Ulbrich Economic Update - Number 4 (December 2019)

December 2019 // Economic Update Executive Summary


U.S. MANUFACTURING CONTRACTED FASTER THAN EXPECTED IN NOVEMBER, rekindling worries about the country’s trade wars. It was the fourth-consecutive month of contraction for the ISM manufacturing index. Businesses have reduced production in response to softer demand, especially for exports. A mild recovery in farm exports to China wasn’t enough to offset a broad decline in goods exports.

U.S. job growth increased by the most in 10 months as striking workers returned to GM payrolls and the healthcare industry boosted hiring, the strongest sign yet the economy was not in danger of stalling soon. U.S. services sector activity slowed again amid lingering concerns about trade tensions and worker shortages. Retail sales climbed slightly, driven by higher spending at gas stations and at food and beverage stores. The housing market perked up, with gains in housing starts and existing home sales. U.S. consumer confidence fell for the fourth consecutive month in November. U.S. productivity fell 0.3% in the 3rd Qtr, the first decline in almost four years. The Leading Economic Index slipped 0.1% in October following a 0.2% decline in both September and August.


CHINA’S FACTORY ACTIVITY UNEXPECTEDLY ACCELERATED in November, ending six months of contraction. The Bank of Korea turned downbeat about the South Korean economy. Eurozone manufacturing activity contracted for a 10th straight month in November although the forward-looking indicators indicate a possible rebound. The German economy unexpectedly rebounded in the third quarter, easing fears of a recession that could drag down the rest of the eurozone.

Steel Industry Update

TARIFFS ON STEEL AND ALUMINUM IMPORTS FROM BRAZIL AND ARGENTINA WERE REINSTATED by the U.S.; both nations were accused of devaluing their currencies. ArcelorMittal idled a blast furnace at its Indiana Harbor West mill in East Chicago, as the U.S. steel industry continues to struggle with weak demand. Cleveland-Cliffs will buy AK Steel in a stock deal valued at about $1.1 billion. Output by the major European stainless steel producers from January to September declined by -9% year-over-year.

Metals & Commodities Market Update

NICKEL PRICES LOST MORE GROUND IN THE FINAL WEEK OF NOVEMBER due to concerns over slowing Chinese demand. LME nickel price fell nearly 17% in the past four weeks. The nascent lithium industry has entered its first major downturn with global supply exceeding demand by about 5%. The metal is used to make electric vehicle batteries. The global average of lithium prices is already down more than 50% since the start of 2018. Apple will take delivery of the first batch of carbonfree aluminum produced by a joint venture of Alcoa and Rio Tinto (Elysis) using new smelting technology that emits pure oxygen.

Latest Aerospace Market Developments

BOEING WAS AWARDED A $1 BILLION NATO CONTRACT to upgrade its fleet of AWACS reconnaissance planes. United Airlines is buying 50 Airbus A321XLR jets for flights between the U.S. East Coast and Europe. It is the latest setback for Boeing, which has fallen behind Airbus in their annual contest for orders and deliveries. The U.S. government is pushing into hypersonic weapons in a big way and nanotechnology is key to enabling delivery systems to survive traveling through the atmosphere at ≥ Mach 5.

Automotive Industry Economic Trends

VW WILL BUILD A NEW FACTORY NEXT TO ITS CHATTANOOGA PLANT to assemble battery packs for its upcoming line of battery electric vehicles. About 1,000 jobs are expected to be added to the plant as a result of the $800 million investment. Tesla’s electric pickup called Cybertruck was unveiled in Los Angeles in November. The futuristic, trapezoid-shaped vehicle will use the same 301 stainless steel Tesla’s SpaceX will use for its Starship spacecraft. U.S. total light-vehicle sales were estimated at an annualized rate of 17.5 million in November, a touch better than a year ago. Automakers boosted incentives by 12% per vehicle in November.

Medical Update

INCREASING TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS ASSOCIATED WITH CORONARY STENTS, such as bifurcated stents and use of biodegradable materials, are expected to contribute to a rise in the overall market value. Over $8 billion worth of coronary stents will be sold annually by 2025. The increase over the years will be primarily due to an increase in artery diseases. Glucose monitoring systems maker Dexcom reported third quarter revenue grew by 49% to $396.3 million vs. a year ago.

Energy Sector Trends

THE U.S. SOLAR INDUSTRY LOST 62,000 NEW JOBS AND $19 BILLION IN INVESTMENTS because of tariffs on imported panels imposed two years ago, according to a new report from the U.S. Solar Industries Association. A $10 billion offshore wind-power project in Taiwan demonstrates Asia’s growing presence in a market previously centered in Europe. Japan’s largest power generation company, Jera Co., is in talks to take a 40% stake in Formosa 3, a project to make Taiwan a leading offshore wind producer.

December Innovation

ATOM BY ATOM, SUPERCOMPUTERS SHED LIGHT ON ALLOYS. Trial-by-error alloy development in smelting metals has given way to the use of high-performance computing to micromanage alloy development down to individual atoms. German manufacturing giant ThyssenKrupp has completed a successful, first-of-its-kind demonstration of running a steel furnace completely on hydrogen, a development that is likely to further dent the future prospects for the global coal industry. Sono Motors intends to build the world’s first solar-electric vehicle, one underpinned by a conventionally charged battery and augmented with solar power.

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