance, but not quite so terrible.
>As for durable goods, its April sequential production drop would have been 12.65 percent in real terms, not 19.27 percent. Again, an awful performance, but much better than the numbers with automotive.
>Speaking of tailspins, Boeing’s troubles have continued to mount because the virus crisis has decimated U.S. travel and transportation, and they showed up in abundance in the April Fed manufacturing report. March’s monthly after-inflation output decrease for aircraft and parts was revised from 10.36 percent to 12.09 percent. And that rate more than doubled in April, hitting 28.88 percent.
I’ll be following up with more detailed April production data later this afternoon!
Alan Tonelson, a columnist for IndustryToday, is founder of the RealityChek blog (alantonelson.wordpress.com), which covers manufacturing, trade, the economy, and national security. He has written for many leading publications on these subjects and is the author of The Race to the Bottom (Westview Press, 2000).
A follow up to this article on the Federal Reserve industrial production report provides a detailed look at which specific sectors have been growth winners and losers so far during the CCP Virus pandemic: Inside April’s U.S. Manufacturing Crash II.