ISM: Manufacturing Activity Still Strong as Demand, Labor and Supply Chain Disruptions Mount

Economic activity in the U.S. manufacturing sector grew in September, with the overall U.S. economy notching a 16th consecutive month of growth, according to the latest Manufacturing ISM Report on Business from the Institute for Supply Management.

“The September Manufacturing PMI registered 61.1%, an increase of 1.2 percentage points from the August reading of 59.9%. This figure indicates expansion in the overall economy for the 16th month in a row after contraction in April 2020,” Timothy R. Fiore, CPSM, CPM, chair of the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing business survey committee, said. “The New Orders Index registered 66.7%, unchanged from the August reading. The Production Index registered 59.4%, a decrease of 0.6 percentage point compared to the August reading of 60%. The Prices Index registered 81.2%, up 1.8 percentage points compared to the August figure of 79.4%. The Backlog of Orders Index registered 64.8%, 3.4 percentage points lower than the August reading of 68.2%. The Employment Index returned to growth with a reading at 50.2%, 1.2 percentage points higher compared to the August reading of 49%. The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 73.4%, up 3.9 percentage points from the August figure of 69.5%. The Inventories Index registered 55.6%, 1.4 percentage points higher than the August reading of 54.2%. The New Export Orders Index registered 53.4%, a decrease of 3.2 percentage points compared to the August reading of 56.6%. The Imports Index registered 54.9%, an 0.6-percentage point increase from the August reading of 54.3%.”

“Business survey committee panelists reported that their companies and suppliers continue to deal with an unprecedented number of hurdles to meet increasing demand. All segments of the manufacturing economy are impacted by record-long raw materials lead times, continued shortages of critical materials, rising commodities prices and difficulties in transporting products. Global pandemic-related issues — worker absenteeism, short-term shutdowns due to parts shortages, difficulties in filling open positions and overseas supply chain problems — continue to limit manufacturing growth potential. However, optimistic panel sentiment remains strong, with three positive growth comments for every cautious comment. Panelists are fully focused on supply chain issues in order to respond to the ongoing high levels of demand.

“Demand expanded, with the (1) New Orders Index growing, supported by continued expansion of the New Export Orders Index; the (2) Customers’ Inventories Index remaining at very low levels; and the (3) Backlog of Orders Index staying at a very high level. Consumption (measured by the Production and Employment indexes) grew slightly during the period, with a combined 0.6-percentage point increase to the Manufacturing PMI calculation. The Employment Index returned to expansion after one month of contraction, but hiring difficulties at panelists’ companies show no significant signs of abating. Inputs — expressed as supplier deliveries, inventories and imports — continued to support input-driven constraints to production expansion, at higher rates compared to August. The Supplier Deliveries Index reversed a recent pattern of softening, while the Inventories Index continued to expand faster due to work-in-process inventory being held longer because of key part shortages, as well as more finished goods inventory being held due to downstream customer issues. The Prices Index expanded for the 16th consecutive month, at a faster rate in September, indicating continued supplier pricing power and scarcity of supply chain goods.

“All of the six biggest manufacturing industries — petroleum and coal products; computer and electronic products; chemical products; food, beverage and tobacco products; fabricated metal products; and transportation equipment, in that order — registered moderate to strong growth in September.

“Manufacturing performed well for the 16th straight month, with demand, consumption and inputs registering month-over-month growth in spite of continuing unprecedented obstacles and ever-increasing demand. Panelists’ companies and their supply chains continue to struggle to meet demand due to difficulties in hiring and a clear cycle of labor turnover as workers opt for more attractive job opportunities. Disruptions from COVID-19, primarily in Southeast Asia, continue to have an impact on many industry sectors. Congestion at ports in China and the U.S. continues to be a headwind, as transportation networks remain stressed. Demand remains at strong levels despite increasing prices.”

Transportation equipment, machinery and primary metals were among the 17 manufacturing industries that reported growth in September. The only industry to report a decrease in September compared with August was wood products.

What Respondents Are Saying

  • “Many electronic components and assemblies shortages showing up (due to) port issues, lack of containers and other issues. Problematic but nothing completely shut down yet. Watching COVID-19 restrictions country by country.” (Computer and Electronic Products)
  • “The impacts from Hurricane Ida on the petrochemical industry has put additional stress on an already fragile supply chain. Logistics with intermodal containers and motor carriers continues to be a challenge for planning deliveries of materials.” (Chemical Products)
  • “In the U.S., labor availability is the most significant supply challenge for our company, with raw materials just behind. Plastic resin, polyurethanes, small-volume steel purchases and electronics are the biggest material challenges.” (Transportation Equipment)
  • “Lack of labor and escalating costs from every direction are very concerning.” (Food, Beverage and Tobacco Products)
  • “Ocean freight delays creating disruptions in many areas. Southeast Asia supply continues to be challenged due to COVID-19 outbreaks.” (Furniture and Related Products)
  • “Delivery and availability of raw materials, primarily carbon steel, are becoming more and more difficult to source. This has resulted in delaying order deliveries. Computer numerical control (CNC) machining services are at a premium; it’s difficult to get the deliveries needed to complete jobs. Traditional in-house machining now has to be outsourced due to a lack of experienced machinists. All this has had a negative impact on production throughput.” (Fabricated Metal Products)
  • “Customer demand continues to swell as we prepare for the fourth quarter, and overall growth has been extremely good for the year. Supply chain concerns are growing beyond electronics and chips into most other commodities. Lead times are extending, shipping lanes are slowing and we will not see an end to this in 2021.” (Electrical Equipment, Appliances and Components_
  • “We are still amazed by the labor market. We used to have 100 applicants for an opening; we are now seeing about 10 — and often, the applicant does not show for the interview.” (Paper Products)
  • “Our company’s entire supply chain continues to have significant challenges getting manpower, which is impacting production of parts and ability to meet daily build schedules. Additionally, the logistics problems — especially port delays and a shortage of shipping containers — are significantly impacting inbound and outbound shipments. Raw materials costs still are at record highs, and we have raised customer pricing, with additional increases in the near future due to labor costs going up. Huge customer orders are nine months out (due to) backorders. Seeing this domestically and internationally.” (Machinery)
  • “Global supply chain constraints are still a major concern and focus. Inventory builds continue to compensate for potential supply disruption.” (Miscellaneous Manufacturing)

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