US manufacturing flat in March, capping weak Q1

Washington (AFP) –


American manufacturing was flat in March, which was good news after sharp declines in the prior two months that combined for a dismal first quarter, the Federal Reserve reported Tuesday.

That weak performance has contributed to fears about a slowing US economy, as fuel from the late 2017 tax cuts faded and as the auto industry continues to struggle. It also dragged overall industrial production down slightly in the month.

Manufacturing fell 1.1 percent in the first three months of the year compared to the same period of 2018, the Fed reported. However, output in March was still 1.0 percent higher than a year earlier.

The production of motor parts and vehicles plunged 2.5 percent in the month and collapsed 12.8 percent in the first quarter, according to the data, meaning it is 4.5 percent below the March 2018 output level.

Wood products also fell more than 2 percent compared to February, while only computer and electronic products and primary metals had gains of over 1 percent in the latest month.

Overall industrial output fell 0.3 percent in the first quarter, after a 0.1 percent dip last month, but is up 2.8 percent compared to March 2018.

Economists had been expecting a 0.2 percent gain for the month.

Mining output, including oil, gas and coal production, fell 0.8 percent compared to the prior month, but is 10.5 percent higher year-over-year.

The volatile utilities sector edged up 0.2 percent after a surge in February, and is 3.8 percent higher than the same period a year ago.

Industrial capacity in use in use in March slipped to 78.8 percent due to a decline in utilization for durable manufacturing, most notably in motor vehicles and parts, which fell a stunning two percentage points to 76.3 percent in a single month.