The Federal Reserve said that manufacturing production fell 0.3 percent in August, pulling back from being flat in July and declining for the first time since May. We have seen a lot of volatility in the output data for the manufacturing sector since the spring—essentially seesawing from month to month since March. This has meant that production has grown been less than we would have desired or expected, especially given the more-robust outlook seen in other data sources. In the August data, though, the main culprit was Hurricane Harvey, which the Federal Reserve estimates reduced production by 0.75 percent in August.
Yet, even with that weakness, the longer-term trend for output among manufacturers has been encouraging. Over the course of the past 12 months, manufacturing production has risen 1.5 percent. It was the tenth consecutive positive year-over-year reading for manufacturing output and definite progress from decline of 0.6 percent year-over-year seen in August 2016. Similarly, manufacturing capacity utilization decreased from 75.6 percent in July to 75.3 percent in August. Utilization rates have trended lower since peaking at 75.9 percent in April, but capacity continues to exceed the 74.7 percent rate seen at this time last year.