November Supply Managers’ Manufacturing Index and October Construction

KEY DATA: ISM (Manufacturing): -0.5 percentage point; Orders: +0.6 percentage point/ Construction: +1.4%; Public: +3.9%

IN A NUTSHELL: “Manufacturing continues to surge and with government construction picking up, it looks like fourth quarter growth will be quite solid.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Can we get another quarter of 3% growth? The recent data point to that possibility. The Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Index edged down in November, but that is hardly a concern. The index level remains high so a modest decline is not anything of consequence. Production soared and with new orders continuing to expand strongly and order books fattening, the output gains should continue. As a result, firms are hiring solidly.   Basically, there was little in this report that would point to a manufacturing slowdown.

Construction activity jumped in October, which really should not have surprised anyone. There is a lot of both public and private rebuilding that has to be done to repair the mess made by the hurricanes that hit Houston and Florida. Just about every component of the report was up strongly but the eye-opener was the surge in public sector activity. That points to a rise in government spending, if as expected, these gains will be sustained. On the private side, a pop in office construction points to growing confidence that the expansion will continue and that firms are willing to build for future employment needs.    

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Most of the data we have been getting indicate the economy is in really good shape. It looks like November vehicle sales may have been somewhat sluggish, but some issues with some data may delay the final reading. The vehicle numbers are important because they were artificially high in September and October due to hurricane replacements. A slowdown was expected, but given the robust October sales pace, we could still see vehicles add to growth this quarter. But for traders, it is all about the tax bill. Regardless of what is passed and its impact or lack thereof on long-term growth, it will create a 2018 sugar high. And since investors worry about the next quarter, the passage of a tax cut bill should be greeted joyously, even if the likelihood of that happening is already being priced in. The Fed is meeting on December 12,13 and at this point, it would be a shock if there weren’t a rate hike. That would occur even if the November jobs number, which is released next Friday, were weak. I expect that to be the case. If tax cuts hype the economy and inflation starts accelerating, more will be coming next year. Assuming a tax bill is passed, my belief is that new Fed Chair Powell will steer four more hikes through the FOMC if there is any rise in inflation. Without accelerating inflation, we should still expect three more increases next year.