The New York Federal Reserve’s manufacturing index rose 8.1 points to 12.9 in February, according to a report released on Tuesday. The index is now at the highest level since May, vastly outperforming the expected reading of 4.0. The index is a measure of business conditions in the region, and those conditions also ticked up in January following months of deceleration.
- New orders hit the highest mark in over a year, with increased demand for regionally produced goods.
- Manufacturing on the east coast has yet to be negatively impacted as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
- China offered tariff exemptions on around 700 US product lines on Tuesday, further de-escalating the trade war.
Manufacturing expanded in February, rising from 4.8 to 12.9 and beating expectations of a slight pullback. The new orders index rose 15.5 points to 22.1, the highest in over a year. Shipments saw a 10.3 point gain to 18.9, delivery times lengthened, and inventories rose. The industry has seen renewed activity in the last two months following an extended period of deceleration and contraction, partly due to the trade war between the US and China.
The trade war had a major impact on US manufacturing and business investment throughout 2019, dragging down GDP with billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese imports. Both nations reached a partial trade agreement in January 2020, cooling off the 18-month conflict. On Tuesday, China offered tariff exemptions on 697 types of goods from the US, including energy and agricultural products. Soybeans, formerly a major US export to China, may now be exempt from tariffs. Importers can apply for exemption from March 02 onwards.
— Whetstone Analysis LLC (@AnalysisLlc) February 18, 2020
Threats to Supply Chains
The de-escalation of the trade war may breathe fresh life into the struggling manufacturing industry, which accounts for 11% of the US economy. However, even as the trade war comes to a close, another threat comes in the form of the deadly COVID-19 virus.
70,000 people in China have been infected, and with 10% of the world’s population recently placed under quarantine, supply chains around the world have been impacted. So far, that impact has yet to reach the East coast of the US in a major way. The New York Fed report stated that "optimism about the six-month outlook continued to be somewhat subdued, and capital spending plans remained firm."
Gold prices have seen gains in today’s session despite the upbeat economic activity being reported. Spot gold last traded at $1,592.76/oz, up 0.64% with a high of $1,592.30/oz and a low of $1,581.26/oz. Trading at daily highs, gold is now eyeing the $1,600 mark as markets react to ongoing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus. Shares in Asia and Europe were mostly lower overnight, with lower openings in US stock indexes as well as risk aversion takes hold. Apple recently issued a warning that Q1 sales have been negatively impacted as a result of the outbreak due to disruption of the supply chain in China. 730 million people are currently under quarantine, which is likely to have widespread and ongoing effects on economic activity worldwide.