The Richmond Fed manufacturing index saw a major drop in February, diving from 20 points to -2 vs. 10 points expected. The reading comes after January unexpectedly rose from -5 to 20. As a measurement of business activity in the region, the survey may indicate that the January surge was anomalous, with a dearth of new orders pulling the numbers back down in February.
- The Richmond Fed manufacturing index came in at -2 vs. 10 expected.
- New orders plunged from 10 to -13.
- All three survey components were lower than the month before with softer activity in February.
Shipments erased major growth seen in January, falling from 29 to the brink of contraction a reading of just 1 in February. New orders fell from 13 to -10, order backlogs dropped from 9 to -6, and capacity utilization fell from 14 to 2. Inventories of finished goods slowed to 21 from 28, and inventories of raw goods dropped from 37 to 34.
The industry is still experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, with an index measuring this problem dropping to -35. However, companies did see continued growth in employment and wages. Growth rates of prices paid and received increased in February, with prices paid overtaking prices received. Manufacturers expect this gap to widen in the near future.
Richmond Fed: Manufacturing activity fell somewhat in Feb. after rebounding sharply in Jan., with the composite index declining from 20 to -2. The weaker data were led by falling new orders, with shipments, capacity utilization, employment and capital expenditures softening. pic.twitter.com/hyqf0fuUTR
— Chad Moutray (@chadmoutray) February 25, 2020
Local business conditions fell from 16 to 6, compared to -6 in December. While February saw this metric decrease, manufacturers remain optimistic that business conditions will improve in the coming months. It’s possible that the COVID-19 outbreak negatively impacted new orders and other components of the survey, but this remains to be confirmed.
The Richmond Fed commented in the report, saying “All three components of the composite index — shipments, new orders, and employment — moved lower from January," the Richmond Fed noted in its publication. "The index for local business conditions remained positive, and manufacturers were optimistic that activity would improve in the coming months."
Gold prices have seen little reaction to the release of the report. Spot gold last traded at $1,648.36/oz, up 1.44% with a high of $1,674.48/oz and a low of $1,635.33/oz. Gold has held support lines above $1,650 following the release of the sub-expectation manufacturing data along with similarly weak performance in consumer spending, contributing to risk-averse sentiment in the financial markets.