U.S. business activity cools in mid-December amid COVID-19 resurgence -IHS Markit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. business activity slowed in the first half of December as renewed restrictions to slow a resurgence in new COVID-19 infections hurt the services sector.

FILE PHOTO: A worker pours hot metal at the Kirsh Foundry in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, U.S., April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Timothy Aeppel

Data firm IHS Markit said on Wednesday its flash U.S. Composite PMI Output Index, which tracks the manufacturing and services sectors, fell to a reading of 55.7 early this month from 58.6 in November. A reading above 50 indicates growth in private sector output.

The United States is struggling with a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 infections, with the death toll from the respiratory illness rising above 300,000 on Monday, according to a Reuters tally of official data. Many jurisdictions have re-imposed limits on businesses, while some consumers are avoiding shopping malls, restaurants and bars, undercutting the services sector.

According to IHS Markit, though new orders continued to grow, temporary shutdowns and customer uncertainty weighed on the upturn. It also noted that companies reported a fall in new export sales as renewed lockdowns in key export markets dampened foreign demand.

Supply chain disruptions remained an issue, “with delays more prevalent than at any time since comparable data were available in 2007,” the data firm said.

The moderation in business activity is in line with economists’ expectations for a sharp slowdown in economic growth in the fourth quarter after gross domestic product accelerated at historic a 33.1% rate in the third quarter. That followed a 31.4% pace of contraction in the April-June quarter, the deepest since the government started keeping records in 1947.

Growth forecasts for the fourth quarter are mostly below a 5% rate, reflecting the surging virus and the almost depleted rescue package worth more than $3 trillion.

The survey’s flash composite new orders index fell to 55.1 this month from a reading of 57.5 in November. Its flash services sector PMI dropped to a reading of 55.3 this month from 58.4 in November.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a reading of 55.9 this month for the services sector, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. A measure of new business in the services sector decreased to a reading of 55 from 57.6 in November. The services employment index slipped to a reading of 53.9 from 57.8 in November.

Manufacturing details were mixed. The survey’s flash manufacturing PMI dipped to a reading of 56.5 from 56.7 in November. Economists had forecast the index for the sector, which accounts for 11.3% of the economy, declining to 55.7 in December.

A measure of new orders received by factories fell to a reading of 55.7 from 57.4 in November. But a gauge of factory employment rose to 52.1 from a reading of 51.7 in November.