Factory, building data predict good year

Americans buying more cars and homes, increasing demand

The Associated PressJanuary 3, 2014 

WASHINGTON — Expectations are rising for a stronger U.S. economy in 2014 after reports Thursday showed solid growth in manufacturing and construction spending at the end of last year.

Factory activity in December stayed near a 21/2-year high. Americans are buying more cars and homes, increasing demand for steel, furniture and other manufactured goods. Manufacturers have boosted hiring to meet that demand and may add jobs at a healthier pace this year.

Builders stepped up spending on home construction in November, despite recent increases in borrowing rates. That suggests many remain confident in the housing recovery.

The economy has had bursts of healthy growth since the recession ended in June 2009, only to be followed by disappointing slowdowns. But many analysts think growth is now more sustainable.

“There was strength in some important sectors of the economy at the end of last year,” Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said. “2014 could be the year where the recovery really starts to gain some ground.”

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said Thursday that its index of manufacturing activity slipped to 57 in December from 57.3 the previous month. But that’s still the second-highest reading since April 2011. Any reading above 50 signals growth. The ISM’s measure increased for six straight months through November.

A measure of new orders rose to the highest level since April 2010. And a gauge of hiring increased to its highest level since June 2011. Indexes of production and manufacturers’ stockpiles fell.

Separately, construction spending rose 1 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $934.4 billion, the Commerce Department said. That’s the highest in more than four years.

Spending on home and apartment construction rose 1.9 percent to the highest level since June 2008. And commercial project spending increased 2.7 percent, led by office, communication and transportation projects.

The reports add to other hopeful signs that 2014 could mark a turning point for an economy that has suffered through fits and starts since the recession ended.

Auto sales reached the highest level in nearly seven years in November. Car makers will report December figures on Friday.

Companies rapidly increased their stockpiles of goods in the July-September quarter, one reason factories have boosted output. That helped push economic growth to an annual rate of 4.1 percent, the best in nearly two years.

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