U.S. Manufacturing Report Fuels Recovery Doubts

An industry report issued Monday showed manufacturing is down to the weakest level since July 2009. The manufacturing employment index was far weaker than it had been in recent months, and that may suggest bad news is coming Friday, when the Labor Department releases its monthly employment report.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A lousy manufacturing report sent U.S. stock prices lower yesterday and reinforced worries about the economy.

NPR's Chris Arnold has more.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Earlier this year, manufacturing was actually an unexpected bright spot for the economy. It created more than 150,000 jobs over the past year. But in the past few months, growth has slowed. And a major report this week showed that manufacturing right now is just barely growing at all.

Mr. CHAD MOUTRAY (Chief Economist, National Association of Manufacturers): There's a lot of uncertainty out there. And I think, you know, quite frankly, the debt ceiling conversation didn't help.

ARNOLD: That's Chad Moutray, the chief economist at the National Association of Manufacturers. In recent months, he and many other experts have blamed disruptions from the Tsunami in Japan for a big part of the slow-down. But Nigel Gault with IHS Global Insight says now...

Mr. NIGEL GAULT (IHS Global Insight): We're really beyond the point where we can attribute weakness to the tsunami. So it's very worrying that the signs are that manufacturing is still getting worse.

ARNOLD: Both Moutray and Gault say that all this debt ceiling anxiety has been definitely been one of the things hurting consumer confidence. And when consumers get nervous, they tend to buy less stuff, fewer lawn-mowers or dishwashers or houses.

Mr. GAULT: Consumer spending was growing at around 4 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of last year. The second quarter of this year, it was almost at a standstill.

ARNOLD: So Gault says that's a big reason that manufacturing growth has just about ground to a halt.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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