Manufacturing in April grew only modestly, keeping pace with a slow recovery that has sagged in recent months.
“Manufacturing activity continues to expand at a barely break-even pace,” said Russell Price, senior economist for Ameriprise Financial.
The Purchasing Managers Index, or PMI, will be released May 1 and will hover just above 50. The number measures whether the sector is expanding or contracting; a number above 50 means growth.
Early indicators of manufacturing activity for April show slower-than-expected growth. Factory activity slowed to a six-month low, according to financial data firm Markit. And new orders for durable goods in March were at their lowest level in seven months. This marks a reversal from the first months of the year, which showed unexpectedly rapid expansion in manufacturing.
While the economy’s fundamentals are strong, fiscal policy has dragged on the recovery, said Price.
“The payroll tax and the reduction in government spending that we’re now dealing with was a little bit of an extra burden to push the manufacturing sector back into neutral,” said Price.
While the recent slowdown, which economists are calling the “spring swoon,” as economists are calling it, is real, it will be short lived. Government spending cuts from the sequester —the main cause — will have a temporary effect. Consumers have shed much of the baggage that kept them from spending during the recession and early recovery, said Price, and the economy should strengthen in the second half of the year.
“The fundamentals are in place for consumers and businesses to regain momentum once we get through this period,” said Price. “Consumers have done an awful lot of deleveraging over the last few years, and now that they’ve seen the value of their homes and stock market continue to rise, they’ll be willing to spend a little more,” he added.
Some manufacturing sectors have kept pace. Auto sales hit a five-year high in March — a strong sign for the automotive sector.
“The auto industry has a big weight in the manufacturing sector,” said Bill Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Financial Services.
Despite the recent dip in durable goods orders, the continued recovery of housing means steady demand for manufacturing in the future. New home construction hit a seven-year high in March.
“The overall pace of demand and growth in the economy is strong enough to keep manufacturing sector growing,” said Cheney.