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October 2019 Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey

Manufacturing activity in the region continued to grow, according to results from the October Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. The survey's broad indicators remained positive, although their movements were mixed this month: The general activity and shipments indicators decreased from their readings last month, but the indicators for new orders and employment increased. The survey’s future activity indexes remained positive, suggesting continued optimism about growth for the next six months.

Changes in Current Indicators Were Mixed This Month

The diffusion index for current general activity fell 6 points this month to 5.6, after decreasing 5 points in September (see Chart 1). The percentage of firms reporting increases (27 percent) this month narrowly exceeded the percentage reporting decreases (21 percent). Movements in the indexes for current shipments and new orders were mixed: The current new orders index increased 1 point, while the shipments index decreased 8 points. Both the unfilled orders and delivery times indexes remained positive this month, suggesting higher unfilled orders and slower delivery times.

Chart 1

The firms reported an expansion of manufacturing employment this month, and the current employment index increased 17 points to 32.9. Over 34 percent of the firms reported higher employment, while only 2 percent reported lower employment. The average workweek index remained positive but edged down 2 points.

Price Indexes Suggest Price Pressures Moderated

The firms continued to report overall increases in the prices paid for inputs, but the prices paid index fell 16 points to 16.8. Nearly 24 percent of the respondents reported higher input prices, down from 38 percent in September (see Chart 2). The current prices received index, reflecting the manufacturers’ own prices, decreased 4 points to a reading of 16.4.

Chart 2

Total Capital Spending Expected to Increase Next Year

For this month’s special questions, manufacturers were asked about current capacity utilization rates. The average capacity utilization rate reported among the responding firms was 76.9 percent, near the most recent estimate for the U.S. manufacturing sector. The firms were asked to forecast total capital spending for 2020 compared with levels in 2019, and more firms indicated that they would increase spending (39 percent) than decrease spending (20 percent). The firms were also asked about their plans for different categories of capital spending next year. For all categories of investment spending, the percentage of firms expecting to increase total capital spending was higher than the percentage expecting to decrease spending. The category with the largest share of firms increasing spending was noncomputer equipment (41 percent). The firms were also asked about the impact of trade policy on their plans. On balance, the firms indicated net negative effects: Eighteen percent of the firms indicated decreases in spending plans because of trade policy.

Firms Remain Generally Optimistic

The diffusion index for future general activity increased 13 points to 33.8, after decreasing 12 points in September (see Chart 1). Over 43 percent of the firms expect increases in activity over the next six months, while 9 percent expect declines. The future new orders index increased 5 points, and the future shipments index increased 2 points. The future employment index fell 8 points this month, but the firms remain overall optimistic about future hiring: Thirty-two percent of the firms expect higher employment over the next six months. The firms were more optimistic about future capital spending this month: The future capital spending index increased 11 points.

Summary

Responses to the October Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey suggest growth in manufacturing activity this month. Although they remained positive, the indicators for general activity and shipments fell from their levels in September. The firms reported an improvement in both new orders and employment this month. The survey’s future indexes indicate that respondents continue to expect growth over the next six months.

Special Questions (October 2019)

1. Which of the following best characterizes your plant’s current capacity utilization rate?
Capacity Utilization Rate *
% of Reporters
Less than 60%
12.5
60%–70%
17.8
70%–80%
26.8
80%–90%
28.5
Greater than 90%
14.4
Average utilization rate
76.9
U.S. utilization rate**
76.2

* The firms provided more specific rates of utilization than shown in the provided ranges. 
** Capacity Utilization: U.S. Manufacturing (NAICS) “Current” shows the rate for August 2019.
Sources: Federal Reserve Board, Haver Analytics

2. Do you expect the following capital expenditure categories over the next year (2020) to be higher than, the same, or lower than in the current year?
 
Higher
(% of Reporters)
Same
(% of Reporters)
Lower
(% of Reporters)
Diffusion Index
Noncomputer equipment
41.1
44.6
14.3
26.8
Software
28.6
58.9
12.5
16.1
Energy-saving investments  21.3 68.1 10.6 10.7
Computer and related hardware
26.8
55.4
17.9
8.9
Structures
32.1
45.3
22.6
9.5
Total  39.1 41.3 19.6 19.5
3. How has trade policy (including tariffs) affected your expected capital spending for 2020 compared with 2019?
   % of Reporters
 
Significantly increase 5.3 % reporting increase: 14.1
Modestly increase 8.8
No change 54.4  
Modestly decrease 15.7 % reporting decrease: 17.5
Significantly decrease 1.8
No response 14.0

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Questions?

Questions about the Business Outlook Survey and its historical data can be addressed to Mike Trebing. E-mail