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Philly Fed Manufacturing Index Plunges Below 7-Year Low in March, Gold Prices Tick Upward

The Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index fell from 36.7 to -12.7, the lowest reading since the summer of 2012. The markets had expected a steep drop to 8, but the -12.7 reading far exceeds the negative estimates and puts the index firmly in contraction territory.

Key Takeaways

  • The Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index sunk from 36.7 to -12.7 vs. 8 expected.
  • New orders and shipments fell to -15.5 and 0.2 respectively.
  • The coronavirus outbreak has severely disrupted supply chains and business processes, negatively impacting manufacturing.

New orders fell from 33.6 to -15.5, while shipments plunged 25 points to 0.2, just barely in growth territory. A similar survey conducted by the New York Fed indicated a major drop in sentiment to -21.5, the worst decline in the history of the index. The coronavirus outbreak has seen factories in the US stagger shifts and separate workers in an effort to maintain production despite the social distancing recommendations in place. Some factories have placed physical barriers between workers and banned visitors.

While many industries are seeing temporary shutdowns of establishments to help contain the infection, this is less easily done in manufacturing. Stephen Bullock, president of Power Curbers Cos., commented to the WSJ that “You can’t weld at home. You can’t run a press break from your backyard.”

Despite this, major industrial operations are shutting down worldwide. Volkswagen, the world’s largest car company by sales, announced the shutdown of many of its European plants earlier this week. BMW, Toyota, and Corolla have suspended production in all UK car factories pending further notice.

One third of US manufacturers have seen supplies disrupted due to the pandemic, and a recent survey from the National Association of Manufacturers shows that 80% expect a financial impact on their business. In China, industrial output slumped 13.5% throughout January and February, and this may be a sign of things to come for other areas worldwide. Economic Policy Institute director Josh Bivens estimates that 3 million jobs will be lost by summer in the US due to the ongoing affect of the pandemic.

Market Reaction

Losses in gold were offset by the joint reports of increased jobless claims and reduced manufacturing activity. Spot gold last traded at $1,477.08/oz, down -0.02% with a high of $1,500.49/oz and a low of $1,465.55/oz. Over the last few days, it appears that gold has been reacting more to the outbreak than to granular financial reports. However, initial jobless claims have soared 70,000 to 281,000, greatly exceeding expectations, and this has led to upward momentum in the gold market along with the downbeat report of the 7-year low in manufacturing activity.