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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.


November 19, 2015

Southeastern Transportation: Tapping the Brakes?

Em_trade_transportation

The Atlanta Fed's Trade and Transportation Advisory Council met on October 6 at the Jacksonville Branch to discuss economic conditions in the industry. According to a majority of council members, transportation activity has been affected by slowing of exports resulting from tepid global demand, a stronger dollar, and increased inventory levels. Although the European economy appeared to be doing better, the slowdown in China was having an impact on every key global market.

Council members reported seeing growth in inventory-to-sales, which reduced customers' needs for transportation services, and most members perceived the extra inventory as a result of slower sales rather than from overpurchasing or hedging against future price increases.

Employment and labor markets pose continuing challenges
Finding appropriate labor in logistics at all levels continues to be a challenge. Issues negatively affecting recruiting include failing substance abuse tests, experience and education gaps, and difficulty attracting talented youth into the sector. As these issues continue, domestic trucker and qualified mechanic availability remains a concern.

Costs, prices paint a mixed picture
Driver shortages continued to plague the industry, and persistent increases in driver pay have not alleviated the problem. Demand for talent has been pushing wages up for professional levels as well. However, some reported different types of pressure that are causing turnover and recruitment challenges. For example, younger workers expect flexibility, access to technology, and scheduling autonomy, conditions that are difficult to accommodate in businesses that require a specific work schedule.

Declines in fuel costs were reportedly keeping overall nonlabor costs steady by offsetting increases in other input costs. Increases in insurance premiums and an uptick in equipment costs were examples of upward pressure on costs. Congestion at West Coast ports was cited as a cause for an increase in nonproductive operating costs.

Regarding pricing power, rail continued to see strong pricing power as capacity remains tight across other modes of transportation. For others, the softening of the economy has dampened the ability to raise prices. Therefore, pricing power is limited, and increases engender considerable customer pushback. The majority of council members, however, expect to be able to increase rates one year out and beyond, though opportunities could become limited if the economy does not continue to improve and fuel prices do not rebound.

International trade plays a regional role
The appreciation of the dollar has continued to exert downward pressure on exports. The economic slowdown in China, the larger Asia-Pacific region, and Latin America (specifically, the recession in Brazil and ongoing economic turmoil in Venezuela) is substantially affecting air trade. However, these markets have not had a material impact on some transportation businesses such as rail since exports' direct exposure to the Chinese economy is limited.

Over the horizon...
Although the overall message from this council meeting was one of decelerating activity, the majority of council members anticipate the same level of growth during the next three to six months, and they expect the same or higher level of activity during the next two to three years.

Topping the list of challenges for the industry down the road are the lack of drivers, finding and retaining quality/qualified labor, and a tighter regulatory environment, which may exacerbate the driver shortage in the coming years. Council members said long-term strategic planning and capital investments in ports and highway infrastructure will be necessary to continue to meet demand.

By Sarah Arteaga, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch

September 17, 2015

Southeast Manufacturing Slows in August

Em_sp_manufacturing

Southeast manufacturing activity had been fairly sturdy this year, according to the Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI). The PMI averaged a healthy 56.2 reading from January through July and, with the exception of one subpar month, new orders and production levels had been robust. However, the latest report indicated that factories pumped the brakes in August. According to the August report, new orders and production both slowed significantly.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI to track manufacturing activity in the region. The Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University produces the survey, which examines 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. An index reading above 50 indicates that activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.

The overall PMI declined 5.5 points from July and now stands at 48.8 (see the chart). The August report marks the first month the overall index has been below the 50-point threshold since November 2014. The most disconcerting aspects of the report centered on the month-over-month declines in the new orders, production, and employment subindexes.

  • The new orders subindex fell 7.1 points from July to a reading of 49.1.
  • The production subindex dropped 15.2 points from the previous month to a reading of 49.1.
  • The employment subindex declined 6.3 points to a reading of 50.0, which indicates no change in employment levels at Southeast factories.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex increased 3.6 points to 50.9.
  • The finished inventory subindex decreased 2.7 points to 44.6.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell 10.7 points and now reads 34.8.

Southeast-purchasing-managers

On its own, the fall in the Southeast PMI is nothing to get too worked up about. Historically, the Southeast PMI subindexes are prone to volatile month-over-month fluctuations. Still, there are other factors to consider. For instance, the August national PMI index fell to its lowest reading in more than two years, and the August employment report indicated that the U.S. economy shed 17,000 manufacturing jobs. It's also possible, if not probable, that the strong U.S. dollar coupled with weak global demand is dragging down U.S. exports and reducing demand from domestic manufacturers.

No matter the cause, other aspects of the Southeast and national economy appear strong. We'll be monitoring the developments and hoping for some acceleration in the near future.

By Troy Balthrop, senior analyst with the Regional Economic Information Network at the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

July 16, 2015

Southeast Manufacturing Rebounded in June

The Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) report, released on July 5, showed that manufacturing activity in the Southeast rebounded from a less-than-spectacular May. If you'll recall, May's PMI reading was heading in the wrong direction. The overall index had fallen to its lowest level this year, and new orders and production also appeared to be falling, but June's Southeast PMI got us back on the right track.

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. An index reading above 50 indicates expanding activity, and a reading below 50 indicates contracting activity.

The PMI index rose 2.7 points in June to 55.1 from May's 52.4 (see the chart). Most of the subindexes indicated positive movement as well, particularly new orders and production.

  • The new orders subindex rose 9.3 points to 55.3, after falling into contractionary territory in May.
  • The production subindex increased 8.9 points compared to the previous month and now reads 57.9.
  • The employment subindex declined 3.0 to 57.0.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex decreased 3.4 points to 52.6.
  • The finished inventory subindex increased 1.6 points to 52.6.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell 1.4 points and now reads 52.6.

Se-purchasing-managers

The rise in the overall index is welcome news, but even more welcome are increases in the new orders and production subindexes. The new orders subindex is the most forward-looking indicator in the survey. When new orders fall, it generally suggests that future demand for manufacturing products may be weakening and future production may be lower. As a result, employment levels at manufacturers could also decline. It would normally take several months of subpar activity for this to occur, and a one-month drop is nothing to get excited about. Still, it is always nice to rebound quickly. June's report will hopefully set the stage for a strong third quarter.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

June 17, 2015

Southeast Manufacturing Dips in May

National manufacturing activity hasn't been particularly strong so far this year. It hasn't been particularly horrible mind you, but there hasn't been much to get excited about, either. Southeastern manufacturing activity—until recently—has been a different story. The Southeast purchasing managers index (PMI) and the Institute for Supply Management's national index both indicated that southeastern activity had been outpacing national activity in each of the first four months of 2015. I hate to throw cold water on the strong numbers, but according to the latest PMI report, released on June 5, that trend may be reversing.

The Atlanta Fed’s research department uses the PMI to track manufacturing activity in the Southeast. The survey, produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University, 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 contracting activity.

The Southeast PMI has averaged a 57.9 reading so far in 2015, compared with a 52.4 for the national index. However, the May Southeastern PMI's overall index fell 5.2 points from April to 52.4, clocking in below the national index for the first time in four months (see the chart).

Se-purchasing-managers

The index remained above the 50 threshold for expansion, but the subindexes of the May report contained some disconcerting numbers:

  • The new orders subindex fell 11.0 points to 46.0.
  • The production subindex decreased 16.0 points compared with the previous month and now reads 49.0.
  • The employment subindex declined 1.0 to 60.0.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex increased 3.0 points to 56.0.
  • The finished inventory subindex decreased 1.0 points to 51.0.
  • The commodity prices subindex rose 9.0 points and now reads 54.0.

The 11-point fall in the new orders subindex was discouraging since it is the most forward-looking indicator of future activity. The new orders subindex has seen large one-month fluctuations in the past. For instance, it fell 27 points last December only to rebound 23.4 points the following month. So it could be a one-month aberration. Let's hope so. The 16-point fall in the production subindex was also an abnormally large fall, but—like new orders—it has happened before. Optimism for future production also decreased from April to May. When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, only 38 percent of survey participants expected production to be higher going forward, compared with 46 percent in April. The good news is that the employment subindex registered a strong reading, which is a good indication that manufacturers are still adding to their payrolls. So even though production outlooks have come down, firms still seem to expect that they will need employees to work more hours in the future, which could be a good sign for employment.

We should remember that the overall index still indicated expansion in manufacturing. Hopefully, as the summer heats up, so will manufacturing activity. I hate to throw cold water on our hot streak, but this time of year, a little cold water can feel good.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

November 19, 2015

Southeastern Transportation: Tapping the Brakes?

Em_trade_transportation

The Atlanta Fed's Trade and Transportation Advisory Council met on October 6 at the Jacksonville Branch to discuss economic conditions in the industry. According to a majority of council members, transportation activity has been affected by slowing of exports resulting from tepid global demand, a stronger dollar, and increased inventory levels. Although the European economy appeared to be doing better, the slowdown in China was having an impact on every key global market.

Council members reported seeing growth in inventory-to-sales, which reduced customers' needs for transportation services, and most members perceived the extra inventory as a result of slower sales rather than from overpurchasing or hedging against future price increases.

Employment and labor markets pose continuing challenges
Finding appropriate labor in logistics at all levels continues to be a challenge. Issues negatively affecting recruiting include failing substance abuse tests, experience and education gaps, and difficulty attracting talented youth into the sector. As these issues continue, domestic trucker and qualified mechanic availability remains a concern.

Costs, prices paint a mixed picture
Driver shortages continued to plague the industry, and persistent increases in driver pay have not alleviated the problem. Demand for talent has been pushing wages up for professional levels as well. However, some reported different types of pressure that are causing turnover and recruitment challenges. For example, younger workers expect flexibility, access to technology, and scheduling autonomy, conditions that are difficult to accommodate in businesses that require a specific work schedule.

Declines in fuel costs were reportedly keeping overall nonlabor costs steady by offsetting increases in other input costs. Increases in insurance premiums and an uptick in equipment costs were examples of upward pressure on costs. Congestion at West Coast ports was cited as a cause for an increase in nonproductive operating costs.

Regarding pricing power, rail continued to see strong pricing power as capacity remains tight across other modes of transportation. For others, the softening of the economy has dampened the ability to raise prices. Therefore, pricing power is limited, and increases engender considerable customer pushback. The majority of council members, however, expect to be able to increase rates one year out and beyond, though opportunities could become limited if the economy does not continue to improve and fuel prices do not rebound.

International trade plays a regional role
The appreciation of the dollar has continued to exert downward pressure on exports. The economic slowdown in China, the larger Asia-Pacific region, and Latin America (specifically, the recession in Brazil and ongoing economic turmoil in Venezuela) is substantially affecting air trade. However, these markets have not had a material impact on some transportation businesses such as rail since exports' direct exposure to the Chinese economy is limited.

Over the horizon...
Although the overall message from this council meeting was one of decelerating activity, the majority of council members anticipate the same level of growth during the next three to six months, and they expect the same or higher level of activity during the next two to three years.

Topping the list of challenges for the industry down the road are the lack of drivers, finding and retaining quality/qualified labor, and a tighter regulatory environment, which may exacerbate the driver shortage in the coming years. Council members said long-term strategic planning and capital investments in ports and highway infrastructure will be necessary to continue to meet demand.

By Sarah Arteaga, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch

September 17, 2015

Southeast Manufacturing Slows in August

Em_sp_manufacturing

Southeast manufacturing activity had been fairly sturdy this year, according to the Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI). The PMI averaged a healthy 56.2 reading from January through July and, with the exception of one subpar month, new orders and production levels had been robust. However, the latest report indicated that factories pumped the brakes in August. According to the August report, new orders and production both slowed significantly.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI to track manufacturing activity in the region. The Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University produces the survey, which examines 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. An index reading above 50 indicates that activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.

The overall PMI declined 5.5 points from July and now stands at 48.8 (see the chart). The August report marks the first month the overall index has been below the 50-point threshold since November 2014. The most disconcerting aspects of the report centered on the month-over-month declines in the new orders, production, and employment subindexes.

  • The new orders subindex fell 7.1 points from July to a reading of 49.1.
  • The production subindex dropped 15.2 points from the previous month to a reading of 49.1.
  • The employment subindex declined 6.3 points to a reading of 50.0, which indicates no change in employment levels at Southeast factories.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex increased 3.6 points to 50.9.
  • The finished inventory subindex decreased 2.7 points to 44.6.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell 10.7 points and now reads 34.8.

Southeast-purchasing-managers

On its own, the fall in the Southeast PMI is nothing to get too worked up about. Historically, the Southeast PMI subindexes are prone to volatile month-over-month fluctuations. Still, there are other factors to consider. For instance, the August national PMI index fell to its lowest reading in more than two years, and the August employment report indicated that the U.S. economy shed 17,000 manufacturing jobs. It's also possible, if not probable, that the strong U.S. dollar coupled with weak global demand is dragging down U.S. exports and reducing demand from domestic manufacturers.

No matter the cause, other aspects of the Southeast and national economy appear strong. We'll be monitoring the developments and hoping for some acceleration in the near future.

By Troy Balthrop, senior analyst with the Regional Economic Information Network at the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

July 16, 2015

Southeast Manufacturing Rebounded in June

The Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) report, released on July 5, showed that manufacturing activity in the Southeast rebounded from a less-than-spectacular May. If you'll recall, May's PMI reading was heading in the wrong direction. The overall index had fallen to its lowest level this year, and new orders and production also appeared to be falling, but June's Southeast PMI got us back on the right track.

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. An index reading above 50 indicates expanding activity, and a reading below 50 indicates contracting activity.

The PMI index rose 2.7 points in June to 55.1 from May's 52.4 (see the chart). Most of the subindexes indicated positive movement as well, particularly new orders and production.

  • The new orders subindex rose 9.3 points to 55.3, after falling into contractionary territory in May.
  • The production subindex increased 8.9 points compared to the previous month and now reads 57.9.
  • The employment subindex declined 3.0 to 57.0.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex decreased 3.4 points to 52.6.
  • The finished inventory subindex increased 1.6 points to 52.6.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell 1.4 points and now reads 52.6.

Se-purchasing-managers

The rise in the overall index is welcome news, but even more welcome are increases in the new orders and production subindexes. The new orders subindex is the most forward-looking indicator in the survey. When new orders fall, it generally suggests that future demand for manufacturing products may be weakening and future production may be lower. As a result, employment levels at manufacturers could also decline. It would normally take several months of subpar activity for this to occur, and a one-month drop is nothing to get excited about. Still, it is always nice to rebound quickly. June's report will hopefully set the stage for a strong third quarter.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

June 17, 2015

Southeast Manufacturing Dips in May

National manufacturing activity hasn't been particularly strong so far this year. It hasn't been particularly horrible mind you, but there hasn't been much to get excited about, either. Southeastern manufacturing activity—until recently—has been a different story. The Southeast purchasing managers index (PMI) and the Institute for Supply Management's national index both indicated that southeastern activity had been outpacing national activity in each of the first four months of 2015. I hate to throw cold water on the strong numbers, but according to the latest PMI report, released on June 5, that trend may be reversing.

The Atlanta Fed’s research department uses the PMI to track manufacturing activity in the Southeast. The survey, produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University, 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 contracting activity.

The Southeast PMI has averaged a 57.9 reading so far in 2015, compared with a 52.4 for the national index. However, the May Southeastern PMI's overall index fell 5.2 points from April to 52.4, clocking in below the national index for the first time in four months (see the chart).

Se-purchasing-managers

The index remained above the 50 threshold for expansion, but the subindexes of the May report contained some disconcerting numbers:

  • The new orders subindex fell 11.0 points to 46.0.
  • The production subindex decreased 16.0 points compared with the previous month and now reads 49.0.
  • The employment subindex declined 1.0 to 60.0.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex increased 3.0 points to 56.0.
  • The finished inventory subindex decreased 1.0 points to 51.0.
  • The commodity prices subindex rose 9.0 points and now reads 54.0.

The 11-point fall in the new orders subindex was discouraging since it is the most forward-looking indicator of future activity. The new orders subindex has seen large one-month fluctuations in the past. For instance, it fell 27 points last December only to rebound 23.4 points the following month. So it could be a one-month aberration. Let's hope so. The 16-point fall in the production subindex was also an abnormally large fall, but—like new orders—it has happened before. Optimism for future production also decreased from April to May. When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, only 38 percent of survey participants expected production to be higher going forward, compared with 46 percent in April. The good news is that the employment subindex registered a strong reading, which is a good indication that manufacturers are still adding to their payrolls. So even though production outlooks have come down, firms still seem to expect that they will need employees to work more hours in the future, which could be a good sign for employment.

We should remember that the overall index still indicated expansion in manufacturing. Hopefully, as the summer heats up, so will manufacturing activity. I hate to throw cold water on our hot streak, but this time of year, a little cold water can feel good.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch