Purchasing managers’ indices and the global economy
- The global manufacturing industry suffered a deceleration in activity in April, according to the latest purchasing managers’ indices (PMIs) from IHS Markit. In fact, growth of activity in the global industry hit the lowest level since August 2020, largely due to a sizable lockdown-related slowdown in China.
PMIs are forward-looking indicators meant to signal the direction of activity in the manufacturing industry. They are composed of sub-indices such as output, new orders, export orders, employment, pricing, inventories, pipelines, and sentiment. A reading above 50 indicates growing activity; the higher the number, the faster the growth—and vice versa.
The global PMI fell from 52.9 in March to 52.2 in April, the lowest since August 2020. The deceleration was driven by an absolute decline in output and a deceleration in new orders and employment. In addition, the global sub-indices for input and output prices indicated an acceleration of inflation in April, likely the result of disruption from the war in Ukraine as well as lockdowns in China. Of the 20 countries analysed, the highest PMIs were in the Netherlands, United States, Australia, Austria, and Canada. The lowest PMIs were in China, Mexico, Myanmar, Taiwan, and Brazil. Only China and Mexico had PMIs below 50 indicating declining activity.
The most notable PMI report came from China. There, the manufacturing PMI fell from 48.1 in March to 46.0 in April, a level indicating a rapid decline in activity and the lowest PMI since the start of the pandemic. The sub-index for output fell at the steepest pace since February 2020 when China was largely locked down. It fell from 49.5 in March to 44.4 in April. There was also a sharp decline in new orders, dropping from 48.8 in March to 42.6 in April. Export orders fell to the lowest level since June 2020. In addition, the time it takes for inputs to be delivered to manufacturers increased sharply, indicating renewed supply chain trouble. Some companies reported the cancellation of orders due to difficulty in producing and transporting products. Despite this, there was an increase in backlogs.
All these difficulties were entirely due to the imposition of severe restrictions on activity meant to quell transmission of the virus, including the severe lockdown in Shanghai, China’s financial hub. Although survey respondents indicated optimism over the long-term, they also expressed concern about how long current restrictions would last. This remains unknown.
The troubles in China, as well as the war in Ukraine, led to a sharp decline in the manufacturing PMI for neighbouring Taiwan. There, the PMI fell from 54.1 in March to 51.7 in April, a level indicating modest growth in activity. The sub-indices for output and employment indicated a decline. The sub-index for new orders showed no direction while the sub-index for export orders declined sharply. Only the sub-indices for delivery times and inventories improved. The health of Taiwan’s manufacturing sector is a good indicator for the global technology industry. The decline in Taiwan’s PMI shows how the lockdowns in China are affecting this key industry.
The lockdowns in China also affected Japanese manufacturing, but not as much. Japan’s manufacturing PMI fell from 54.1 in March to 53.5 in April. This indicates a healthy rate of growth. Output was mostly unchanged as were new domestic orders. However, export orders dropped sharply, mainly due to the situation in China. That, and the war in Ukraine, added to supply chain disruption. The survey found a sharp decline in business confidence among Japanese manufacturers.
Growth of manufacturing activity remains strong in the United States and Europe, although there was a sizable deceleration in Europe in April. In the eurozone, the manufacturing PMI fell from 56.5 in March to 55.5 in April, a 15-month low but still a number indicating strong growth. The decline in the eurozone was largely due to supply chain disruption which led to soaring input prices and shortages. This was especially true in Germany which saw a very sharp decline in its PMI to a 20-month low. German automakers have been disrupted by lack of access to components made in Ukraine. France, Italy, and Spain faced less difficulty. Although the overall PMI for the eurozone remained healthy, the sub-index for output showed no increase in production.
Finally, the US manufacturing sector performed well in April. The manufacturing PMI increased from 58.8 in March to 59.2 in April, the highest level in seven months and one indicating rapid growth in activity. Evidently, the United States has not been as badly affected by events in Ukraine and China as other parts of the world. In April, there was strong growth of output, new orders, export orders, employment, and business confidence. Markit commented that “demand from consumers and businesses is proving encouragingly robust despite severe inflationary pressures, which intensified further during April.” Markit concluded that growth of economic activity in the second quarter is likely to be good, even as inflation gets worse.
- The latest purchasing managers’ indices (PMIs) for services in major countries demonstrates that the pattern of growth in this industry is hugely influenced by how governments react to the pandemic. Economic restrictions prevent people from going to restaurants and theaters, while easing of restrictions has the opposite effect. In China, the services PMI fell to the second lowest level on record in April, indicating a collapse in activity largely due to the various lockdowns that are currently in place. In the eurozone, however, the continued removal of government restrictions led to an acceleration in services activity in April, with the eurozone services PMI at 57.7, an eight-month high and a level reflecting rapid growth in activity. In the United States, growth of services remained strong but declined somewhat, hitting 55.6 in April, following a rapid surge in March. In India, services activity grew very rapidly following further removal of restrictions. The April PMI was 57.9.
Let’s focus on China. The services PMI for China fell from 42.0 in March to 36.2 in April, the second lowest on record and a level indicating a catastrophic decline in activity. This was entirely due to lockdowns that limited mobility and production. The sub-indices indicate a decline on both the demand and supply side of the services industry. There was a decline in output and a severe decline in new orders. Travel restrictions meant a paucity of export orders. Employment fell modestly and backlogs of work increased as the pandemic had a negative impact on supply chain efficiency. Input prices were up but output prices fell. The latter meant that service enterprises, facing limited demand, were compelled to cut prices in order to attract sales. Interestingly, the sub-index for business sentiment was positive, meaning that businesses were optimistic that the current crisis will ultimately pass. Meanwhile, the weakness of both the services and manufacturing PMIs (the latter was 46.0 in April) bode poorly for GDP growth in the second quarter.