Factory Output Rises, But Auto Production Declines

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Paul Sancya/APA worker inspects a roof rail for a 2015 Ford F-150 at the Dearborn Truck Plant in Michigan.
By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON -- U.S. manufacturing output rose in October, but a third straight month of declines in motor vehicle production hinted at some slowing in the pace of factory activity.

Still, manufacturing remains sturdy, with other data Monday showing a rebound in activity in New York State this month.

"This is consistent with our outlook for continued manufacturing expansion in the fourth quarter, though at a more subdued pace than in recent months," said Jesse Hurwitz, an economist at Barclays in New York.

Factory production increased 0.2 percent last month, the Federal Reserve said. September's increase in factory output was revised down to 0.2 percent from 0.5 percent.

Motor vehicle output fell 1.2 percent in October. That followed September's 1.9 percent drop and was the third consecutive month of declines.

The modest gains in manufacturing output support views of a moderation in the pace of economic growth in the fourth quarter after a brisk expansion in the July-September period.

In a separate report, the New York Federal Reserve said its Empire State general business conditions index rose to 10.16 in November from a reading of 6.17 in October. A reading above zero indicates expansion.

New orders rebounded strongly, but factory labor gauges declined, taking some shine off the report. Businesses, however, were very upbeat about the future.

An index for future general business hit its highest level since January 2012 and a measure of capital expenditure posted its highest reading in more than two years.

"This suggests that companies are increasingly looking to invest in additional plants and equipment, a factor which should help support GDP growth during the coming quarters," said Gennadiy Goldberg, an economist at TD Securities in New York.

Last month, mining output dropped 0.9 percent, while utilities production fell 0.7 percent.

Those declines eclipsed the gains in manufacturing output, leaving overall industrial production slipping 0.1 percent in October. September's increase in industrial output was revised down to 0.8 percent from 1.0 percent.

Overall industrial capacity use fell to 78.9 percent from 79.2 percent in September. It was 1.2 percentage points below its long-run average.

Officials at the Fed tend to look at capacity use as a signal of how much "slack" remains in the economy and how much room there is for growth to run before it becomes inflationary.

9 Numbers That'll Tell You How the Economy's Really Doing
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Factory Output Rises, But Auto Production Declines
The gross domestic product measures the level of economic activity within a country. To figure the number, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the total consumption of goods and services by private individuals and businesses; the total investment in capital for producing goods and services; the total amount spent and consumed by federal, state, and local government entities; and total net exports. It's important, because it serves as the primary gauge of whether the economy is growing or not. Most economists define a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
The CPI measures current price levels for the goods and services that Americans buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data on a basket of different items, ranging from necessities like food, clothing and housing to more discretionary expenses like eating out and entertainment. The resulting figure is then compared to those of previous months to determine the inflation rate, which is used in a variety of ways, including cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government benefits.
The unemployment rate measures the percentage of workers within the total labor force who don't have a job, but who have looked for work in the past four weeks, and who are available to work. Those temporarily laid off from their jobs are also included as unemployed. Yet as critical as the figure is as a measure of how many people are out of work and therefore suffering financial hardship from a lack of a paycheck, one key item to note about the unemployment rate is that the number does not reflect workers who have stopped looking for work entirely. It's therefore important to look beyond the headline numbers to see whether the overall workforce is growing or shrinking.
The trade deficit measures the difference between the value of a nation's imported and exported goods. When exports exceed imports, a country runs a trade surplus. But in the U.S., imports have exceeded exports consistently for decades. The figure is important as a measure of U.S. competitiveness in the global market, as well as the nation's dependence on foreign countries.
Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures changes in the total amount of income that the U.S. population earns, as well as the total amount they spend on goods and services. But there's a reason we've combined them on one slide: In addition to being useful statistics separately for gauging Americans' earning power and spending activity, looking at those numbers in combination gives you a sense of how much people are saving for their future.
Consumers play a vital role in powering the overall economy, and so measures of how confident they are about the economy's prospects are important in predicting its future health. The Conference Board does a survey asking consumers to give their assessment of both current and future economic conditions, with questions about business and employment conditions as well as expected future family income.
The health of the housing market is closely tied to the overall direction of the broader economy. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, named for economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller, provides a way to measure home prices, allowing comparisons not just across time but also among different markets in cities and regions of the nation. The number is important not just to home builders and home buyers, but to the millions of people with jobs related to housing and construction.
Most economic data provides a backward-looking view of what has already happened to the economy. But the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index attempts to gauge the future. To do so, the index looks at data on employment, manufacturing, home construction, consumer sentiment, and the stock and bond markets to put together a complete picture of expected economic conditions ahead.
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