22 posts categorized "Manufacturing"

Ninth District Beige Book: Signs of moderate economic growth in spring

Since early April, some key sectors in the Ninth District economy have varied, but overall growth has been moderate. Home sales and prices increased at a strong rate, although residential construction remained flat. Energy and mining activity continued to decline, contributing to a slowdown in spending and employment in the energy-producing region of western North Dakota and eastern Montana. While prices were relatively stable and wage increases remained mild, some signs of increased wage pressures appeared.

Residential real estate and consumer spending grew

Residential real estate activity showed strong increases in many parts of the Ninth District during April compared with a year earlier. For example, in western Wisconsin, home sales increased 25 percent and the median sales price rose 12 percent, while in Minnesota, home sales were up 20 percent with the median sales price up 12 percent. Home sales were buoyed in part by a relatively mild spring in many parts of the district. Meanwhile, residential construction was flat overall.

Retail and tourism spending also contributed to positive economic growth. According to a recent survey of district business leaders conducted by the Minneapolis Fed, 40 percent of respondents noted that retail spending increased over the past three months, while 12 percent reported that sales had decreased. An auto dealers association expects Minnesota vehicle sales in 2015 to exceed last year’s levels. Tourism activity was solid in many parts of the district in part due to seasonably warm weather. A travel agency in Minnesota noted that leisure travel bookings for March and April were up over 10 percent.

Meanwhile, manufacturing activity was level overall in April and May. The impact of the recent increase in the exchange value of the dollar likely had an effect on district manufacturers, as 29 percent of manufacturer respondents to the district business-leader survey reported that the dollar’s rise had decreased sales, though most reported that sales had not changed. “Increased value of the dollar has hurt our bottom line because of lower revenue from outside the U.S. on same volume,” commented a respondent. An index of manufacturing activity by Creighton University increased in April from the previous month in Minnesota and South Dakota; the index fell in North Dakota, but was at levels consistent with slight growth in all three states.

Natural resources sectors were slow

Natural resources sectors, including agriculture, energy and mining, had a depressing effect on the district economy. While progress in crop planting was well ahead of its five-year average and drought conditions were relieved by recent rains in several areas, the Minneapolis Fed’s first-quarter (April) survey of agricultural credit conditions showed that 79 percent of respondents said farm incomes fell in the previous three months, with a similar outlook for the second quarter. The avian flu has impacted a number of poultry producers and is expected to cost Minnesota turkey producers more than $300 million.

In the energy-producing area of the district, the drilling rig count dropped to 79 in mid-May, all in North Dakota (no rigs were active in Montana), down from almost 200 in September 2014. The continued decline in drilling activity led to layoffs of oilfield workers and reduced demand for support services. Nevertheless, oil production levels and transportation remained relatively high, albeit down from record levels set in December. The slowdown in oil drilling made its way to Wisconsin and Minnesota, where output at mines producing sand for hydraulic fracturing was expected to decline this year and one facility was idled. However, the overall economic impact of the reduction in oil and gas drilling has remained relatively contained to the energy-producing area.

Some tightening in labor markets and signs of wage pressures

As the district continued to show signs of moderate economic growth, hiring increased on balance and labor markets tightened further. According to a recent ad hoc survey by the Minneapolis Fed, 40 percent of respondents said their ability to retain employees has become harder over the past 12 months, while just 3 percent said it has become easier. “We are seeing a lot of employee turnover, as most see this as the best way to impact salary and opportunity,” noted a respondent to the professional business services survey. A Minnesota manufacturers survey found that hiring plans for the upcoming year are similar to a year ago. However, labor markets softened in the energy-producing area of the district; online job openings were down 23 percent in April compared with a year earlier in the North Dakota oil patch (see Chart 1).

Prices were relatively stable, except for a recent increase in gasoline prices. Wage increases remained mild in April and May, with some instances of increased wage pressures. For example, about a quarter of respondents to the aforementioned ad hoc survey were raising starting pay for most job categories to attract new hires (see Chart 2). Three health care systems in Minnesota have agreed to a minimum wage of $15 per hour under recent contract agreements.

Beige Book June 2015 -- 6-12-15

Business activity continues to improve in Ninth District

Business activity in the Ninth District is above average and has improved over the past three months, based on a recent poll of 105 business contacts from around the district (see methodology). Improvements were seen across many industry sectors.

 Fifty-five percent of responding Ninth District firms reported that current business activity is above average or well above average, while only 6 percent reported that activity is below average. More than half of respondents said that business conditions have improved over the previous three months, while only 14 percent reported slightly worsening conditions, and none reported that conditions have worsened greatly. Respondents in real estate, construction, professional services and financial services were the most positive about current business activity, while manufacturers were much more mixed in their reports.

When those surveyed were asked about retail sales in their community, 40 percent of the responding firms noted that retail spending has been increasing over the past three months. Only 12 percent reported that retail sales have decreased.

Construction also appears to be growing, as almost two-thirds of responding firms said that construction activity in their communities was above average or better, and only 8 percent reported below-average activity. More than three-quarters of respondents also indicated that conditions in the construction sector had improved over the past year, and respondents in the construction industry were even more upbeat.

Recent changes in the value of the dollar had no impact on sales or costs, according to 71 percent of respondents. The remainder was split evenly between those reporting a positive and negative influence on sales, though manufacturers as a whole reported more negative effects, and they expect this drag on sales to continue.

Methodology: On May 11, 2015, the Minneapolis Fed emailed a web-based survey to about 600 Beige Book contacts from around the Ninth District. By May 12, 105 contacts had filled out the survey. The respondents come from a variety of industries (see table).

Ad hoc -- 5-21-15

Ad hoc survey: Ninth District businesses plan to ramp up hiring, increase starting pay

The Ninth District economy is in growth mode and employment is expected to increase, based on a recent poll of 140 business contacts from around the district (see methodology below).

Businesses are expecting to expand, with 46 percent of respondents planning to increase employment at their firms and 58 percent of these firms citing anticipated high sales growth as the most important factor behind increased employment. Only 3 percent plan to decrease employment. In the same survey a year ago, 41 percent planned to increase employment and 9 percent planned to cut jobs (see chart).

Other important factors cited for new hiring were overworked staff, the need for additional skills and improved financial condition of firms. The vast majority of respondents plan to use current employee referrals, word of mouth and advertising to get new employees. Forty-eight percent plan to use a recruiting firm, which is up from 22 percent of respondents in last year’s poll. Twenty-seven percent of respondents also plan to raise starting pay compared with only 8 percent last year.

Feb ad hoc survey Ch1+meth -- 2-13-15

Methodology: On Dec. 1, 2014, the Minneapolis Fed emailed a web-based survey to about 600 Beige Book contacts from around the Ninth District. By Feb. 12, 140 contacts had filled out the survey. The respondents come from a variety of industries (see table).

Beige Book recap: Modest growth in Ninth District

Over the past two months, the Ninth District economy has seen modest growth, according to the latest Beige Book information released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Increased activity was noted in consumer spending, professional services, manufacturing and non-energy mining. Activity was level in tourism and mixed in commercial construction, commercial real estate and agriculture. Energy, residential real estate and residential construction were down. Labor markets continued to tighten since the previous report. While overall wage increases remained modest, there were examples of steeper increases in some regions and industries.

Consumer spending and tourism: Consumer spending increased moderately. Mall and retail representatives across district states reported solid traffic and sales. Overall tourism was about level with a year ago, according to a variety of sources. Construction and real estate: Construction activity was mixed in the district’s larger cities. In Sioux Falls, S.D., the value of November commercial permits increased from a year ago, but fell in Billings, Mont.

Residential construction: Activity was mostly lower. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the value of December residential permits decreased 9 percent from a year earlier and also dropped in the Bismarck, N.D. area (November data). Residential activity was stronger in Billings and Sioux Falls, however. Home sales were generally lower from a year earlier (in November). In the Sioux Falls area, home sales were down 12 percent, inventory increased 1 percent and the median sales price increased 6 percent relative to a year earlier. Sales were also down in northwestern Wisconsin, and the median sales price was 6 percent lower. Minnesota home sales were down 13 percent, inventories of homes for sale increased 5 percent and the median sales price rose 3 percent. Home sales in the Bismarck area were about level with last year.

Manufacturing: Activity increased slightly. A manufacturing index increased in December from the previous month in Minnesota and South Dakota, but fell slightly in North Dakota. However, the index pointed to continued expansion in all three states. Through October, manufactured exports in district states were up 1 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

Energy and mining: The energy sector slowed slightly in response to lower output prices. Oil and gas exploration activity decreased in late December compared with a month earlier in Montana and North Dakota. Mining activity increased slightly. District iron ore mines were operating at or near capacity, with November production slightly higher than a year earlier.

Agriculture: Conditions remained mixed, with livestock and dairy producers faring better than crop farmers. A Minneapolis Fed third-quarter survey found that a majority of farm incomes had fallen from a year earlier and that capital spending also decreased. The fourth quarter outlook was also weaker, according to the survey. Prices received by farmers in December decreased from a year earlier for corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and milk; prices increased for cattle, hogs, eggs and poultry.

Employment and wages: Labor markets continued to tighten since the previous report. Overall wage increases remained modest, but there were examples of steeper increases in some regions and industries. Some construction firms in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area noted that labor costs have increased recently. In addition, some managers at Minneapolis-St. Paul area restaurants indicated that they were increasing wages to attract employees.

See the full Beige Book report for more details on the national and Ninth District performance.

October Mid-America survey shows softness in Dakotas; Minnesota on top

Update from last week’s blog.

Results from the October Mid-America Business Conditions Index, released this week, show weakening conditions in the Dakotas and Minnesota. The index surveys supply managers monthly in a nine-state region, and an index greater than 50 indicates expected expansion over the next three to six months.

For the first time in recent memory, sentiment in North Dakota is hovering near contraction, with the state’s overall index declining to 54.8 and employment dropping to 51.2; both of South Dakota’s scores have continued a general descent of late, declining to 51.8. While Minnesota’s scores also dropped, it remains a bright spot, with its overall index at a healthy 63.7, with employment at 56.7.

Mid-America UPDATE -- 11-4-14

U.P. electricity prices tops in district

Households and firms in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have long complained about expensive power. Civic and business leaders say high electricity rates squeeze family budgets and hamper efforts to foster industrial development in a region plagued by high unemployment.

Angst over the price of U.P. electricity has come to a head this fall. A regional power grid authority has ordered Wisconsin-based We Energies to continue operating an aging coal-fired power plant near Marquette, with costs passed along to U.P. ratepayers. If federal energy regulators approve, U.P. utility customers could see average rate increases of $100 annually to fund operating subsidies for the Presque Isles plant and two other coal-fired power plants in the U.P.

The Michigan Public Service Commission and big U.P. power consumers such as Cliffs Natural Resources—owners of the Empire and Tilden iron mines—have objected to the proposed rate hikes, saying they would further burden utility customers already paying dearly for electricity.

Federal price data show that U.P. residents pay higher electricity rates than those in other parts of the Ninth District and the nation as a whole (see Chart 1). Electricity costs about 20 percent more in the U.P. than it does in Minnesota and about 35 percent more than in North Dakota. But Yoopers pay less than Michiganders overall, and U.P. power is a bargain compared with utility rates in some parts of the country, such as New England.

However, the U.P. average rate obscures wide disparities across the peninsula; residents of some U.P. communities pay significantly more than others to keep the lights on, the result of differing customer densities and, in some cases, reliance on imported power rather than local generation sources. State PSC figures for 2013 show that power producers such as Upper Peninsular Power Co. and the Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association, which primarily serve customers in the western and central U.P., charge much higher rates than other utilities (see Chart 2).

UP power -- 11-3-14

Surveys: District manufacturing, state economies seeing fluctuation

Amid the news of falling oil prices and a slowing global economy in contrast to a comparatively strong U.S. economy, two monthly surveys by Creighton University offer a somewhat muddled picture of economic growth in three Ninth District states.

The Rural Mainstreet Index asks community bank presidents and CEOs in rural areas of a 10-state region (including Minnesota and the Dakotas) about current economic conditions and six-month outlook in roughly 200 small communities.

Since mid-2013, the overall index has stayed mostly in expansion territory (an index score of 50 or more). But the index has dipped into contraction on a couple of occasions—particularly for South Dakota—and the general slope of sentiment is slightly downward (see Chart 1).

The good news: Respondents have been upbeat on new hires, with particularly strong scores in Minnesota and North Dakota. The less good news: Sentiment toward farmland prices has tumbled, especially in Minnesota and South Dakota, most likely stemming from low crop prices over this period. Aside from a single-month blip, North Dakota’s farmland index has stay strongly in expansion territory, most likely the result of the state’s very strong economy, with farmland prices possibly being buoyed by demand from nonfarmers.

Mid-America Ch1 -- 10-31-14

A second survey by Creighton, the Mid-America Business Conditions Index, compiles monthly data from manufacturing, purchasing and supply executives in the same 10-state region (and also including Minnesota and the Dakotas). Overall, respondents in these Ninth District states have reported solid expansion, with the overall index slightly upward over the past year (see Chart 2). After a big uptick in employment sentiment, index scores dropped over the summer, but respondents in Minnesota and North Dakota continued to see healthy expansion in the latest surveys. In both manufacturing indexes (overall and employment), South Dakota has seen its scores dip of late, and they appear to be trending downward.

Mid-America Ch2 -- 10-31-14

A summer of steady growth in the Ninth District

The Ninth District economy continued to show signs of steady growth through the summer months, characterized by job growth, decreases in unemployment rates and gains in home building.

As of August, nonfarm employment in district states was up 1.8 percent relative to a year ago, posting a net increase of about 122,000 jobs. North Dakota reported the strongest employment growth among district states, accounting for about one in every six jobs added in the Ninth District over the past 12 months despite the state’s workforce comprising only 7 percent of the district total. Employment growth in other district states was largely in line with the national trend (up 1.8 percent), except in South Dakota, where nonfarm employment growth was 0.7 percent.

The district unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent over the same period, down 0.8 percentage points from a year ago. The spread in unemployment rates among district states has narrowed over the past 12 months. Regions with relatively high unemployment rates, such as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin and Montana, posted larger year-over-year declines than Minnesota and the Dakotas, where unemployment rates started out much lower last year.

Manufacturing wage growth in the district slowed to 1.4 percent during the three-month period ending in August, compared with a growth rate of 2.5 percent during the same period a year earlier. With the exception of North Dakota and Wisconsin, growth in manufacturing wages in district states was below the national average of 1.6 percent. Montana’s manufacturing workers reported the lowest year-over-year growth rate in hourly earnings among district states, which barely reversed the flat or declining trend in manufacturing wages in the state for much of 2013 and early 2014.

During second quarter 2014, personal income growth (adjusted for inflation) across district states was positive, posting a 2.2 percent overall increase relative to a year ago for the district. Except for North Dakota, all district states posted lower personal income growth rates relative to the national average of 2.4 percent, while South Dakota’s state ranking in growth was near the bottom.

New housing authorizations for the three-month period ending in August were up 8.2 percent in district states; however, rates varied widely among district states. Montana and South Dakota posted year-over-year declines of over 20 percent in new housing authorizations, while North Dakota showed a 42 percent increase over the same period. Housing authorizations in Minnesota and Wisconsin were up 5 percent and 10 percent, respectively, closer to the national average of 7.7 percent.

Home prices continued to show increases in several district cities. During the second quarter of 2014, home prices were 7.4 percent higher than a year ago in Bismarck, N.D., 6.7 percent higher in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 3.2 percent higher in Fargo, N.D., and 2.6 percent higher in Sioux Falls, S.D. Nationally, home prices increased by 4.4 percent during the same period.

For current and historical data on the economic indicators referenced here, see the “Monthly Summary” spreadsheet, along with other Ninth District data that are updated regularly.

Business survey: Ninth District should continue to grow

Results from a Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis ad hoc survey of 603 Ninth District firms (see methodology) reveals that economic activity at firms across industry sectors increased over the past four quarters and should continue over the next four quarters (see table).

Looking back: Firms across industries reported increased sales revenue, profits, productivity and employment. The availability of labor decreased, especially in the construction sector, where the majority of respondents reported a lack of available labor. Respondents from most sectors reported increases in selling prices and input costs. Wage and benefit increases were moderate. They also noted an uptick in availability of financing.

Looking forward: Respondents are more optimistic for the next four quarters, as a higher proportion of respondents reported expectations for increased sales revenue, profits, productivity and employment. The availability of labor is expected to continue to decrease. Respondents expect to raise prices and pay more for inputs. However, wage and benefit increases are expected to be moderate.

State economic outlook: Respondents expect their state economies to grow as well. Employment, consumer spending and profits are all expected to increase. However, the vast majority of respondents across industries expect inflation to increase.

August ad hoc table -- 8-21-14

Ad hoc survey methodology: On Monday, August 18, an email was sent to 5,000 contacts (not a random sample) from various sectors around the Ninth District. By 12 noon Wednesday, August 20, 603 responses were received, representing a 12 percent response rate. The largest number of responses came from finance (24 percent), professional services (20 percent), manufacturing (15 percent), real estate (13 percent), construction (8 percent) and nonprofits (7 percent).

Ninth District businesses remain optimistic

There has been a fair amount of attention given to the possibility of an economic slowdown in 2014. While only a small anecdote in the volume of economic data, a recent survey still suggests a positive outlook in 2014 for the Ninth District economy.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis conducted an ad hoc survey of 135 Ninth District firms and asked them about their outlook for 2014 (see methodology). Over 80 percent expressed optimism for their community’s economy over the next 12 months. This is comparable to the 74 percent of respondents to the November 2013 fedgazette Business Outlook Poll. Results by sector show that construction respondents were the most positive with 9 out of 10 reporting optimism, followed by manufacturing (87 percent), professional services (80 percent) and finance, insurance and real estate (79 percent).

“Seeing improved trends,” said a Minnesota banker, reflecting the overall mood of respondents; 53 percent expect increased sales for their operations compared with only 9 percent that expect decreased sales. Part of the sales increase is due to higher productivity, which 65 percent said occurred at their firm over the past 12 months. Higher sales expectations are partially reflected in the 39 percent of businesses that expect to increase prices, while 8 percent expect to lower prices.

More companies also plan more capital investment—30 percent expect an increase over last year’s spending, while 12 percent predict a decrease. Companies are having a better time financing these capital expenditures through better access to bank credit; 19 percent reported improved access, while only 5 percent noted deteriorated access.

More companies are hiring, too, with 34 percent expecting more employment and only 9 percent expecting less. Firms are facing some challenges; 44 percent noted that securing workers was a challenge, and over half reported that complying with government regulation was a challenge. FIRE respondents, at 69 percent, reported the most concern about complying with regulations.

Ad hoc survey methodology: On Feb. 10, an email was sent to 1,000 business contacts from various sectors around the Ninth District. By 5 p.m. on Feb. 12, 135 responses were received, representing a 13.5 percent response rate. The largest number of respondents came from finance, insurance and real estate (44 percent), professional services (24 percent), manufacturing (14 percent) and construction (10 percent). The disproportionate number of FIRE responses could have some unknown influence on results.