Midwest manufacturers bucked a national slowdown and overcame a tepid Thanksgiving to post robust results for December, according to two key economic reports issued Friday.
The Mid-America Business Conditions Index, which monitors factory progress across Minnesota and eight other central states, rose to 54.4 in December from 51.3 the month earlier.
The progress was cheered by industry watchers who worried that regional manufacturing might face a rough year-end because November activity had slowed.
Any index above 50 signals economic growth, while any index below 50 signals contraction.
"After hovering slightly above [the] growth neutral [index of 50] for the past several months, the index from a survey of supply managers in the region moved back into a more healthy range," said Ernie Goss, report author and director of the Creighton University Economic Forecasting Group.
Creighton's index tracks manufacturing in nine states: Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma.
In Minnesota, the manufacturing index grew to an impressive 61.4 in December from 58.0 in November as new product orders and sales soared and hiring gained momentum. "For 2014, Minnesota's leading industry was fabricated metal production, while its lagging industry was telecommunications," Goss said. "Based on our survey result, I expect Minnesota to add jobs at a solid pace for the first half of the year, with pullbacks in exports restraining growth to a still healthy rate."
The region proved far stronger than the nation for the month.
U.S. factories reported a December index of 55.5, down from 58.7 in November as new orders and production still grew but more slowly, according the national report released Friday by the Institute for Supply Management.
Employment and prices proved bright spots nationally as factories beefed up staff and enjoyed lower raw material costs.
Even so, Bradley Holcomb, chairman of ISM's manufacturing business survey committee, said that supply managers felt mixed about December, "with some indicating that falling oil prices have an upside while others indicated a downside. Other comments mentioned the negative impact on imported materials shipments due to the West Coast dock slowdown."
Eleven of 18 U.S. manufacturing industries grew in December. Growth was largest in printing, metal fabrication, furniture, food, beverage and tobacco, petroleum and coal products, textiles, paper, and "miscellaneous manufacturing."
Declines were seen in plastics and rubber, wood products, machinery, nonmetallic mineral products, chemicals, and computers and electronics.