Manufacturing activity picked up in January, an encouraging sign for U.S. growth prospects. Right? Perhaps not as much as it used to be. The shrinking role of factory production in the U.S. economy – now just over a tenth of the nation’s output – means the Institute for Supply Management’s closely watched survey is a less sturdy predictor of broader trends.
It used to be the low-end stuff like shoes, clothes and furniture that displaced American manufacturing, then cars and consumer electronics. A new report by Alan Tonelson, a researcher at the U.S. Business and Industry Council which represents 1,500 American companies, now shows that high-end U.S. industry is facing ever tougher foreign competition in its own backyard.
Ben Bernanke has taken some flack for his argument that “green shoots” of economic activity might lurk around the corner. In one such swipe, Justin Fox of Time Magazine argued that the metaphor is flawed because what we’re really talking about is a moderation of contraction, not growth.