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Soft Fundamentals Behind Unexpected Rise in Manufacturing Index, Gold Price Dips

The Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index rose in November to 10.4, almost double the reading measured in October of 5.6. While the headline result beat market expectations of just 7.0, many key components of the index actually fell last month.

Key Takeaways

  • The Philadelphia manufacturing index rose from 5.6 to 10.4 vs. 7.0 expected.
  • Indicators for new orders, shipments, and employment all fell in November despite the overall rise in the index.
  • The index is still well below the high seen in July of 21.8.

The Philadelphia Fed manufacturing index is a questionnaire aimed at gathering responses from manufacturing industry participants. Unlike the ISM manufacturing index, there is no composite based on multiple components. While the overall result is above expectations and shows accelerated growth, many key indicators in the index fell from October readings.

New orders saw a major drop to 8.4, falling 18 points. Shipments fell 9 points to 9.8. The current employment index dropped 11 points to 21.5, and the average work index fell to 5.2. The index for prices paid, a measure of inflation, dropped 9 points to 7.8, the lowest level since March 2016.

"The indexes for current shipments and new orders both fell: The current new orders index decreased 18 points, while the shipments index decreased 9 points," the report  stated. "Both the unfilled orders and delivery times indexes remained positive this month, suggesting higher unfilled orders and slower delivery times."

While the data is mixed at best, the index is still performing better than other regional Fed manufacturing surveys. The Empire State manufacturing index by the New York Fed came in last week, showing a drop in sentiment from 4.0 to 2.4.

Manufacturing Trough

The manufacturing industry has been suffering the effects of the ongoing 16-month trade war, although tensions are slowly easing. China and the US have reopened negotiations and begun working out the beginnings of a deal, although this may not manifest until next year. In the meantime, a new round of tariffs on Chinese imports to the US are due to take effect on December 15, possibly triggering retaliatory tariffs from China.

Trade protectionism policies such as these have had a major impact on the manufacturing industry along with business investment, which has contracted. Companies are unwilling to invest in the current uncertain climate, as future tariffs could sink any fledgling investment they might make.

Staff layoffs remain a possibility, with jobless claims unexpectedly remaining at a 5-month high last week, and this makes company investment less appealing. Meanwhile, severe tariffs on raw materials from China has caused manufacturing costs to rise, while manufacturers are having trouble replacing lost Chinese commerce due to the tariffs placed in US imports to China. The trade negotiations remain ongoing, and will have a serious impact on the economic progress of both nations.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have faced selling pressure in today’s session, despite the mixed result in manufacturing as well as news of a softening labor market. Spot gold last traded at $1,468.74/oz, down -0.31% with a high of $1,475.75/oz and a low of $1,463.84/oz. It’s likely that the markets are focusing on the turbulent trade negotiations in today’s market, with news of a possible deal creating bullish sentiment for the US dollar and bearish sentiment for gold.