December 15, 2008 / 2:21 PM / 11 years ago

Factories and industry show more weakness

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States confronted more grim economic news on Monday, with manufacturing taking another hit and home builder sentiment remaining mired at historic lows.

Sparks fly as robots work on frames on the assembly line where the 2008 Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator's are produced at the Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, Michigan August 26, 2008. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

A gauge of manufacturing in New York State hit a record low in December, the New York Federal Reserve said. The report also showed a record drop in a key price gauge that will heighten concerns over tumbling demand.

The survey of manufacturing plants in New York state is one of the earliest monthly guideposts to U.S. factory conditions, and was followed by a report that showed nationwide manufacturing as well as overall industrial output slid in November.

“The manufacturing sector is mired in recession,” Steven Wood, chief economist at Insight Economics in Danville, California, said in a research note.

U.S. home builder sentiment held steady at a record low in December as deepening economic turmoil, a deteriorating job market, and a flow of foreclosed homes onto the market continued to hurt market conditions, an industry group said.

The National Association of Home Builders said its preliminary NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index was 9 in December, unchanged from November when it reached its lowest level on record since being launched in January 1985.

The one silver lining to Monday’s reports was that most of them were not as bad as depressed expectations on Wall Street, except for the report on homebuilder sentiment, which was in line with the median forecast in a Reuters survey of economists.

Long-dated U.S. Treasuries, which generally benefit from weak economic conditions, rose on the day and tested session highs after the homebuilder sentiment data. Stocks added to their losses.

The New York Fed’s “Empire State” general business conditions index fell to minus 25.76 in December from minus 25.43 in November. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a December reading of minus 27.25.

Overall, conditions “deteriorated significantly,” in December, the report said.

The prices paid component turned negative, charting a record monthly drop, falling to minus 7.45 in December from 20.48 in November.

The data comes a day before the government releases consumer price data for November.

Economists expect it to show prices fell for the third time in four months, on a monthly basis, which will stoke concerns that the United States is in the early stages of a deflationary trend of declining prices, wages and overall economic activity.

The Federal Reserve will also announce its latest interest rate decision on Tuesday. Markets expect it to cut the target for its key overnight federal funds rate by half a percentage point, taking it to 0.5 percent.

Employment in the Empire State report contracted again in December but at a less severe rate than the previous month.

SPARE CAPACITY

U.S. industrial production slipped by a slightly less-than-expected 0.6 percent in November and was a bit stronger the month before than previously thought, Federal Reserve data showed.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.7 percent decline in November after a revised rise of 1.5 percent in October.

November’s manufacturing output decline of 1.4 percent reversed a 0.6 percent gain in October. Compared with November 2007, industrial output was down 5.5 percent, the Fed said.

Capacity utilization shrank to 75.4 percent in November from 76.0 percent the month before, previously reported as 76.4 percent. It had been forecast by economists to edge down to 75.7 percent in November. Manufacturing capacity usage decreased to 72.3 percent, the lowest level since April 2002.

Manufacturing slack has grown since the economy entered a recession last year after the collapse of the country’s housing market. This sparked a global credit crisis that has hammered consumer and business confidence and withered spending.

Net capital inflows into the United States surged to $286.3 billion in October, from a revised inflow of $142.6 billion in September, the Treasury Department said.

October’s capital inflows were more than enough to cover the month’s trade deficit of $57.2 billion. The inflows came during a period when investors’ aversion to taking risks led them to pile into U.S. Treasuries and other safe-haven assets.

Reporting by Alister Bull in Washington; Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss, Julie Haviv and John Parry in New York; writing by Burton Frierson in New York, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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