In a potentially brighter sign for a slow-growing, stressed U.S. manufacturing sector, the Institute for Supply Management reported that its widely followed Purchasing Managers' Index rose to a two-year high in December. This critical leading index of manufacturing growth has been strengthening consistently since September even as actual manufacturing output data remain distressingly weak, preventing the U.S. factory sector from achieving a full recovery from the Great Recession.
From data clarity comes policy clarity. While the December jobs report shows that labor market performance remains steady, there are significant concerns that are not going to abate on their own. It was a good year for those seeking work. Employers added a net 2.2 million new jobs to their payrolls. This is slower than the 2.7 million added in 2015 and the 3 million added in 2014. It is nonetheless an encouraging performance given that the employment recovery began in earnest six years ago and has been confronting sluggish and volatile economic growth.
While there is no debating that China must engage in acceptable trade practices, the world must recognize significant shifts in the Chinese landscape. Far from just slowing, China is seeing changes to its growth composition and to its potential growth that might turn the economic policy focus more inward, although, without a doubt, China will remain a critical player on the global economic stage. A broad understanding of such shifts in the nation is needed for an optimal answer to the “China question.”
There is good news for manufacturers from the Purchasing Managers’ Index. It rose by 1.5 points in the last month to 56%, continuing its five-month upward trend and indicating a likelihood of U.S. manufacturing growth. However, we should be cautious in the interpretation of this indicator because as history has shown, in uncertain times, we need a fuller set of indicators to forecast growth.
Yet again, the labor market is the one strong player in an otherwise lackluster economic expansion. After a slowdown in the latter months of 2016, total net new job growth registered an unexpectedly strong 227,000 in January. With the current unemployment rate at 4.8%, this has provoked debates as to whether we have hit a level below which inflation and other expansion-threatening instabilities begin to appear.
In recent months, there have been a number of welcome signs of stability in the global economic picture. A firming of price pressures and trade flows in key regions has eased fears of a lapse into growth-destroying deflation. This is a moderate improvement from our December 2016 forecast.
Germany and the U.S. continue to drive innovation around the Industrial Internet. The two countries are economic powerhouses and they are keenly aware of the importance of internet connectivity for business applications. Yet their approaches to harnessing it differ, as I documented in a 2015 report. What’s changed since then?
The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) Foundation released its quarterly forecast, U.S. Industrial Outlook: Glimmers of Light. The forecast shows positive signs of global economic stability. Low interest rates and the likelihood of fiscal policies to increase growth suggest the United States will not face a recession. However, the forecast is still indicating only modest to moderate U.S. economic performance and limited manufacturing output growth.
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