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ECONOMIC NEWS

Flash Purchasing Managers Index, May 2021:  The flash Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for manufacturing in the UK released this morning accelerated to 66.1 - this is its highest level since the survey began in January 1992.  There were significant increases in output, orders and employment and a return to growth for the stocks of components element, but the index also continues to be inflated by a further lengthening of supply chains.  So far, these only seem to be leading to a small proportion of UK manufacturers reporting that they have had to reduce output.  The estimated PMI for the service sector also improved but not to the extent of the manufacturing index.

In the Euro-zone, the manufacturing PMI edged down but not significantly so to stand at 62.8 with the output index showing a more significant reduction (but still at a high level).  This was driven by a further lengthening of input delivery times - while this (perversely) adds to the index calculation, it is also now having an impact on output capacity and order backlogs were at a third consecutive record length.  Despite the Covid related restrictions which tightened in some countries in this period, the Euro-zone service sector saw a significantly higher reading in these flash estimates.

The manufacturing PMI in Japan also fell back a little and while still in positive territory at 52.5 (53.6 in April), they have not seen the very high levels that have been recorded in Europe recently.  Both output and new orders eased in the latest survey period but manufacturers still had confidence to expand the number of staff employed for the second consecutive month.

The flash PMI report for the USA will be published this afternoon and you can get this, along with the reports we have covered above, from the IHS Markit web-site at http://www.markiteconomics.com/Survey/Page.mvc/PressReleases;  the final figures for May will be published after the Bank Holiday and we will bring you all the news in a couple of weeks’ time.

CBI Industrial Trends Survey, May 2021:  The latest results from the CBI Industrial Trends Survey show the fastest growth in the volume of manufacturing output since December 2018.  Output over the past 3 months grew in 12 of the 17 sub-sectors used in the CBI analysis and was particularly strong in the Chemicals, Electrical Engineering and Metal Products industries.  The manufacturers responding to the survey expect growth to accelerate in the next 3 months.

It is worth noting that although labelled “May”, the data collection period ran from 27th April to 13th May and so the data for the past 3 months is likely to refer to the February to April period with the future period being May to July.

There was also an improvement in total orders which were at their strongest since December 2017 and were, on balance, reported as “above normal” for the first time since February 2019.  While export order books were broadly unchanged from the previous survey level this is still the strongest out-turn since February 2020 (roughly the pre-pandemic peak).  However, this does suggest that the strength in orders is coming from the domestic market.

The survey also notes that there is a deterioration in the adequacy of stocks of finished goods which reflects continued pressures in the supply chain (for a variety of reasons including the shortage of semi-conductors) which, alongside higher commodity prices (most notably for metals), is feeding into the strongest expectations for price increases since January 2019.

You can get the Press Release of the CBI ITS from their web-site at www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre (20 May) or request it from MTA.

UK Business Investment and Foreign Trade, 1st Quarter 2021:  As part of the quarterly GDP data release last week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also published high-level data for investment - at this stage, this does not include the industry level detail.

Total business investment (of which manufacturing accounts for about 15%) fell by -12% compared to the previous quarter (Q4-20) and was -18% lower than in the 1st quarter of 2020 (just before the main impact of the pandemic hit this series).  The rolling 4-quarter total, which now covers periods that were within the pandemic compared to the four quarters just before it, shows a fall of -15%.

Within the total, there is data for spending by asset, including a category for “ICT & Other Machinery”;  in the absence of data for manufacturing, this gives a useful early indicator.  Within the total, spending on this type of asset was only -3% lower than in the previous quarter and -5% down on a year ago;  the 4-quarter rolling trend shows spending in this category -6% lower than in the previous group of quarters (this compares the period from Q2-20 to Q1-21 with Q2-19 to Q1-20).

The other major element of the economy that is part of the GDP data is foreign trade (exports/imports).  We are still struggling somewhat to separate Brexit effects on trade from the impact of the Covid-outbreak with the latter having both an immediate impact around the turn of the year with extra lock-downs and border crossing restrictions over the English Channel and more medium-term effects around the shortage of containers on longer distance trade.

In summary, exports of goods in the 1st quarter of 2021 were -8.4% lower than in the previous quarter and -10.9% down on a year earlier.  The quarter-on-quarter reduction was entirely in trade with the EU which fell by -18% while there was a +1% increase in non-EU exports.  Compared to the 1st quarter of 2020, deliveries to the EU fell by 16% while exports to the rest of the world only fell by -7%.

For imports we see a similar picture of a more dramatic fall in trade with the European Union.  The quarter-on-quarter trend shows total imports reduced by -13.5% with arrivals from the EU down by -22% while shipments from the rest of the world fell by -4%;  comparing with the 1st quarter of 2020, total imports declined by -5.2%, with the EU value falling by -12% while non-EU trade grew by +3%.

You can download the ONS Statistical Bulletins from their web-site at https://www.ons.gov.uk/releasecalendar (12 May) or request them from MTA.

European GDP, 1st Quarter 2021:  Eurostat has updated its flash estimate of GDP which shows a quarter-on-quarter fall of -0.6% for the Euro-zone and -0.4% for the EU as a whole.  This would mean that both areas would have seen a double-dip recession with negative trends of -0.7% and -0.5% respectively having been recorded in the 4th quarter of 2020.

This pattern is not, however repeated at the country level.  Of the 20 Member States who have published their Q1-21 data, only two - Italy and Netherlands - have recorded a fall in GDP in both quarters - indeed 5 countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, Hungary and Romania) have seen growth in both quarters.

The larger economies obviously have the greatest impact on the overall trends and the negative growth rate for the start of this year is driven by the fall of -1.7% recorded in Germany;  this is not the largest percentage reduction - that was -3.3% in Portugal - but the size of the economy makes it the biggest influence on the regional trends.  The fall in German GDP in Q1-21 more than wiped out the growth of +0.5% they recorded at the end of last year.

You can get the full details from the Eurostat News Release which can be downloaded from their web-site at https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/news/news-releases (18 May) or requested from MTA.

USMTO and CTMR, March 2021:  The US Manufacturing Technology Orders (USMTO) programme tracks orders in the US market, based on the reports from participants.  In the first quarter of 2021, orders were +30.0% higher than in the same period last year (January to March).  It is worth recalling that this was largely before the impact of the Covid-outbreak, although this tells you more about the weakness in the US market at the end of 2019 and the early part of 2020 than it does about the current trend. 

The rolling 12-month total from this series has now been growing strongly for 4 months although the level is still just below where it was a year ago - this will change from next moth when the Covid-driven weakness of last Spring moves below the line of the comparison.

The regional analysis shows strong double-digit growth in 5 of the 6 regions - the only exception is the South-East where orders fell by -16% compared to the 1st quarter of 2020 (this was mainly due to a large metal forming order in this period last year).  The fastest growth rate was in the North-Central-West area at +55% with the North-Central-East region not far behind at +48%.  These two regions are also the largest, while the smallest area is South-Central.

The US Cutting Tool Market Report (CTMR) tracks orders for tooling on a similar basis;  this has not yet reached its turning point and although orders were up in March (compared to February which makes the number of working days part of the explanation), the total for the 1st quarter is still -14% lower than a year earlier.  In part this reflects a later cycle as this part of the market was still strong in the first three months of 2020 - indeed, the monthly total for March 2021 is the highest since the same month last year.  There is no regional breakdown of the CTMR report.

You can download the press releases for the two surveys from the AMT web-site at www.amtonline.org, with the CTMR release also published on the USCTI web-site at www.uscti.com;  alternatively, you can request either or both releases from MTA and we can make sure you get them when they are published each month.