August 2010 Business Outlook Survey suggests Weakness
Results from the Business Outlook Survey suggest that regional manufacturing activity weakened in August, after two months of slowing activity. Indexes for general activity, new orders, and shipments all registered negative readings this month.
Firms also reported declines in employment and work hours. The survey’s broad indicators of future activity continue to suggest that the region’s manufacturing executives expect growth in business over the next six months, but optimism has waned notably in recent months.
The survey’s broadest measure of manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, decreased from a reading of 5.1 in July to -7.7 in August. The index turned negative, marking a period of declining monthly activity for the first time since July 2009. Indexes for new orders and shipments also suggest a slowing this month; the new orders index fell slightly, to -7.1, while the shipments index turned negative, declining to -4.5. Indicating weakness, indexes for both delivery times and unfilled orders remained negative this month.
The percentage of firms reporting a decline in employment (23 percent) was higher than the percentage (20 percent) reporting an increase. More concerning was the significant drop in the average employee workweek index from 1.7 in July to -17.1 in August.
On balance, firms reported declines in prices for their own manufactured goods. More firms reported decreases in prices (19 percent) than reported increases (6 percent). The largest percentage, 70 percent, reported no change in prices for their manufactured goods. Firms reported somewhat less cost pressures over the past three months. The prices paid index decreased 1 point this month, to 11.8.
The future general activity index remained positive for the 20th consecutive month but weakened slightly. The future new orders index increased to 25.7 and shipments remained unchanged. Information about future inventories suggests that draw-downs are expected in the next six months.
The percentage of firms expecting employment to decrease over the next six months (22 percent) slightly exceeded the percentage expecting increases (21 percent). The future employment index decreased 14 points, moving the index into negative territory.
According to respondents to the August Business Outlook Survey, regional manufacturing activity has weakened, although the new orders and shipments indexes have not fallen significantly. Firms reported that their employment situation has softened; indexes for employment and average hours worked were negative. However, firms expect continued growth in their manufacturing business over the next six months, but that outlook has been somewhat dampened over the past few months.