ISM: October Manufacturing Activity Grows; New Orders, Production and Employment Improving

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector grew in October, with the overall economy notching a sixth consecutive month of growth, according to the October 2020 Manufacturing ISM Report On Business from the Institute for Supply Management.

“The October Manufacturing PMI registered 59.3 percent, up 3.9 percentage points from the September reading of 55.4 percent and the highest since September 2018 (59.3 percent),” Timothy R. Fiore, CPSM, CPM, chair of the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing business survey committee, said. “This figure indicates expansion in the overall economy for the sixth month in a row after a contraction in April, which ended a period of 131 consecutive months of growth. The New Orders Index registered 67.9 percent, an increase of 7.7 percentage points from the September reading of 60.2 percent. The Production Index registered 63 percent, an increase of two percentage points compared to the September reading of 61 percent. The Backlog of Orders Index registered 55.7 percent, 0.5 percentage point higher compared to the September reading of 55.2 percent. The Employment Index registered 53.2 percent, an increase of 3.6 percentage points from the September reading of 49.6 percent. The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 60.5 percent, up 1.5 percentage points from the September figure of 59 percent. The Inventories Index registered 51.9 percent, 4.8 percentage points higher than the September reading of 47.1 percent. The Prices Index registered 65.5 percent, up 2.7 percentage points compared to the September reading of 62.8 percent. The New Export Orders Index registered 55.7 percent; an increase of 1.4 percentage points compared to the September reading of 54.3 percent. The Imports Index registered 58.1 percent, a 4.1-percentage point increase from the September reading of 54 percent.

“The manufacturing economy continued its recovery in October. Survey committee members reported that their companies and suppliers continue to operate in reconfigured factories; with every month, they are becoming more proficient at expanding output. Panel sentiment was optimistic (two positive comments for every cautious comment), a slight decrease compared to September. Demand expanded, with the (1) New Orders Index growing at strong levels, supported by the New Export Orders Index expanding moderately; (2) Customers’ Inventories Index at its lowest figure since June 2010 (35.8 percent), a level considered a positive for future production; and the (3) Backlog of Orders Index expanding at a slightly faster rate compared to the prior three months. Consumption (measured by the Production and Employment indexes) contributed positively (a combined 5.6-percentage point increase) to the Manufacturing PMI calculation, with five of the top six industries continuing to expand output strongly. The Employment Index broke into expansion territory for the first time since July 2019. Inputs — expressed as supplier deliveries, inventories and imports — continued to indicate input-driven constraints to production expansion but at slower rates compared to September due to a return to growth in inventory levels. Inputs improved compared to September and contributed positively to the Manufacturing PMI calculation, with a combined 6.3-percentage point increase. (The Supplier Deliveries and Inventories indexes directly factor into the Manufacturing PMI; the Imports Index does not.) Prices continued to expand at higher rates, reflecting a continued shift to seller pricing power.

“Among the six biggest manufacturing industries, five (fabricated metal products; food, beverage and tobacco products; chemical products; computer and electronic products; and transportation equipment) registered strong growth.

“Manufacturing performed well for the third straight month, with demand, consumption and inputs registering growth indicative of a normal expansion cycle. While certain industry sectors are experiencing difficulties that will continue in the near term, the overall manufacturing community continues to exceed expectations.”

Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 15 reported growth in October, including machinery, transportation equipment and electrical equipment. The two industries reporting contraction in October were textile mills and printing and related support activities.

What Respondents Are Saying

  • “COVID-19 continues to have an effect on supplier support and operations, more from a decreased labor perspective rather than unavailable material.” (Computer and Electronic Products)
  • “Business continues to be robust. Sales are greater than expectations and cost pressures are modest. There is posturing by suppliers on market price increases for corrugated and polypropylene, yet no firm price increases at this time. We expect a strong finish to 2020 and a solid start in 2021.” (Chemical Products)
  • “Sales continue to be strong — up 4 percent this September compared to September 2019. The year-to-date level is still 21 percent below last year due to the [COVID-19] shutdown, but sales are stronger than expected and forecast to stay strong through the first quarter of 2021.” (Transportation Equipment)
  • “Increased production due to stores stocking up for the second wave of COVID-19.” (Food, Beverage and Tobacco Products)
  • “Continue to see increases in customer demand. We still are not back to pre-COVID-19 levels but are continually improving.” (Fabricated Metal Products)
  • “Construction materials have leveled off but continue to be at an all-time high. Mills for board sheet stock have pushed out lead times, citing increasing backlogs related to the pandemic and increased supply in the housing market.” (Furniture and Related Products)
  • “Business is almost back to normal levels; however, customers are still cautious with capital spending.” (Machinery)
  • “Business levels have just about returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. Our company is remaining conservative with fixed-cost spending, knowing the uncertainties that lie ahead with COVID-19 and its potential impact globally.” (Miscellaneous Manufacturing)
  • “October order books are the strongest we have seen in the past six months.” (Paper Products)
  • “We continue to see stronger month-over-month orders in plastic injection molding.” (Plastics and Rubber Products)


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