Census Bureau data showed the U.S. manufacturing sector posted reasonably solid gains in March.
Shipments, up seven consecutive months, increased $8.6 billion or 2.2 percent to $395.6 billion; this followed a 0.4 percent February increase. Shipments have returned almost to the midpoint between the peak of July 2008 and the trough of May 2009.
Shipments of manufactured forest products rose as well: Solid wood increased 2.1 percent between February and March, while paper products increased 2.6 percent.
Inventories, up five of the last six months, increased $1.5 billion or 0.3 percent to $500.7 billion; this followed a 0.7 percent February increase. The inventories-to-shipments ratio was 1.27, down from 1.29 in February.
Wood and paper manufacturers bucked the prevailing trend and reduced their inventories by, respectively, 0.5 and 0.3 percent. Despite the uptick among solid wood manufacturers earlier in the year, the forest products sector appears to be in the midst of a secular trend of declining inventories.
New orders for manufactured goods in March – up during 11 of the last 12 months – increased $5.0 billion (1.3 percent) to $391.5 billion. This followed a 1.3 percent February increase. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 3.1 percent.
New orders for manufactured durable goods in March, down following three consecutive monthly increases, decreased $1.0 billion or 0.6 percent to $178.7 billion, revised from the previously published 1.3 percent decrease. New orders for manufactured nondurable goods increased $6.0 billion or 2.9 percent to $212.8 billion.