All Clear? Northeast/mid-Atlantic Activity and Optimism Improving
February 2012 - Manufacturing activity across the United States picked up steam in late third quarter 2011 and continued to show expansion as 2011 came to a close. Regional manufacturing activities reached an inflection point in August and September and recently have printed their best readings since early 2011. Although housing has improved slightly, it still remains depressed and may continue to drag on growth and employment.
Future expectations from the New York Fed’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey showed respondents were more optimistic about the six-month outlook as new orders and shipments ticked higher for the second straight month. The Richmond Fed’s survey also conveyed similar notions of improvements but was tempered compared to previous readings as indices for expected shipments, backlogs and capacity utilization fell in December. In aggregate, the region’s existing business conditions have improved markedly over the past few months while the future remains relatively positive looking ahead.
The relatively optimistic outlook has been driven by a slowly recovering housing market that has been driven by growth in the multi-unit sector. Slightly lower unemployment rates both inside and outside the manufacturing sector also have contributed to a pickup in builder confidence. Demand for industrial metals in the United States has remained resilient of late as auto sales and demand from the oil and gas sector have picked up pace while nonresidential construction continues to struggle.
Industrial metals prices have been relatively unchanged since September. U.S. HRC prices have begun their seasonal ascent as low levels of profitability induced price hikes, which recently have begun to stick. In addition, the shutdown of the Sparrows Point facility should help alleviate oversupply concerns as nearly 5 percent of the U.S. sheet market remains off the market.
As 2012 progresses, metal buyers should continue to pay close attention to developments outside the United States. European debt problems have the potential to yield recessionary spending cuts via austerity measures and a drop off in confidence while a slowdown in China’s property market will continue to be the main driver of base metals prices like copper and aluminum. Further monetary and fiscal stimulus around the world has the ability to push dollar-denominated commodity prices higher, but the long-run effectiveness of these plans may come into question as the capacity to service debt and new credit surfaces.
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Data provided by Bloomberg