The factory sector, after a frustrating first half of the year, is now definitely showing life. Durable goods orders jumped 4.4 percent in July in a headline gain exaggerated by a swing higher for commercial aircraft but including gains across most readings. Excluding the gain for aircraft and no change for autos, orders rose a very sizable 1.5 percent. And the strength includes core capital goods where orders jumped 1.6 percent to show new demand for business equipment and machinery.
Though the gain for new orders points to future strength for shipments, shipment data for July are soft. Total shipments rose only 0.2 percent in the month with core capital goods shipments, which are an input into the nonresidential investment component of the GDP report, down 0.4 percent to get the third-quarter off to a slow start. And immediate negatives for tomorrow’s second estimate of second-quarter GDP are incremental downward revisions to core capital goods shipments in June and May, now at minus 0.5 and minus 0.7 percent.
Unfilled orders are also a concern in the report, down 0.1 percent in July on top of June’s very steep 0.9 percent decline. Lack of unfilled orders is not only a negative for production but also for employment. On the plus side, inventories broke a long run of contraction with a 0.3 percent rise and are still very lean with the inventory-to-shipments ratio unchanged at 1.64.
Turning back to new orders, other areas of monthly strength include both primary and fabricated metals, electrical equipment, and defense aircraft. A general trend reading underscoring the report’s strength is the year-on-year new order rate for ex-transportation, now at only minus 0.6 percent vs minus 3.4 percent in June.
New orders in this report together with last week’s strong showing for manufacturing in the industrial production report point to second-half possibilities for the factory sector and its contribution to the nation’s growth.