Pentair executives didn’t use the words “industrial recession” in adopting a newly pessimistic outlook as they announced quarterly results last week. But if what they did say got trans­lat­ed into or­di­nary Eng­lish, it comes out as “in­dus­trial cus­tom­ers right now don’t seem to want to spend any more mon­ey on the kind of things we sell.”

That sure sounds like a re­ces­sion.

What Cred­it Suisse an­a­lyst Jul­ian Mit­chell found in­ter­est­ing a­bout this is that Pentair got into this in­dus­trial slump later than some of the oth­er in­dus­trial com­panies his re­search team fol­lows, some of which have been strug­gling to get any sales growth for nearly 2 years. “Our fore­casts as­sume that Pentair or­gan­ic sales de­cline for three con­sec­u­tive quar­ters, be­fore flat­ten­ing out in [the se­cond quar­ter of 2017], which may prove op­ti­mis­tic,” Mit­chell add­ed, in a note to in­ves­tors.

Pentair — which provides products and systems used worldwide in the movement, storage and treatment of water — re­mains nice­ly prof­it­a­ble and only trimmed ex­pec­ta­tions rath­er than slash­ing them. Exec­utives ex­plained how in a nor­mal year, cus­tom­ers spend more as the end of the year ap­proach­es, using up the re­main­ing cap­i­tal budg­et and mak­ing sure planned pro­jects get done by the end of De­cem­ber. Based on what’s hap­pened so far this fall, the com­pany now thinks there’s no rea­son to ex­pect that to hap­pen this year.

Pentair, for­mal­ly based in the Unit­ed Kingdom but run out of Golden Valley, also has seen cus­tom­ers de­lay spend­ing even on main­te­nance and re­pair items. That’s the kind of thing com­panies do only when they ex­pect their own busi­ness trends to wor­sen.

“There are some ­de­fer­rals, there are push-outs into ’17,” said Rusty Zay, seni­or vice president for the A­mer­i­cas for Golden Valley-based Ten­nant Co., an­oth­er man­u­fac­tur­er cau­tious a­bout sales growth from in­dus­trial cus­tom­ers. “Or cap­i­tal ­budg­ets just be­come tight­er, and there­fore the ap­prov­al proc­ess … just takes long­er.”

For those won­der­ing why eco­nom­ic growth has mostly been bump­ing along at a­bout 2 percent an­nu­al­ly rath­er than 3 or 4 percent as it has in past, here we’ve got one big part of the ex­pla­na­tion.

The stor­ies told by Pentair and oth­ers are re­flect­ed in the eco­nom­ic data, too. The lat­est news was of rel­a­tive­ly strong quar­ter­ly eco­nom­ic growth, but or­ders for dur­able goods also got an­nounced last week, show­ing a de­cline in Sep­tem­ber. Or­ders that ex­clude air­planes and de­fense pur­chas­es — the clos­est thing ec­ono­mists have to un­der­stand­ing the pur­chas­ing be­hav­ior of busi­nes­ses — de­clined 1.2 percent in Sep­tem­ber.

“This dur­able re­port re­af­firms a long-stand­ing trend of lack­lus­ter busi­ness in­vest­ment,” said Sti­fel Financial e­con­o­mist Lindsey Piegza in a note last week to Sti­fel cli­ents. “De­spite heal­thy bal­ance sheets, cor­po­ra­tions are hesi­tant to in­vest in e­quip­ment, struc­tures or high-wage, full-time em­ploy­ees.”

We’ve long heard that it’s the con­sum­er now push­ing the ec­on­omy for­ward, and that’s cer­tain­ly still ac­cu­rate. From 1970 to 2010, manu­fac­tur­ing as a share of U.S. eco­nom­ic out­put de­clined from just un­der a quar­ter to not quite 13 percent. A sim­i­lar tran­si­tion has gen­er­al­ly been hap­pen­ing all over the globe, as the glo­bal ec­on­omy moves into the in­for­ma­tion age.

But what busi­nes­ses spend on new build­ings and e­quip­ment still plays a large role in eco­nom­ic growth. In look­ing at the history of busi­ness cy­cles, busi­nes­ses u­su­al­ly start cut­ting back on cap­i­tal spend­ing be­fore the broad­er ec­on­omy slips into re­ces­sion.

It’s easy to see how that works. I­mag­ine a man­u­fac­tur­er’s CEO look­ing over a pes­si­mis­tic new fore­cast of 2017 sales just be­fore step­ping into a meet­ing to go over the next year’s cap­i­tal spend­ing budg­et. When the ex­ec­u­tive team em­er­ges two hours later, the cap­i­tal budg­et that’s going to go to the board of di­rec­tors for ap­prov­al is now only 75 percent of what was in the draft budg­et earli­er that day.

A lot of oth­er busi­nes­ses are count­ing on get­ting a piece of that 2017 spend­ing budg­et. When they catch wind of this plan to spend less, they have to bring down their own 2017 sales fore­casts, too. Then their CEOs have to tell the ex­ec­u­tive team to cut their own 2017 cap­i­tal budg­ets.

As this con­tinues to rip­ple out to oth­er sup­pli­ers and their sup­pli­ers, it doesn’t take long be­fore jobs start to dis­ap­pear.

As dif­fi­cult as it’s been for some in­dus­trial com­panies to get any growth, though, it’s no time to pan­ic. There are al­ways parts of the ec­on­omy not doing well, in­di­vid­u­al in­dus­tries or even whole re­gions of the coun­try. Man­ag­ing a big com­pany well takes a port­fo­li­o ap­proach, where the hope is always that sev­er­al mar­kets are boom­ing if an­oth­er one is slump­ing.

Ten­nant is a mak­er of floor-clean­ing e­quip­ment a­mong oth­er pro­ducts, and sales to e­quip­ment rent­al com­panies have been a bright spot, Zay said. Growth also has come from mar­kets like ed­u­ca­tion and health care. He called last week from a big trade show in Chi­ca­go for build­ing man­ag­ers, jan­i­to­ri­al serv­ice pro­vid­ers and oth­ers in what could be called the com­mer­cial mar­ket, and he de­scribed the buzz on the exhibition floor as sound­ing op­ti­mis­tic.

As for the in­dus­trial mar­ket, Zay said, “right now we con­tin­ue to see glo­bal un­cer­tain­ty.”

Pentair re­spond­ed to ques­tions in an e-mail, and one of the points an ex­ec­u­tive made was that it doesn’t ex­pect the cur­rent slump in or­ders for main­te­nance and re­pair items to last very long.

The ana­lysts fol­low­ing Pentair seem to think that in 2017 the com­pany would be luck­y to get any sales growth at all, as­sum­ing no ac­qui­si­tions, with sales growth re­sum­ing in 2018. Hope­ful­ly by the time Pentair and oth­er manu­fac­tur­ers climb out of their in­dus­trial re­ces­sion, the A­mer­i­can con­sum­er is still will­ing to spend.

If not, we won’t be talk­ing a­bout any­thing oth­er than a regu­lar re­ces­sion.