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Growth in US Manufacturing Slows to Lowest Level Since 2020

U.S. manufacturing activity grew at its slowest pace in nearly 2-1/2 years in September as new orders contracted amid aggressive interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve to cool demand and tame inflation. According to the Institute for Supply Management, the manufacturing sector’s index slid 1.9 points to 50.9 percent, significantly undershooting forecasts and just beyond the 50 percent mark that denotes expansion.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) survey on Monday also showed a measure of factory employment contracted last month for the fourth time this year. ISM Manufacturing Business Survey Committee chair Timothy Fiore said, “companies are now managing head counts through hiring freezes and attrition to lower levels, with medium- and long-term demand more uncertain.”

Fiore noted that there were no comments from firms about large-scale layoffs, which he said indicated that “companies are confident of near-term demand.” The Fed’s tighter monetary policy campaign has raised fears of a recession next year, igniting a sharp sell-off on the stock market. The September index score, he added, “reflects enterprises adjusting to probable future reduced demand” after businesses questioned for the previous four months reported “softening new orders rates. “Although production grew marginally, the new orders index dropped significantly, entering contraction zone at 47.1 percent, according to the report. The pricing index also decreased, registering the lowest value since June 2020 while still indicating growing costs at 51.7%.

Of the six biggest manufacturing industries, four, Machinery; Transportation Equipment; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; and Computer & Electronic Products  registered moderate-to-strong growth in September.

Nonmetallic Mineral Products, Machinery, Plastics & Rubber Products, Miscellaneous Manufacturing, Apparel, Leather & Allied Products, Transportation Equipment, Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products, Computer & Electronic Products, and Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components are the manufacturing industries to report growth in September. The  industries reporting contraction in September compared to August are, in descending order, Fabricated Metal Products, Printing & Related Support Activities, Furniture & Related Products, Textile Mills, Wood Products, Printing & Related Support Activities, Paper Products, and Chemical Products.

Although new export orders continued to decline due to difficult economic conditions and a strong US dollar, PMI data showed new orders increasing for the first time in four months.

More worryingly, when businesses attempted to pass on rising cost burdens to customers, the rate of charge inflation increased from August.

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