Orders bounce back but makers predict flat start to new year

Posted on 13 Dec 2012

Manufacturers reported an increase orders for the third month running but remain pessimistic about early 2013 output, in the CBI’s latest industrial survey.

Of the 392 manufacturers responding to the latest monthly survey, 18% reported that total order books were above normal and 30% that they were below.

The balance of -12% is nine points higher than November (-21%) and a little higher than the long-run average (-17%) for the first time since September (-8%).

The balance of manufacturers reporting that export orders were above normal was -11%, also above the long-run average (-21%). This meant that last month’s rebound held (-12%) but there was no further improvement in export order books.

Looking ahead manufacturers expect output to be flat for the next three months (0%), an improvement on last month (-9%) but still below the robust growth that was anticipated back in October (12%). Investment goods sectors – especially mechanical engineering and aerospace – are the main drivers of growth, but half of the 12 main manufacturing sub-sectors expect output to fall, including chemicals and electrical engineering.

Meanwhile expectations of output price inflation over the next three months picked by 9 points to 17%, with all but two of the eleven manufacturing sectors reporting an increase. This is the highest anticipated rate of inflation since March (24%).

The food, drink and tobacco sector is the largest driver of the increased inflation expectations by some distance.

With prospects for output weak, firms have kept the level of stocks low for the third-consecutive quarter (6%), well below the long run average (14%).

“December’s survey reports a welcome improvement in manufacturers’ order books and their expectations for output,” said Anna Leach, head of economic analysis at the CBI.

“Even so, they remain hesitant in predicting further output growth and are keeping stock levels low. Conditions in the sector and the wider economy are likely to remain fragile until global conditions improve over the course of 2013.”