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Gold Price Ticks Upward With Broad Contraction Throughout Manufacturing PMI

Economic activity in manufacturing contracted in March, slipping from 50.1% in February to 49.1% according to the latest report from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). Any reading below 50 indicates contraction. The coronavirus outbreak is likely behind the decline, and manufacturing is expected to slip further in April due to the shutdown of much of the US economy.

Key Takeaways

  •  The downward activity was due to a major decline in new orders and production
  • ISM chairman Timothy Fiore stated that “The coronavirus pandemic and shocks in global energy markets have impacted all manufacturing sectors.”
  • Contraction was also seen in employment, backlog, raw materials, exports, and imports.

Nearly all components of the ISM manufacturing index saw contraction in March according to the latest report released on Wednesday. While the headline figure isn’t severe, it is likely the precursor to a broader decline throughout April when the coronavirus pandemic is expected to hit its peak. At the time of writing, there are 189,000 confirmed cases within the US out of a total of 800,000 worldwide.

New orders dropped 7.6 points to 42.2 in March, furthering the contraction seen the month before. Production slipped from 50.3 into contraction territory, dropping to 47.7. The backlog of orders dropped 4.4 points to 50.3. Employment came in at 43.8, falling 3.1 points from 46.9 the month before. Supplier deliveries rose 7.7 points to 65, growing at a slower pace than before and offsetting some of the other decline seen throughout the composite index.

A reading of above 50 indicates slower deliveries, usually a sign of increased customer demand and a growing economy. However, the gain in March was due to issues stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, such as panic-buying and containment procedures disrupting supply chains. Inventories rose 0.4 points to 46.5. Prices fell from 45.9 to 37.4. Exports and imports fell 4.6 points and 0.5 points respectively, with both indices in contraction.

10 out of 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in March, with the growth led by printing and related support activities, food, beverage, and tobacco products, apparel, and leather and allied products. 6 companies reported contraction, led by petroleum and coal products, textile mills, and transportation equipment. The oil industry has suffered reduced demand due to coronavirus containment procedures closing borders and keeping people indoors, leading to less demand for transportation and a price war on oil as a result.

Expert Outlook

The short-term outlook from respondents was negative, with the coronavirus outbreak impacting sentiment.

"The coronavirus pandemic and shocks in global energy markets have impacted all manufacturing sectors. Among the six big industry sectors, Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products remains strongest, followed by Chemical Products, which in addition to the pharmaceutical component, is a significant contributor to the Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products Industry and beneficiary of low energy and feedstock prices,” said ISM chairman Timothy Fiore. “Transportation Equipment and Petroleum & Coal Products are the weakest sectors. Sentiment regarding near-term growth this month is strongly negative, by a 2-to-1 ratio.”

A respondent from the fabricated metals industry highlighted the fact that the situation may be short-lived, saying "COVID-19's spread in the U.S. may start impacting our domestic business. As for Asian suppliers, they are starting to get back up to speed."

A respondent in the chemical products industry stated "The two main issues affecting our business [are] COVID-19 and the oil-price war. We are in daily discussions and meeting constantly, updating tracking logs to document high risk concerns."

Market Reaction

Gold prices have ticked upward following the release of the downbeat manufacturing sector data. Spot gold last traded at $1,587.65/oz, up 0.27% with a high of $1,599.36/oz and a low of $1,570.72/oz. Gold prices have struggled to break through the resistance at $1,600 despite the dour manufacturing report and the grim statements from US president Donald Trump made on Tuesday acknowledging the severity of the coronavirus outbreak.

President Trump stated that even with containment procedures, the virus is expected to claim the lives of between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, advising the country to prepare for a “very, very painful two weeks” in anticipation of the peak of the outbreak sometime in April.