Midwest manufacturing conditions sank to their lowest levels in three years in November amid trade wars, drooping sales and anemic hiring, but they were still better than the country as a whole.
The Mid America Business Conditions Index, a widely watched Creighton University report that tracks manufacturing conditions in Minnesota and eight other central states, fell into negative growth territory for the third time in four months. November's index slumped to a worrisome 48.6 from 52.6 in October.
Any index below 50 signals economic contraction, so economists were not excited to see November's decline -- especially after conditions appeared to have rallied in October following disappointing indexes in August and September.
"Slow global growth and trade skirmishes and wars are negatively affecting growth among manufacturers in the region," said Ernie Goss, director of Creighton's Economic Forecasting Group. Minnesota's index slipped to a tepid 50.9 in November from 51.3 in October.
The Institute of Supply Management reported a national index of 48.1, down from 48.3 in October. Bloomberg reported that Wall Street was expecting a bump up to 49.4. Of concern was weakness in inventories and new orders, which is a predictor of future conditions.
The markets were down widely on the news, as well as President Donald Trump's announcement that he would raise tariffs on steel and aluminum from Argentina and Brazil and his reiteration that if talks with China break down tariffs on that country would rise as well.
The nine state region -- which also includes the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma -- suffered one of its worst employment declines in years and saw significant declines in new orders, overall sales, and imports during the month.
Factory heads and supply managers reported in surveys that they continue to be hurt by the inability to find new workers to hire. Goss said the region lost jobs at a pace of 0.1% for the year, while U.S. manufacturing as a whole saw job growth of 0.04%.
The Midwest factory managers also said that the trade war with China and uncertain trade policies with Mexico and Canada have affected business and boosted price tags of supplies needed to operate their factories. It also affected their ability to sell abroad.
Regional export orders in November plunged to an index of 39.1 from 44.7 in October.