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Industrial Production Beats Expectations in August, Gold Prices Tick Downward

US manufacturing output rose above expectations of 0.2% gain in August with a 0.6% gain following the -0.4% drop seen the month before, according to the US Federal Reserve. However, trade conflicts and worsening global economic conditions continue to place pressure on the industry, with the outlook for factories remaining dim.

Key Takeaways

  • Manufacturing output in the US rebounded from -04% in July to 0.6% in August, above expectations of a 0.2% gain.
  • Capacity utilization rose to 75.7% in August from 75.4% in July, indicating a slight increase in factories using their full resources.
  • Production at factories in August on an annual basis dropped 0.4%.

Manufacturing output rose on a monthly basis in August, with machinery and production of primary metals accounting for much of the increase. However, the outlook for factories is still seen as weak due to the ongoing trade war between China and the US, which has negatively impacted the US manufacturing industry over the course of the last year, as well as a general global economic slowdown. The trade war has also negatively impacted business investment.

Motor vehicles and parts production dropped -1.0% after a 0.5% gain in July. Excluding this volatile category, manufacturing output rose 0.6% in August following a -0.5% decline the month before, while machinery output rose 1.6% after dropping -1.7%. Mining rose 1.4%, and oil and gas drilling dropped -2.5% in its second consecutive month of decline. Utilities output rose 0.6%.

Capacity utilization, which indicates the extent to which factories are using their resources, rose to 75.7% in August after a reading of 75.7% in July – this is still 1.9% below the average reading for the last 50 years. Capacity utilization is one of the measures used by the Federal Reserve to inform monetary inflation policies.

Central Bank Policy

Activity in manufacturing, which accounts for 11% of the US economy, is one of the leading industries looked at by the Federal Reserve in terms of monetary policy. A survey earlier this month showed a measure of national manufacturing activity contracting for the first time in four years. Manufacturing has been struggling under escalating tariffs on exports to China. Last year’s car emissions scandal also reduced automotive production, leading to an inventory overhang which persists through 2019.

The Federal Reserve is expected to cut interest rates again on Wednesday to prevent the effects of the trade war and the global slowdown from hurting the wider US economy. The Fed introduced the first rate cuts in a decade at a meeting in July of this year, concerned that tame inflation pressure and other economic headwinds could trigger a recession in what has become the longest ever period of economic expansion in US history, now at 11 years.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have ticked downward following the release of the unexpectedly strong monthly activity in the manufacturing industry. Spot gold last traded at $1,501.76/oz, down -0.09% on the day with a high of $1,504.84/oz and a low of $1,493.85/oz. December gold futures are down -3.4%, last trading at $1,508.1/oz.