Employees operate sewing machines at the Ferrara Manufacturing Co. clothing factory in the Garment District of New York, U.S. (Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg)

Richmond Fed Factory Gauge Falls Most Ever as Shipments Drop

(Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s manufacturing gauge fell by a record as shipments and new orders weakened, the fourth district bank factory index to drop this month and the latest evidence that President Donald Trump’s trade war is becoming a greater headwind for U.S. producers.

The Richmond Fed said Wednesday that its measure of factory activity across a swath of the eastern U.S. fell to minus 8, missing all economist estimates in a Bloomberg survey projecting an increase to 15. Levels greater than zero signal growth. The 22-point drop from the prior month was the most in data going back a quarter century.

Richmond Fed Factory Gauge Falls Most Ever as Shipments Drop

Other recent data showed the Kansas City Fed’s index of manufacturing in the district fell to a two-year low in December. The New York Fed’s Empire State survey and Philadelphia’s report are the lowest in more than 18 months.

The survey, which covers the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and most of West Virginia, comes amid rising concern about tariffs from companies. FedEx Corp. plunged the most in a decade last week as a dimmer view of shipping services demand outside the U.S. prompted it to slash its profit forecast and pare international air-freight capacity. Caterpillar Inc. and 3M Co. have also warned about higher materials prices.

While Richmond’s main gauge can be volatile from month to month, the component tracking shipments tumbled to its lowest in almost a decade. The measure of new-order volumes slipped to a two-year low, while inventory levels of finished goods and raw goods both rose.

In the Fed’s most recent Beige Book compilation of anecdotal accounts from district banks, published Dec. 5, Richmond highlighted that “tariffs were a significant concern noted by manufacturers, as they were believed to raise costs of raw materials, thereby raising prices and lowering demand.”

Economists also are projecting a fifth Fed manufacturing index to retreat this month. The Dallas reserve bank’s Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey, due for release on Dec. 31, will decline to an 18-month low of 17, according to Bloomberg’s survey, from 17.6 in November.

The factory data follow another weaker reading Wednesday on the world’s largest economy. S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller data showed housing prices in 20 U.S. cities slowed in October for a seventh consecutive month, extending the longest streak since 2014, a sign of waning demand amid higher mortgage rates and elevated property values.

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