US manufactured goods sales plunge 17.2% in April

An employee holds up an N95 protective mask at Honeywell International in Phoenix, Arizona, in the US. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - New orders for US manufactured goods cratered in April by 17.2 per cent as the Covid-19 pandemic shut down factories nationwide, the Commerce Department reported on Thursday (May 28).

That decline came after a 16.6 per cent drop in March, taking sales down to US$170 billion (S$240 billion) in April from US$246 billion before the virus hit the world's largest economy.

Excluding transportation, sales fell just 7.4 per cent, according to the data, but transportation orders collapsed by more than 47 per cent after the 43 per cent plunge in March.

Struggling aerospace giant Boeing is a key part of the transportation sector, and reported 31 orders in March and none in April.

Like other manufacturers, Boeing shuttered its factories due to the pandemic but restarted them late last month. However, the company also announced it is slashing its workforce by 10 per cent and reducing production.

Meanwhile, sales of motor vehicles and parts collapsed nearly 52.8 per cent compared to March.

While manufacturing is a much smaller, though still important, part of the services-dominated US economy, it still has a heavy weight in measuring GDP.

"Further evidence of the ravaging damage from the global coronavirus recession was visible" in the data, Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics said in an analysis.

In a separate report, the Commerce Department said US GDP fell 5 per cent in the first three months of the year, slightly worse than the 4.8 per cent drop originally reported, putting an end to a decade of economic expansion.

The report pointed to the collapse in consumer spending, hotels, food service and transportation equipment, as well as exports.

The fall was more dramatic given that the business shutdowns did not start to take effect until the final two weeks of the quarter, and government economists could not separate out the impact of the virus on the data.

But Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said the collapse in the April-June quarter could be as bad as 30 per cent, levels not seen since the Great Depression of the last century.

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