U.S. Manufacturing To Grow Slower

July 14, 2005
Slight fall in Manufacturing Alliance index follows slight increase.

The manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy will likely continue to expand, but, indicates a report released July 14, the pace of growth during the next three to six months may be a bit slower than some other recent economic reports have suggested.

Following a one-point increase to 71 in March, the quarterly composite index of future business activity among U.S. manufacturers compiled by the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI fell three points to 68 in June. All four elements of the index posted declines from March to June, yet the June figure remains high by historical standards, the alliance stresses.

The latest data "point toward continued expansion in manufacturing activity, albeit at a slower pace than last year when the manufacturing sector was rebounding from a prolonged downturn that began in the middle of 2000," says Donald A. Norman, the alliance economist who overseas the periodic survey of senior executives from which the index is calculated. "It is important to recognize [the] indexes recently were at or near record highs and that some slippage was to be expected," he adds.

The Arlington, Va.-based business and public policy research group's composite index of future business activity is a weighted sum of prospective shipments, backlogs, inventories and profit margins. An index figure above 50 indicates the manufacturing sector of the economy is generally growing; a figure below 50 suggests manufacturing will be declining in the coming calendar quarter.

Some 60 senior financial executives among the alliance's 450 member companies participated in the most recent survey of current and expected business conditions. Questionnaires were sent to them at the beginning of June, with responses due by month's end.

Among the four elements of the manufacturing outlook index, the data show the prospective shipments index slipping to 85% in June from 91% in March. "Nonetheless, this index remains will above the 50% level, indicating that overall manufacturing shipments in the third quarter of 2005 are expected to increase over third-quarter shipments in 2004," says Norman. The backlogs index, a measure of how much new orders exceed shipments, slipped to 78% in June from 81% in March. Inventories were growing less rapidly in June than in March, with their index falling to 71% from 74%. And the profit margin index decreased to 61% in June from 66% in March, as companies reporting higher margins fell to 50% from 55% and those reporting lower margins increased to 28% in June from 23% in March.

Although manufacturing investment and capacity utilization are not factored into the business outlook index, the alliance's survey does ask about them. And Norman is particularly encouraged by March-to-June increases. The investment index advanced to 78% in June from 69% in March, indicating capital spending will be higher this year than last. And the alliance's capacity utilization index of firms operating at more than 85% of capacity rose to 36.7% in June from 34.3% in March. "The increases in the investment index and capacity utilization are evidence of underlying strength in manufacturing sector activity," states Norman.

About the Author

John McClenahen | Former Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

 John S. McClenahen, is an occasional essayist on the Web site of IndustryWeek, the executive management publication from which he retired in 2006. He began his journalism career as a broadcast journalist at Westinghouse Broadcasting’s KYW in Cleveland, Ohio. In May 1967, he joined Penton Media Inc. in Cleveland and in September 1967 was transferred to Washington, DC, the base from which for nearly 40 years he wrote primarily about national and international economics and politics, and corporate social responsibility.
      McClenahen, a native of Ohio now residing in Maryland, is an award-winning writer and photographer. He is the author of three books of poetry, most recently An Unexpected Poet (2013), and several books of photographs, including Black, White, and Shades of Grey (2014). He also is the author of a children’s book, Henry at His Beach (2014).
      His photograph “Provincetown: Fog Rising 2004” was selected for the Smithsonian Institution’s 2011 juried exhibition Artists at Work and displayed in the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., from June until October 2011. Five of his photographs are in the collection of St. Lawrence University and displayed on campus in Canton, New York.
      John McClenahen’s essay “Incorporating America: Whitman in Context” was designated one of the five best works published in The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies during the twelve-year editorship of R. Barry Leavis of Rollins College. John McClenahen’s several journalism prizes include the coveted Jesse H. Neal Award. He also is the author of the commemorative poem “Upon 50 Years,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Wolfson College Cambridge, and appearing in “The Wolfson Review.”
      John McClenahen received a B.A. (English with a minor in government) from St. Lawrence University, an M.A., (English) from Western Reserve University, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University, where he also pursued doctoral studies. At St. Lawrence University, he was elected to academic honor societies in English and government and to Omicron Delta Kappa, the University’s highest undergraduate honor. John McClenahen was a participant in the 32nd Annual Wharton Seminars for Journalists at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. During the Easter Term of the 1986 academic year, John McClenahen was the first American to hold a prestigious Press Fellowship at Wolfson College, Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.
      John McClenahen has served on the Editorial Board of Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies and was co-founder and first editor of Liberal Studies at Georgetown. He has been a volunteer researcher on the William Steinway Diary Project at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and has been an assistant professorial lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


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