Auto manufacturing boosts US industrial production

WASHINGTON — US industrial production increased 0.4 per cent in November with manufacturing receiving a boost from a rebound in output at auto plants after three months of declines.

The Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that the November gain in industrial output followed an even stronger 0.9 per cent increase in October. Even with the gains, industrial output is still about 5 per cent below its level in February before the pandemic hit.

Manufacturing was up 0.8 per cent in November, its seventh consecutive monthly gain, with last month’s increase boosted by a rebound in auto production. Production of motor vehicles and parts rose 5.3 per cent, the biggest monthly increase since a 31 per cent surge in July. However, after that jump following spring lockdowns, auto production fell in August, September and October.

Output in the mining sector, which includes oil and gas production, rose 2.3 per cent while utility output fell 4.3per cent, a decline that reflected unseasonably warm weather in November.

U.S. industry operated at 73.3 per cent of capacity in November, still below the pre-pandemic rate of 76.9 per cent in February.

“There are huge swaths of excess capacity throughout the US economy that will make it difficult for firms to raise prices,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “That in turn will keep inflation below the Federal Reserve’s 2 per cent objective for the next couple of years, allowing the central bank plenty of leeway to keep interest rates extremely low to support the ongoing economic recovery.”

The Fed, holding its last meeting of the year, was expected to announce Wednesday that it is keeping its policy rate at a record low level of 0 per cent to 0.25 per cent to help the economy recovery from the pandemic. Many economists do not look for the Fed to start raising rates until 2024 at the earliest.

Michael Pearce, senior US economist at Capital Economics, forecast continued gains in production even as the country endures a new surge in virus cases.

“With firms starting to rebuild lean inventories over recent months, we suspect production with continue to rise even as consumption drops back in the face of new virus restrictions over the coming months,” he said.