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UK MANUFACTURING OUTPUT

UK Manufacturing Output, August 2021:  The new data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has, like the GDP and investment figures we discussed a couple of weeks ago, been re-based to 2019 prices and, perhaps more importantly, revised - significantly so in the case of some historical time series.

We don’t have the space here to discuss all the revisions but, for example, for manufacturing as a whole, the previous estimates of annual growth for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 were +2.4%, +1.1%, -1.8% and -9.5% respectively - they are now -3.7%, +11.8%, +3.4% and -5.3%.  This means that the direction of growth for both 2017 and 2019 have reversed, 2018 saw ten times the pace of growth in the previous estimate and the fall in 2020 as a result of the pandemic is roughly half of the previous estimate.  Although the more recent data has not seen quite such dramatic changes, it does raise significant questions about the real picture for manufacturing, the sub-sectors and key industries.

Focusing on the latest data, output of the manufacturing sector in the latest 3 months (June, July and August 2021) was -0.1% lower than in the previous 3 months (March April and May 2021) but was +8.2% higher than a year earlier (June, July and August 2020).  There was, however, a small improvement in output in August (+0.5% higher than in July using the seasonally adjusted data).  The recovery from the pandemic is not quite complete with output in August standing at 97.7% of the level in February 2020 which is taken to be the pre-pandemic level.

The first level of detail is for the sub-sectors of manufacturing and here we are most interested in the capital goods group of industries.  Output here fell by -1.7% comparing the latest 3 month period with the previous 3 months but increased by +9.8% compared to the same months last year.  Output in August was only 91.1% of the pre-pandemic level recorded in February 2020.  This makes it the weakest of the recoveries in the manufacturing sub-sectors with output in Intermediate goods and consumer non-durable goods actually above the pre-pandemic level.

There are two specific industries behind this situation, although for different reasons.  Output in the automotive industry was recovering reasonably well but in recent months has been hit by the shortage of components, mainly electronics.  As a result and despite an improvement in the seasonally adjusted figures for August, output was down by -7.8% in the latest three months although it was +3.7% higher than a year ago.  August output was 80.2% of the pre-pandemic level.

The other problem area is aerospace where, after the initial bounce, output has fallen back again;  the short-term trend of a fall in output compared to the previous 3 months of -0.3% doesn’t look too bad, but this only represents growth of +0.8% compared to a year ago and output in this industry in August was just 61.7% of the pre-pandemic level.

There is some better news from the machinery industry (broadly the old mechanical engineering category) although here there does also appear to be a levelling-off in output over the past few months.  As a result, output in the latest 3 months was -0.9% lower than in the previous 3 months but this is 21.4% higher than the same months of 2020 and output in August was 103.8% (i.e. above) the pre-pandemic level.

For the metal products industry (a substantial proportion of this is contract machining - see below), output is down by -2.1% on the previous 3 months, up by +8.4% compared to a year ago and, in August, stood at 96.4% of the pre-pandemic level.

You can download the ONS Statistical Bulletin from their web-site at https://www.ons.gov.uk/releasecalendar (13 October) or request it from MTA;  we also have an analysis of the key industries which is available to members - please contact Geoff Noon (gnoon@mta.org.uk) if you would like these charts.

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The Contract Manufacturing Index, 3rd Quarter 2021:  Qimtek is a network that links buyers and sellers in the manufacturing industry by, among other things, providing a market-place for quotations for contract manufacturing activity.  By monitoring this network, they can track business trends and produce the Contract Manufacturing Index.  This works on three types of business covering Machining, Fabrication and Other (this includes casting and tool-making but is a small part of the overall total).

Although tracked monthly, the index results are published each quarter and the latest figures show growth of +52% compared to the 2nd quarter of the year but that the level was still -5% lower than the equivalent months in 2020 (July to September).  Activity was generally strong throughout the quarter, although the pace did slow in September, especially in fabrication.  Shortages of materials, transport and staff mean that the average number of quotes per project fell sharply and is now below the eight-year average level.  Indeed, these also seem to be the reasons behind the fall in activity towards the end of the quarter.

You can get more details on the activity trends identified in the report, including the industry sectors generating the most traffic at https://www.qimtek.co.uk/blog/contract-manufacturing-index-quarter-3-2021.  If you would like more information about how Qimtek works, please contact Karen Finegold at MTA/EIA (email:  karen.finegold@eia.co.uk).

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UK Automotive Output, August 2021:  The Society of Motors Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) publishes a monthly count of the number of cars and engines produced in the UK -this is not seasonally adjusted and does not take account of the varying values but it is still a useful adjunct to the ONS data we reported on above.

The latest figures reflect the problems created by the shortage of electronic components which may have started as far back as April.  Since then, with the exception of June, there has been a double-digit month-on-month decline in the number of both cars and engines produced.  Both July and August have seen the rolling 12-month totals in both categories decline (the comparisons for April and May were, of course, dominated by the near total closures in these months in 2020).

In 2019, the UK produced 1.3 million cars but the rolling 12-month total to August 2021 was only just over 0.9 million.  Similarly for engines, the UK produced 2.5 million units in 2019 but the latest 12-month total is just under 1.9 million.  Some of the previous level will be unrecoverable with the closure of the Ford engine plant in Bridgend and the Honda car factory in Swindon.

You can access the latest SMMT reports at https://www.smmt.co.uk/category/news/manufacturing/;  if you wish, we can let you have our analysis of the time series for this data - please contact Geoff Noon (gnoon@mta.org.uk) for this spread-sheet.