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Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Manufacturing output and industry jobs

The CIPS Purchase Managers Index (PMI) was released today, recording a figure of 50.8 in July, up from 47.4 in the previous month. With the PMI index rising above 50 the manufacturing sector is now showing signs that it is starting to grow again, although at a very modest pace.

The manufacturing sector joins the services sector in returning to growth, which recorded results above 50 in both May and June and is forecast to expand again in July.

This should be seen as a positive sign that the economy is now past the worst of the economic downturn and is slowly returning to growth. However, at just above the 50 mark the data is not showing a rapid rebound in activity but a very modest increase in activity. Given that the economy has so far shrunk nearly 6% since the end of the first quarter in 2008, it will take either much stronger growth than this or a very long time indeed to return the economy to where it was in early 2008.

Recent data has also revealed that employment expectations in the manufacturing sector are starting to improve. This is not to say that employment in the sector is expected to grow in coming months, but the rate at which it is falling is set to slow.

Manufacturing in the UK has lost around 150,000 jobs since the start of this economic downturn, but it should be remembered that the sector is in a process of long-term decline. The sector lost jobs throughout the boom years of this decade and since 1980 has seen total employment fall by over 40%.

On the whole, today’s result should be seen as a positive but tentative sign that the economy is starting to improve. The economic environment remains fragile and a smooth transition to normal conditions is unlikely. Nevertheless, should this trend continue, the economic outlook could be better than many economists have been forecasting.

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posted by Carl Malways at

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