“Manufacturers are benefiting from a variety of positive catalysts, including the need to replace a fleet of motor vehicles,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York. “And we just haven’t got back to the previous peak in inventory that should benefit the sector and the national economy for some time.”
Regional DataRegional reports reinforce the strength of manufacturing. New York-area factories grew in March at the fastest rate since June 2010 and manufacturing in the Philadelphia region expanded the most in almost a year, figures from the Federal Reserve showed.
While companies are investing in new equipment, a stronger labor market is giving households the means to purchase big- ticket items, benefiting companies like motor-home maker Winnebago Industries Inc. (WGO)
“We’re beginning to see positive signs that the economy is improving,” Randy Potts, chief executive officer of the Forest City, Iowa-based company, said on a March 15 conference call. “Consumer confidence has been trending higher and the jobless rate is improving.”
Manufacturing shares have outperformed the market. The Standard & Poor’s Supercomposite Industrial Machinery Index (S15MACH), which includes Caterpillar Inc. and Deere & Co., advanced 16 percent since the end of 2011 through March 30, compared with a 12 percent increase in the broader S&P 500.
Auto SalesLight-vehicle sales in March, set for release tomorrow, may have run at a 14.6 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, the average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. It would cap the strongest quarter since the first three months of 2008, according to Ward’s Automotive Group statistics.
A report last week showed orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft — a proxy for business investment in items such as computers, engines and communications gear — increased 1.2 percent in February.
Business spending on equipment and software climbed at a 7.5 percent pace in the final three months of 2011 after a 16.2 percent surge in the prior quarter, according to the latest Commerce Department data on gross domestic product.
The growth helps explain why companies like Deere & Co. (DE) are expanding. The world’s largest maker of agricultural equipment said March 1 that it would invest $70 million to expand tractor production in Waterloo, Iowa.
Fed’s BernankeFederal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that while he was encouraged by the recent decline in the unemployment rate, a further reduction will probably require a quicker expansion of business production and consumer demand, which “can be supported by continued accommodative policies,” he said.
Recent “better news” on the U.S. economy has also included strength in manufacturing, Bernanke said. The improvement could contribute to higher consumer confidence and lead to a self-sustaining recovery, he said. “We haven’t seen that in a persuasive way yet,” Bernanke said in a speech in Arlington, Virginia.
USA Manufacturing, Household Spending Rose
To contact the reporters on this story: Lorraine Woellert in Washington at [email protected]
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz in Washington at c[email protected]