U.S. Manufacturing Expanded at Slower Pace in December

Workers make pipes used for drilling at a factory in an industrial area in Mumbai

Growth in manufacturing and services slowed more than initially reported last month, weighed down by public protests in France, Germany's continued struggles in the vehicle industry and renewed weakness in Italy.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit final U.S. Manufacturing PMI posted 53.8 in December, down from 55.3 in November. Factory growth in the euro-area fell to the lowest in nearly three years. Survey respondents commented on less favourable demand conditions, particularly in the energy sector. Sentiment was curbed by uncertainty relating to Brexit, trade frictions and the slowdown in the automotive industry.

New jobs were created at the slowest rate in almost three and a half years in December, suggesting that political uncertainty is starting to feed through into businesses' hiring decisions. This partly reflected a stagnation in export sales. The growth in output was linked to greater new order volumes.

In spite of a moderate increase in backlogs in December, the pace of job creation eased to an 18-month low.

The U.S. manufacturing sector growth saw a slower momentum in December; however, it is still a solid rebound in the sector's health.

"Employment growth is already faltering as firms took a more cautious approach to hiring".

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Although down from November's reading of 56.5, the latest figure was equal to the average PMI for 2018, which is also the highest for any calendar year since the survey began in 2011. The ECB has halted quantitative easing but pledged to keep rates at record lows until at least after the summer, and the BoE has warned of a potential economic meltdown in a no-deal Brexit.

Manufacturing gauges across the world's largest economies stumbled at the end of past year, starting 2019 with fresh challenges for global growth and central banks.

Services and Composite PMIs for the two largest euro zone economies, Germany and France, also declined in December, coming below all forecasts in a Reuters poll. There was an alleviation of pressure on supply chains at the end of 2018, with lead times for manufacturing inputs lengthening to the least marked extent since April 2017.

This situation reflects in part the ongoing trade tensions between the USA and China.

The services industry plays a vital role in driving economic growth in the United Kingdom, but the sector has shown 'worrying signs of having lost steam amid intensifying Brexit anxiety, ' Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit Chris Williamson said.

"Quebec was a notable outperformer in December as manufacturing conditions improved at the fastest pace for four months".

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