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Durable Goods Orders Tanked 14.4% in March, Smashing Hopes of Sector Resilience

After rising 1.1% in February, durable goods orders plunged 14.4% in March according to the latest report from the US Commerce Department. The reading came in worse than expectations of 11.9% decline. The drop mars the worst fall since 2014, driven down by the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak and resulting oil price drop on the manufacturing sector.

Where some analysts had hoped manufacturing would prove more resilient in the face of the crisis, it’s clear that the sector is becoming increasingly under pressure from the outbreak.

Key Takeaways

  • Durable goods orders fell 14.4% in March after gaining 1.1% in February, far below expectations of 11.9% decline.
  • Core capital goods orders, on the other hand, rose 0.1%, beating expectations of a drop.
  • The drop was led by reduced demand for transportation equipment which fell 41%.

Durable goods orders measures orders for products made to last at least three years. Core capital goods orders, a proxy of business spending which exclude aircraft and military goods, saw a mild 0.1% increase instead of the expected drop. However, these gains are likely novel and unsustainable.

Excluding transportation, new orders fell 0.2%, and excluding defense, orders fell 15.8%. Transportation equipment led the decline, falling 41% and losing $35.6 billion to $51.2 billion. The auto sector is declining with tens of millions now out of work, creating non-ideal conditions for new car purchases. On top of that, manufacturing plants in shutdown, and virus containment procedures have reduced demand for driving in general.

Report Data

Shipments fell in eight of the last nine months, dropping 4.5% in March after a 0.8% increase the month before. Transportation equipment led the decline, with reduced demand due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown and travel restrictions. Transportation equipment fell 12.8% and fell $10.9 billion to $74.1 billion. Unfilled orders for manufactured durable goods in March fell for the first time in 2020, shedding $23.4 billion and dropping 2% in total. Transportation equipment led the decrease, falling $22.9 billion or 2.9% overall.

The manufacturing industry has been hit hard worldwide as a result of the massive disruption to global supply chains, as well as reduced demand for many non-essential items. Social distancing measures have resulted in many manufacturing plants being shut down either by state governments or, in some cases, the manufacturers themselves. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler agreed to shut down plants in the US in March following pressure from the autoworkers labor union. Over 26 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last 5 weeks.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have held strong gains seen in yesterday’s session and have seen some volatility following the release of the damning durable goods orders report. Spot gold last traded at $1,734.13/oz, up 0.33% with a high of $1,735.94/oz and a low of $1.721.64/oz.

“With so many businesses either shuttered or facing a severe reduction in demand, including areas that are typically big investors such as oil extraction and airlines, we still think that investment will be a large drag on growth in Q2 and that durable goods orders will weaken in the months ahead,” said Andrew Grantham, senior economist at CIBC.