Supply Chain News: How is US Manufacturing Doing Five Years after the Great Recession?

Despite Slow but Steady Growth from the Bottom, Manufacturing Overall, Many Sectors Below 2007 Levels

By: SCDigest Editorial Staff, Supply Chain Digest

The so called “Great Recession” that started in early 2008 and reached bottom in most metrics a year and a half later, in June of 2009, hit the economy and US manufacturing very hard.

Since then, manufacturing has generally been cited as a consistent bright spot in a still somewhat wobbly US economy, with generally consistent positive numbers in the monthly Purchasing Managers Index from ISM and at least decent growth in manufacturing jobs.

Also, there is at least anecdotal evidence that some US manufacturers are deciding to bring production back home from China or deciding not to move existing production offshore to begin with, due to rising wages in China, “regional” manufacturing strategies, and more.

But what do the numbers really look like? This week, we take a look at overall manufacturing numbers as compiled by the Federal Reserve, as well the specific trajectories of about a half dozen individual manufacturing sectors, using our exclusive “supply chain web chart” technology.

Next week, we’ll be back with analysis of another selection of industries.

The data overall and for each sector is in index form, with the base year for each being 2007. So, all numbers reflect the percent up or down over time (January, 1990 through February 2013) from that base year. So, a score of 98 in a given month, for example, would mean production in that period was 2% below the 2007 average.

Overall, as seen in the chart below, far from slumping since the early 2000s, as many believe, US output peeked in December of 2007. But output started dropping sharply almost immediately after that, as the recession began, reaching a bottom in June of 2009 at almost 19% below the 2007 average. Great Recession indeed.

There has been a long, slow climb back up since then, with production in early 2013 still just over 4% below 2007 levels more than five years later.

Now let’s look at some specific sectors.

The general consumer goods sector has recovered a little bit more slowly, with production still just over 6% below 2007 output.

The story is about the same for consumer durables, which are just under 6% lower than the base year.

We were frankly surprised to see that the US chemical sector is still only at 87% of 2007 production levels, given reports of expansion here of late due to low cost natural gas supplies, but that’s what the numbers say. Until recently, nearly all the expansion for chemical companies had been outside the US in the past half decade.

Conversely, taken as a whole, computer and electronic products (we believe mostly the electronics component) are up a robust 32% over the base year.

The primary metals sector has also come back nicely, probably tied to rising levels of automobile production, and has exceeded, though barely, 2007 levels in a number of months over the past year or so.

But the numbers also tell the sadder tale for the US furniture industry, which is still down 28% from 2007, and saw its high point back in 2000, before offshoring to China devastated the industry.

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