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Metalworking Industry Growth Ends after 15 Months

The April 2015 Gardner Business Index indicated that the metalworking industry is slowing for the first time since December 2013.

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With a reading of 47.9, the Gardner Business Index showed that the metalworking industry contracted in April 2015 for the first time since December 2013, ending a string of 15 straight months of growth. Also, April brought an end to the small but steady uptrend the industry had been on since September 2014. Compared with April 2014, the index was down 10.8 percent. This was the largest month-over-month decline in the index since April 2013. It was also the fourth straight month the index declined month over month.

After surging in March 2015, new orders contracted for the first time in 18 months. Production expanded for the 19th month in a row, but the increase was the smallest since December 2013. The backlog index has been trending down since March 2014 and in April reached its lowest level since August 2013. Compared with one year ago, the backlog index has contracted at a double digit rate four straight months. The annual rate of growth continues to decelerate, indicating that capacity utilization has seen its peak rate of growth in this cycle. Employment continues to grow, but the rate of growth in 2015 has been generally slower than it was in 2014. Exports have contracted at a constant rate in 2015 due to the relatively strong dollar. Supplier deliveries lengthened at their slowest rate since August 2013, indicating that general manufacturing activity decreased in April.

The material prices index continued to fall. In April, it was at its lowest level since December 2009. Prices received contracted for the first time since April 2014. This April was the first month to record a significant decline in prices received since October 2010. The future business expectations index fell to its second lowest level since September 2013. However, they were at their historical average.

The index fell at facility sizes. Plants with more than 50 employees continued to grow, but the growth was noticeably slower. Generally, the larger the facility, the more the growth slowed. After two months of growth, plants with 20-49 employees contracted significantly. Shops with fewer than 20 employees contracted even faster in April. Both of these smaller plant sizes had their lowest index since August 2013.

Only two of the six regions expanded in April. Both the North Central – West and West regions had an index of 51.0. The North Central – East, Northeast, and Southeast regions switched to contraction from growth. The Northeast has contracted three of the last four months. And, the Southeast recorded an almost 10 point drop in its index in April. The South Central contracted at a similar rate as last month.

Future capital spending plans were hit hard in April. Compared with one year ago, they contracted 37.4 percent in April. That was the seventh straight month they have contracted month over month. The annual rate of change has contracted at an accelerating rate for five months.