KEY DATA: ISM (Manufacturing): +1.6 points; Orders: +4.7 points/ Construction: -0.1%; Private: -0.4%; Residential: -0.5%
IN A NUTSHELL: “The strong (manufacturing) keep getting stronger while the weak (construction) keep getting weaker.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The first readings on November activity are starting to come out, led by a solid rise in manufacturing activity. The Institute for Supply Management’s index rose more than forecast as orders surged. Hiring and production also accelerated. Still, more workers and more output didn’t keep order books from fattening at an increased pace, which is good news for future production. Maybe the best news was that the pressure on input prices, though still rising sharply, are not nearly as great as they had been.
Once again, the construction data came in soft. Overall construction spending fell slightly in October and the entire decline was in the private sector. The government continues to spend on all sorts of things but businesses have become quite conservative. Private residential activity was off moderately. That is hardly a surprise as the other housing numbers have been fading. There were some sectors in the private sector that did improve. Spending on offices, commercial buildings and educational facilities rose solidly.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: There was nothing surprising or even new in today’s reports. Manufacturing is strong while construction is weak. Investors know all that so there should be little reaction to these data. The focus of attention is back on trade. The 90-day “truce” between China and the U.S. was good news, but hardly a surprise. It was in the best interests of both nations to put off a full-fledged shooting war until it was clear nothing else could be done. And the Chinese are notorious for pushing into the future any decision they don’t want to make. The Chinese need time to restructure their supply chain. While there may be some short-term gains for the U.S. from any agreement, they come on top of short-term losses. Net-net, there may not be much improvement in the situation. It is the long run that is most concerning. If you run a business (or government) and your main supplier becomes undependable, you have not choice but to start looking at expanding your suppliers. To do anything else would be irresponsible. It may take a little while for the Chinese to get other countries to shift agricultural production to meet the Chinese needs, but they are starting that process. And buying more soy products at the bottom of the market is hardly a bad thing either. But once the alternative suppliers are in place, the U.S. farmer is likely to suffer as both sales and prices could decline. So, look past the deals headlines and think about the details and the implications for the future. I would be surprised if any U.S.-China trade deal has significant long-term benefits for either county. Let’s face it; the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal was hardly a major breakthrough. Indeed, when many analysts indicate the dairy industry will be the biggest winner, it looks like it is more puff than pastry. But we can always hope that is not the case with any new U.S.- China deal. Indeed, we have to hope there is at least some agreement as the alternative would be a disaster.