Manufacturing Sector Grows in April Despite Extended Lead Times and Higher Commodity Prices

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector grew in April, with the overall economy notching an 11th consecutive month of growth, according to the latest Manufacturing ISM Report on Business from the Institute for Supply Management.

“The April Manufacturing PMI registered 60.7%, a decrease of four percentage points from the March reading of 64.7%,” 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 11th month in a row after contraction in April 2020.

“The New Orders Index registered 64.3%, declining 3.7 percentage points from the March reading of 68%. The Production Index registered 62.5%, a decrease of 5.6 percentage points compared to the March reading of 68.1%. The Backlog of Orders Index registered 68.2%, 0.7 percentage point higher compared to the March reading of 67.5%. The Employment Index registered 55.1%, 4.5 percentage points lower than the March reading of 59.6%. The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 75%, down 1.6 percentage points from the March figure of 76.6%. The Inventories Index registered 46.5%, 4.3 percentage points lower than the March reading of 50.8%. The Prices Index registered 89.6%, up four percentage points compared to the March reading of 85.6%. The New Export Orders Index registered 54.9%, an increase of 0.4 percentage point compared to the March reading of 54.5%. The Imports Index registered 52.2%, a 4.5-percentage point decrease from the March reading of 56.7%.

“The manufacturing economy continued expansion in April. Survey committee members reported that their companies and suppliers continue to struggle to meet increasing rates of demand due to coronavirus (COVID-19) impacts limiting availability of parts and materials. Recent record-long lead times, wide-scale shortages of critical basic materials, rising commodities prices and difficulties in transporting products are continuing to affect all segments of the manufacturing economy. Worker absenteeism, short-term shutdowns due to part shortages and difficulties in filling open positions continue to be issues that limit manufacturing-growth potential. Optimistic panel sentiment increased, with 11 positive comments for every cautious comment compared to an eight-to-one ratio in March.

“Demand expanded, with the (1) New Orders Index growing at a strong level, supported by the New Export Orders Index continuing to expand; (2) Customers’ Inventories Index hitting another all-time low; and (3) Backlog of Orders Index continuing at a record-high level.

“Consumption (measured by the Production and Employment indexes) indicated some cooling, posting a combined 10.1-percentage point decrease to the Manufacturing PMI calculation. All top six industries reported moderate to strong consumption expansion. The Employment Index expanded for the fifth straight month, but panelists continue to note significant difficulties in attracting and retaining labor at their companies’ and suppliers’ facilities.

“Inputs — expressed as supplier deliveries, inventories and imports — continued to support input-driven constraints to production expansion at lower rates compared to March due to an undesired inventory draw down. Inputs negatively contributed to the PMI calculation by a combined 5.9 percentage points. The importation of items marginally slowed in the period, driven by port backlogs. The Prices Index expanded for the 11th consecutive month, indicating continued supplier pricing power and scarcity of supply chain goods.

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

“Manufacturing performed well for the 11th straight month, with demand, consumption and inputs registering strong growth compared to March. Labor-market difficulties at panelists’ companies and their suppliers persist. End-user lead times (for refilling customers’ inventories) are extending. This is due to very high demand and output restrictions as supply chains continue to respond to strong demand amid COVID-19 impacts.”

All 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in April, including machinery and transportation equipment.

What Respondents Are Saying

  • “The current electronics/semiconductor shortage is having tremendous impacts on lead times and pricing. Additionally, there appears to be a general inflation of prices across most, if not all, supply lines.” (Computer and Electronic Products)
  • “Upstream producers/suppliers are back online and working towards full rates. Demand is outpacing supply and will continue into the third quarter, when the supply chain is expected to be refilled. Supply/demand should be more balanced in Q3/Q4, but demand will continue as customers run hard to meet their demand and rebuild inventory.” (Chemical Products)
  • “Continued strong sales; however, we have had to trim some production due to the global chip shortage. Hasn’t affected inventories greatly yet, but a continued decrease will begin to reduce available inventories if we don’t recover chip supply shortly.” (Transportation Equipment)
  • “Business is picking up as restaurants open.” (Food, Beverage and Tobacco Products)
  • “Oil production has been steady along with market prices and capital expenditures.” (Petroleum and Coal Products)
  • “Steel prices are crazy high. The normal checks on the domestic steel mills are not functioning — imported steel is distorted by the Section 232 tariffs.” (Fabricated Metal Products)
  • “It’s getting much more difficult to supply production with materials that are made with copper or steel. Lots of work on the floor, but I am worried about getting the materials to support.” (Electrical Equipment, Appliances and Components)
  • “Market capacity in most areas is oversold, with no realistic improvement on the horizon. In fact, it appears that demand will continue to strengthen, leading to more significant disruptions.” (Furniture and Related Products)
  • “In 35 years of purchasing, I’ve never seen everything like these extended lead times and rising prices — from colors, film, corrugate to resins, they’re all up. The only thing plentiful at present, according to my spam filter, is personal protective equipment [PPE].” (Plastics and Rubber Products)
  • “The metals markets remain very challenging at best. Shortages of raw materials have increased, especially in aluminum and carbon steel. Prices continue to rapidly increase. Transportation and trucking [are] also a big challenge.” (Primary Metals)
  • “Demand continues to be very strong. Supply chain delays hamper our availability and ability to sell more.” (Machinery)

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