The U.S. economic outlook continues to show modest improvement, but while the manufacturing recovery is on track, caution flags remain for the overall economy. The Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI Quarterly Economic Forecast predicts that inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) will expand by 2.7% in 2011 and by 2.9% in 2012.
The 2011 forecast represents a downgrade over the previously estimated 3.2% growth, while the 2012 forecast is down slightly from the 3% growth anticipated in the February 2011 quarterly report.
"The economy is continuing to grow at a moderate pace with consumer durable goods, business equipment, and exports leading the way," said Daniel J. Meckstroth, Ph.D., Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI chief economist. "Rising oil prices and government austerity at all levels, however, give pause to any excessive optimism."
Manufacturing production will outpace the overall economy and is expected to show 6.2% growth in 2011 and 4.2% growth in 2012. Manufacturing is expected to see a hiring increase with the sector forecast to add 288,000 jobs in 2011 and 374,000 jobs in 2012.
"The manufacturing recovery is solid but it has only regained half of its losses since the depths of the recession in 2007, when it fell 20% at its trough," Meckstroth said. "On the positive side there is some employment growth, a need to replace and repair business equipment, and the falling dollar makes the United States competitive in supplying equipment to emerging countries for infrastructure projects.
"On the downside, federal, state and local government spending has shifted into a restraint mode, and high oil and commodity prices pose a risk," he added. "The situation in the Middle East remains fluid and, while fears may have eased of late, there is no timeline to the endgame because of the volatile political climate."
Production in non-high-tech industries is expected to increase by 5.1% in 2011 and by 3.9% in 2012. High-tech manufacturing production, which accounts for approximately 10% of all manufacturing, is anticipated to improve at a much higher rate, with impressive 15% growth in 2011 followed by 12.3% growth in 2012.
The forecast for inflation-adjusted investment in equipment and software is for 12.5 growth in 2011 and 11.3% growth in 2012. Capital equipment spending in high-tech sectors will also rise. Inflation-adjusted expenditures for information processing equipment are anticipated to increase by 9.7% in 2011 before decelerating to 7.1% in 2012.
MAPI expects industrial equipment expenditures to advance by a healthy 18.5% in 2011 and by 13.9% in 2012. The outlook for spending on transportation equipment is for 17.4% growth in 2011 and for a robust 32.3% advance in 2012.
Exports and imports will both see gains. Inflation-adjusted exports are anticipated to improve by 7%in 2011 and by 8.5% in 2012. Imports are expected to grow by 4.9% in 2011 and by 5.6% in 2012. MAPI forecasts overall unemployment to remain high but show some improvement, averaging 8.8% in 2011 and 8.3% in 2012.
The price per barrel of imported crude oil is expected to average $102.30 per barrel in 2011 and $106.10 per barrel in 2012. These figures are up substantially from $88.30 and $92, respectively, from MAPI's February forecast.