- Manufacturing declines for third straight month - The Institute for Supply Management's factory index contracted to 49.6 last month from 49.8 in July, its lowest level since July 2009. Economists are worried that the looming fiscal cliff could deter businesses from spending in the upcoming months. "As I look at this and try to find some rays of sunshine, it's quite difficult," Bradley Holcomb, chairman of the ISM survey, told Bloomberg News on a conference call. "I would characterize this as a sobering picture of U.S. manufacturing right now without any clear signs of immediate improvement."
- Construction spending falls - Construction spending fell 0.9% in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $834 billion, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Economists had expected a 0.5% gain. Private residential construction fell 1.6%, private non-residential construction fell 0.9% and public construction spending fell 0.4%. Compared with July 2011 spending is up 9.3%.
The market gave evidence of that just last Tuesday (Jan. 4) when the major indexes shrugged off other concerns and moved nicely higher in response to a larger-than-expected 0.7% rise in November factory orders, which had been forecast to fall by 0.1% according to a Thomson-Reuters survey of economists. Orders excluding the volatile transportation sector also posted their biggest gain in eight months.
Analysts characterized the numbers as "pointing to underlying strength in manufacturing." That bodes well for the greater economy, since U.S. manufacturers employ nearly 12 million people, or 9% of America's work force, and add $1.6 trillion annually to the U.S. economy, roughly 11% of gross domestic product (GDP).
Over the weekend, the Thai currency, the baht, rose to its highest level since 1997 due to an improved outlook for economic growth and expectations of more investor inflows. A current-account surplus of $5.42 billion this year through July and the fact that the Bank of Thailand has raised its benchmark interest rate twice this year have also helped the baht post the second-best performance among Asia's most-traded currencies excluding the yen.
"There has been quite a lot of demand to buy the baht from offshore, probably from foreigners to buy Thai stocks and bonds," Kozo Hasegawa, a Bangkok-based foreign-exchange trader at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., told Bloomberg News. "Money is flowing into Asia on the region's strong economic outlook."
The rise in the currency has coincided with a 30% advance in Thailand's SET Index since May, when government troops smashed anti-government protests.
I'm talking about Singapore and Thailand.
While the U.S. economy would be really lucky to poke along at a 3% annualized rate this year and next, the fast-growing countries on the other side of the globe are ripping higher.
Regional analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News survey said they see Singapore expanding at a record pace this year of 14.9% due to improving demand for the city-state's exports. That's up from an estimate of 9% published three months ago. Singapore's economy relies on trade, finance and tourism. Its central bank said the surge would be led by a 29% expansion of manufacturing.
Indeed, housing and unemployment continue to weigh on the U.S. economy. But don't panic. Remember that the prospects for a full economic recovery are much better outside the United States, and that it's often good to be greedy when others are fearful.
To find out more about the precarious state of the U.S. economy read on...
Separately, U.S. factory orders fell by more than expected in June from May, and pending home sales continued to plunge as the expiration of a government subsidy for first-time homebuyers depressed housing market activity.
Taken together with the gross domestic product (GDP) data for the second quarter, the latest string of reports shows a U.S. economy that is drawing closer to a double-dip recession.
The HSBC China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index released Sunday showed activity fell to 49.4 in July from 50.4 in June. A reading above 50 signals expansion, indicating manufacturing activity actually contracted for the first time since China's economic recovery began.
The HSBC PMI's reading was the first below 50 since March 2009. Measures of output, orders and export orders all showed contractions. Another measure, the official government PMI released yesterday (Monday), fell to 51.2 in July from 52.1 in June, the third straight month it has declined.
"We're in a moderate slowdown, not a double-dip," Ken Peng, a Beijing-based economist for Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) told Bloomberg News.
Similarly, HSBC Holdings plc (NYSE ADR: HBC) economist Qu Hongbin said China is having a "slowdown not a meltdown" and "there is no need to panic."
And until meaningful hiring takes place, consumers are unlikely to loosen their purse strings, the key to putting the economy back on track to full recovery.
Employment fell in June for the first time this year, reflecting a drop in federal census workers and a smaller-than-forecast gain in private hiring.
Payrolls declined by 125,000 as the government cut 225,000 temporary workers conducting the 2010 census, Labor Department figures in Washington showed. Economists projected a decline of 130,000, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey. Private employers added 83,000 to their payrolls.
But the overall level of factory activity continued to expand, suggesting that manufacturers may be experiencing a return to more normal rates of growth rather than heading for a contraction.
In China, manufacturing growth slowed more than economists had forecast, and a gauge of factory output in the 16-member euro region fell for the second consecutive month, two surveys showed.
Given that the formerly anonymous giant is now at the forefront of the zooming escalation in labor costs that's currently taking place in Mainland China - and given the enormous implications of the inflationary pressures that will result - chances are excellent that Foxconn will have a bigger effect on the world economy this year than even BP PLC (NYSE ADR: BP).
If that weren't enough, China's decision to let the yuan appreciate against the U.S. dollar will actually magnify this impact: If the Chinese currency strengthens, then the yuan-denominated wage increases will have an even-more-inflationary effect on the cost of China-made goods selling at your local Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT).
To understand the "Foxconn Effect" - and to see how to position your investments - please read on...
Individual spending rose for the sixth consecutive month in April, this time by 0.6%, or $36 billion. Personal income was up 0.3%. U.S. gross domestic product climbed at a 3.2% annual rate for the first three months of 2010, and U.S. factory output has risen.
"A lot of manufacturers may be struggling to keep up with demand," Russell Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit, told Bloomberg News. "We're seeing clear demand improvements from both consumers and businesses that should provide a strong tailwind for several months at least."
Personal income jumped 0.3%, or $32.3 billion, in April following a 0.1% rise the month before. The Commerce Department said individual spending rose 0.6%, or $36 billion, last month, the sixth consecutive month spending has increased. Both figures matched estimates from economists surveyed by Briefing.com.
Consumer spending makes up about 70% of the U.S. economy. Economists are keeping a close eye on income and spending because so far, this has largely been a jobless recovery.
That makes a pretty compelling case for what some analysts are calling a "V-shaped" recovery. But even with all the momentum the economic recovery has accrued, that kind of talk may be a bit premature.
The latest figures show factory output is growing at a record rate from the United States to China to Europe and beyond. And as manufacturing expands, economists expect the world's economies to continue to expand, creating jobs and putting money in consumer pocketbooks.
As long as companies have plenty of cash to finance expansion, output from the world's factories should continue to grow, according to Money Morning Contributing Writer Shah Gilani, who recently launched the Capital Wave Forecast, a new trading service based on capital flows.
Recent surveys show U.S. companies are sitting on almost $1 trillion in cash.