Industrial production unexpectedly falls as U.S. factories cool

Auto Sales

Automobiles are likely to be a source of strength this year, according to other reports. Cars and light trucks sold at a 15.2 million annual rate in January after 15.3 million in December, data from Ward’s Automotive Group showed. Including November’s 15.5 million rate, auto sales over the past three months have been the strongest in five years.

Today’s Fed report also showed that capacity utilization, which measures the amount of a plant that is in use, declined to 79.1% from a four-year high of 79.3% in December.

Utility output rebounded 3.5% after falling 4.5% the prior month. The figures probably reflected a return to more normal weather after an unseasonably warm December had led to a decline in utility production.

Mining production, which includes oil drilling, decreased 1% after being little changed the prior month.

The breakdown of the manufacturing figures showed a mixed reading last month with computers and metals in addition to autos showing declines, while machinery, furniture and clothing advanced.

Rising Revenue

Deere, the largest agricultural equipment maker, raised its full-year profit forecast and posted quarterly earnings that topped analysts’ estimates. First-quarter revenue from machinery gained 18% in the U.S. and Canada and 2% in the rest of the world, the Moline, Illinois-based company said.

“John Deere has entered 2013 on a strong pace,” Susan Karlix, manager of investor communications, said on a Feb. 13 conference call with analysts. “Our key markets remain in good shape, for the most part, and we’re looking for another solid year. True, our near-term outlook is tempered by uncertainties over fiscal, economic and trade issues. This is hurting business confidence and restraining growth.”

Eaton, an industrial equipment manufacturer, also is poised to gain from improving demand. China’s economy is accelerating while in the U.S., housing and non-residential construction will help drive economic growth, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sandy Cutler said in an interview following Eaton’s quarterly earnings report on Feb. 4.

Obama’s Plans

President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address this week, unveiled proposals to revive manufacturing and create jobs, as falling energy prices in the nation and rising labor costs in China make U.S. producers more competitive. His ideas included efforts to bolster clean energy subsidies, hire hundreds of people to lobby foreign companies to open U.S. plants, end tax breaks to firms that ship jobs overseas, and expand free-trade pacts.

Some recent reports show an improving outlook. The Institute for Supply Management’s factory gauge advanced to a nine-month high of 53.1 in January, exceeding the highest estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Growth in jobs and incomes may help cushion the hit to consumer spending from the higher payroll levy used to pay for Social Security benefits. Starting January, that tax rate returned to the 2010 level of 6.2%, from 4.2%.

Bloomberg News

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