When I was a kid, I spent a few fall afternoons cutting and splitting firewood with my older brother. I must say that I didn't care for the process at all. It was hard work, and I have much respect for people that carry on the time-honored tradition. I learned quickly that there were certain types of wood you wanted to stay away from. Oak was one of them. Now, I am ashamed to say that I didn't pay close attention when collecting tree leaves for science class, but I always knew when I was trying to split a piece of oak. As a matter of fact, when I would come across a piece of oak, I preferred to skip over it. Oaks are strong and stately trees and no fun at all to split. The March Southeastern purchasing managers index (PMI) report, released on April 6, reminded me of my ill-fated attempts to split oak. It is one tough piece of wood.
The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI to track regional manufacturing activity. The Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University produces the survey, which analyzes current market conditions for the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The PMI is based on a survey of representatives from manufacturing companies in those states and analyzes trends concerning new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery times, and inventory levels. A reading above 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.
The March Southeast PMI's overall index declined slightly from February, falling 2.5 points to 58.0 (see the chart). However, the index has remained above the 50 threshold for expansion 14 out of the last 15 months. It also averaged a solid 58.0 during the first quarter.
- The new orders subindex fell 6.6 points to 56.9.
- The production subindex decreased 2.9 points compared with the previous month and now reads 61.8.
- The employment subindex declined 9.2 to 57.8. The March report indicated that manufacturing payrolls have now grown for 18 consecutive months.
- The supplier deliveries subindex increased 1.2 points to 54.9.
- The finished inventory subindex increased 5.2 points to 58.8.
- The commodity prices subindex rose 4.8 points and now reads 40.2.
Optimism for future production also increased in March. When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, 53 percent of survey participants expected production to be higher going forward, compared with 46 percent in February.
Much of the recent national manufacturing data have been weak. In March, the industrial production report indicated that manufacturing output increased 0.1 percent during February, but output had declined in the previous two months. New orders for core capital goods also declined for the sixth consecutive month in February and the March ISM index, although still indicating expansion, fell to its lowest reading since May 2013. Some analysts believe cold weather and the strong dollar are affecting overall manufacturing activity.
Despite the recent weak national numbers, southeastern manufacturing appears to be holding strong...just like the oak trees I tried to split as a kid. If you've never split wood—and especially a piece of oak—try it sometime. I doubt it will make your top-five list of things to do. Oak is one tough piece of wood.