Economic Report: Empire State manufacturing index shows only slight activity in March

March 15
21:52 2019

An employee pulls a crucible of molten glass from a Corning Inc. furnace in Corning, New York.

The numbers: The New York Fed’s Empire State business-conditions index fell to a reading of 3.7 in March from 8.8 in the prior month. This is the lowest level in almost two years. Economists had expected a reading of 10, according to a survey by Econoday.

Any reading above zero indicates improving conditions.

What happened: The new-orders index fell 4.5 points to 3 in March. The shipments index slipped 2.7 points to 7.7, its lowest level in more than two years. The index for the number of employees climbed 10 points to 13.8, indicating an increase in employment, but the average workweek turned negative for the first time since 2016. Looking six months out, manufacturers remained fairly optimistic.

Big picture: This is the third monthly Empire State reading below 10, suggesting that growth is quite a bit slower so far this year than in 2018. Last year, the Empire State index averaged 19.8. A slowdown in China’s manufacturing sector was seen as the leading culprit. U.S. manufacturing is slowing; the question is by how much.

Market reaction: Stocks were mixed early Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.60%  , which was lower by about 45 points, has been up in three of the last four trading days.

Greg Robb is a senior reporter for MarketWatch in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @grobb2000.

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