June Is Cruelest Month Yet For Manufacturing

By John S. McClenahen About the only good news coming out of June's just-released industrial production figures from the Federal Reserve Board is that non-durables and computers held their own following three consecutive months of decline. Other than that, "Just about everything went wrong in June," laments Jerry J. Jasinowski, president of the National Assn. of Manufacturers (NAM), Washington. Production of consumer goods slipped 0.2% from May; business equipment production was down 1.4%; and production of construction materials was off 0.7%. Manufacturing output contracted 0.8% in June, its ninth consecutive month of decline, to fall 4.2% below its June 2000 level. "The manufacturing sector is languishing in pain," says Stan Shipley, senior economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York. The rate of capacity utilization for U.S. industry, a measure that includes mining and utilities as well as manufacturing, is now 77%, more than five percentage points below its 1967-2000 average, notes the Fed. In manufacturing, capacity utilization is even lower, at 75.5%. "With capacity utilization at such low levels, any concerns about inflation are unfounded," asserts Merrill Lynch's Shipley. That could make a 25-basis-point cut in the federal funds rate an easier move for Chairman Alan Greenspan and the other members of the Federal Open Market Committee at their next scheduled meeting on Aug. 21. "Another cut in interest rates . . . would likely place downward pressure on the [U.S.] dollar and provide the uptick in demand this economy needs," believes NAM's Jasinowski.

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