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Philadelphia Manufacturing Index Punches Above Three Year High, Gold Holds Gains

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve manufacturing index rose 20 points to 36.7 during February, beating the expected reading of just 10 points. The index measures business conditions in the region, and points to renewed strength for Q1 2020 following a year of weak results.

Key Takeaways

  • The Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index rose from 17 to 36.7 vs. 10 expected.
  • New orders rose 15 points to 33.6, the highest reading since May 2018.
  • The index has outperformed other regional indexes in recent quarters, less affected by the trade war with China.

The latest Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index, released on Thursday, revealed an unexpected surge in business activity. The new orders index rose 15 points to 33.6, while shipments rose from 23.2 to 25.2. The six-month business outlook rose from 28.4 to 25.5, making February the fifth month in a row to register an increase.

Employment remained in positive territory, although indicated a hiring slowdown with a drop from 19.3 to 9.8 in February. The labor market has tightened due to a lack of skilled workers, although the slowdown may also be due to industry uncertainty. The average workweek rose from 5.2 to 10.3. Prices paid dropped slightly from 22.1 to 16.4, driven lower by falling energy prices. The index for prices received ticked upward from 14.7 to 17.1, the highest since September.

Overall, the index indicates a turnaround for activity in the region, with February’s increase following a rebound seen in January. The region was less affected by trade protectionism policies with China, which have negatively impacted manufacturing and business investment nationwide. Fed policymakers recently expressed optimism in the recovery of the manufacturing industry throughout the coming year now that a preliminary trade agreement with China has been reached.

After billions of dollars in tariffs implemented on goods from both China and the US, the conflict has deescalated considerably, and China recently proposed lifting tariffs on 700 types of US goods including agriculture and energy products. Other regions have also seen upticks in activity – the New York Fed reported an increase in manufacturing activity, and a jump in sentiment from 8.1 to 12.9, in February. The US ISM index also rose above 50 last month, indicating growth for the first time since mid 2019.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have held gains following the release of the report. Spot gold last traded at $1,619.30/oz, up 0.73% with a high of $1,619.30/oz and a low of $1,604.55/oz. Gold has been spurred on by news of the COVID-19 virus outbreak, with recently reported cases discovered outside of China. Japan reported today that some passengers aboard a quarantined cruise ship have died as a result of the virus. The US stock market edged lower today on the same news, with investors looking to gold as a safe haven asset amid the market uncertainty.