Manufacturing activity in the Fifth District expanded at an unexpectedly strong pace in November, with the Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index rising 18 points from the October reading to 30, the highest it has been since 1993. The thirteenth consecutive monthly expansion exceeded the range of analysts' expectations and was sharply above the consensus forecast of 15.
Strengthening conditions were broad-based, led by shipments, up 24 points at 33, followed by new orders, up 18 at 35, backlog of orders, up 14 at 21 and capacity utilization, up 12 points at 19.
The employment front also mostly showed strength, with the number of employees rising 8 points to 18 and the average workweek reading increasing by 9 points to 17. Wages retreated by 3 points to 21, however, registering the only decline among the current conditions component readings.
Perhaps surprisingly, expectations for the next six months were less optimistic than in October, contrary to what the current conditions would imply. But optimism remains very positive despite these declines, testifying to how extremely high these levels have risen, as expectations of increased shipments fell 10 points to 40, the expected volume of new orders dropped 7 points to 38, and the expected backlog of orders was down 11 points to 15. Only 2 of the expectation components showed increases - wages, up 6 points to 39, and capital expenditures, which rose 5 points to 32.
Price trends and price expectations also showed an unusual contrast between current and expected conditions. Inflation pressures rose moderately, with prices paid increasing to a 2.04 percent annualized rate and prices received to a 1.63 percent rate. But price expectations showed equally moderate declines, falling to a 1.78 percent annual rate for prices paid and a 1.60 percent rate for prices received.
Today's report shows manufacturing activity in the Fifth District bouncing back impressively from October's deceleration, and despite the decline in inflation expectations, a reading that shows manufacturers in the region reporting the best conditions in 24 years gives additional ammunition to Fed hawks.