Economy Watch: Manufacturing Continues to Grow

The U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in November for the 18th consecutive month, according to latest Manufacturing ISM Report On Business.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

The U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in November for the 18th consecutive month, according to latest Manufacturing ISM Report On Business, which the Institute for Supply Management released on Monday. The report’s PMI came in at 58.7 percent, down only 0.3 percentage points from October.

Among the index components, the New Orders Index came in at 66 percent, an increase of 0.2 percentage points for the month, while the Production Index registered 64.4 percent, or 0.4 percentage points below the October. The Employment Index grew for the 17th consecutive month in November, finishing at 54.9 percent, but still dropping 0.6 percentage points below the October level.

The Prices Index came in at 44.5 percent, down a sizable 9 percentage points from the October reading of 53.5 percent, indicating lower raw materials prices in November compared to October. Overall, the report is upbeat about strong demand and new orders, though with some purchasing managers expressing concerns about West Coast port slowdowns and the threat of a potential dock strike.

Oil prices tumble further

Last week, OPEC declined to cut its crude production, which is currently 30 million barrels a day, and so worldwide oil prices dropped sharply on Friday. West Texas Intermediate (the main U.S. benchmark) futures ended the week at $64.37 per barrel, and Brent (the world benchmark) was at $68.50 per barrel. Prices didn’t drop again on Monday, but they weren’t up much either. A year ago, WTI was at about $93, while Brent fetched $111 per barrel, meaning that prices are down between 30 percent to 40 percent year-over-year, and at their lowest level since 2010.

The impact on U.S. gas prices continues to be positive, at least as far as the driving public is concerned. According to AAA, the average price of a gallon of regular nationwide on Monday was $2.769, compared with $2.995 a month ago, and $3.272 a year ago. The drop comes just in time, theoretically, to encourage a bit more holiday spending.

On the other hand, the drop in oil prices is bound to negatively affect the energy boom in the Dakotas and parts of Canada that rely on relatively expensive production methods. U.S. oil production, which was about 5 million barrels a day in 2008, is now more than 9 million barrels a day, but a sustained run of depressed prices might bring that extra production to a stop—theoretically leading to lower supply and higher prices again. The oil business is nothing if not cyclical.

Wall Street had a post-holiday down day on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average off 51.44 points, or 0.29 percent. The S&P 500 lost 0.68 percent and the Nasdaq declined 1.34 percent.

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