U.S. manufacturing sector sees robust growth in December amid COVID-19 spikes

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The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reported on Tuesday that its index of national factory activity jumped to a reading of 60.7 in December.

USA stock indices opened higher on Tuesday, ahead of key economic data, amid focus on the latest updates regarding the coronavirus crisis. And December's PMI is 8.2% higher than the 12-month average of 52.5.

The food, beverage, and tobacco industry was among the industries reporting growth. Only two sectors, printing and non-metallic mineral products, reported economic contraction. All 18 industries reported paying higher prices in December.

New orders rose 2.8 points to 67.9 percent last month, while production jumped four points to 64.8 percent. And the report said that 13 of the 18 manufacturing sectors it tracks saw new orders gains in December, including the six largest manufacturing sectors.

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Strong order growth boosted manufacturing employment, which had contracted in November.

"Despite the latest round of "impact payments" going out and unemployed workers getting a $300 weekly top off on benefits, services activity is likely to remain subdued over the next couple months as record hospitalizations reinforce the need for social distancing and frees up cash for spending on goods". A reading above 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing, which accounts for 11.9 per cent of the US economy. Similar sentiments were shared by manufacturers of transportation equipment who said epidemics limited suppliers. The ISM's manufacturing employment gauge rebounded to 51.5 from a reading of 48.4 in November.

The Tempe, Ariz. -based group's manufacturing index, known as the PMI, reached 60.7 percent.

ISM compiles the PMI from a survey of manufacturing supply executives whose responses reflect the change in the current month compared with the previous one in certain areas of business activity.

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"Labor market difficulties at panelists' companies and their suppliers will continue to restrict the manufacturing economy expansion until the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis ends".

The index reflected "a lot of good dynamics", Timothy R. Fiore, chair of ISM's Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, said on a conference call. Logistics issues also are affecting the industry as a result of COVID-related problems.

In December, Fiore said there was a 2:1 positive hire versus forced reduction ratio, which is a drop from 2.5:1 in November, and there was a 4:1 hire-to-fire ratio, which marked a almost 50% drop from November's 7:1.

A respondent in the fabricated metal products industry expects a 20% increase in sales in 2021, and the outlook is strong for the first quarter of the year. "It could be because people have more disposable income to spend on goods versus services, with savings rates much higher, which means many people are not doing things that they normally would have". The dollar has gotten weaker in the last six months, which makes our products more competitive overseas [new export orders have had three straight months of readings above 55], which is helping new orders.

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