Dave Huether, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, today takes up the question of whether the "glimmers of hope" in the economy are starting to help U.S. manufacturers. The answer, looking at the March government industrial production report: not really. But the good news is that the rate of decline is not as steep as it was in January and February. The manufacturing sector contracted 1.7 percent in March, Huether wrote on NAM's shopfloor.org blog. This is the fifth consecutive monthly decline for manufacturing. For the first quarter of 2009, manufacturing output fell at an annual rate of 22.4 percent, the largest quarterly decline in 34 years. Huether added:
Just two (motor vehicles and apparel & leather goods) of the major 19 manufacturing sectors posted gains in production in March, clearly showing that most of manufacturing remains in recession. On a more positive note, the 1.1 average percent decline over the past two months is less than half of the 2.5 average percent decline during the prior three months, signaling that the worst of the decline may be over. To that point, the first quarter decline in output was driven mainly by the dramatic 2.7 percent decline in January.Production of machinery, computers and electronics, electrical equipment, and aerospace -- which Huether calls "the backbone of U.S. exports" -- all fell in March.