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Industrial Production Ticks Downward In December, Gold Price Rises

Industrial production saw a 0.3% drop in December with losses in the utilities segment offsetting gains in factory production. The industry has been affected by the trade conflict between the US and China, along with unseasonably warm winter weather affecting utilities. The recent signing of a phase one agreement between the US and China may help stimulate growth in American industry.

Key Takeaways

  • Industrial production fell 0.3% in December, measuring factory, mining, and utility output.
  • Manufacturing output, the main component, rose 0.2%, while utilities fell 5.6% due to warm weather.
  • Production has also been impacted by the US/China trade conflict, which saw a partial agreement reached during the same month as the drop in production.

Industrial production fell 0.3% as expected in December, and fell 1% annually. Industrial production the month before was revised downward from 1.1% to 0.8%. Capacity utilization fell by 0.4% percentage points to 77% in December, also in line with expectations. Stripping out the volatile component of motor vehicles and parts, production rose 0.6% in December, while mining production rose 1.3%.

Manufacturing saw a slight rebound of 0.2%, mirroring other upbeat regional data from New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve banks. However, unusually warm weather in December reduced demand for heating throughout the US, leading to a significant decline in utilities output. The Institute for Supply Management released a report earlier this month indicating five consecutive months of contraction in the national manufacturing industry, a viewpoint bolstered by an IHS Markit report showing a slowdown in factory activity.

The partial trade agreement recently signed by the US may help bring factory activity out of its slump.  The agreement states that China must increase purchases of US goods by $80 billion, which may help stimulate growth in the struggling industry. Tariffs on both sides of the trade conflict are largely responsible for the current slowdown in manufacturing and industrial production, exacerbated by worsening economic conditions seen worldwide.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have risen since the release of the report. Spot gold last traded at $1,557.20/oz, up 0.33% with a high of $1,560.67/oz and a low of $1,549.62/oz. Gold saw little reaction to a housing starts report released earlier in the day which showed renewed strength in the housing market. Meanwhile, the news of ongoing weakness in manufacturing and industrial production is likely contributing to upward momentum in the precious metals markets today, with buyers viewing gold as a safe bet in the face of stock market uncertainty.