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美国经济正驶向衰退?特朗普的支持者也开始担忧了

Erik Sherman 2019年09月16日

美国采购经理人指数(PMI)8月跌至49.1,为2016年1月以来的最低水平。

特朗普上台以来,CNC Machines公司一直在过好日子。

这家位于佛罗里达州的私营公司主营全新和二手数控金属制造设备,主要客户是美国中小企业,也包括初创企业和财富500强企业。

“这个行业相当保守,”首席执行官科特·多尔蒂说,“大选结束后,行业信心一飞冲天。人们不再像以前那么担心。他们开始愿意花钱招人。”

以及购买设备。但是,往年夏天的行业淡季却变持续下去,成为常态,他自己的信心也开始崩溃,这让多尔蒂想起了2008年。“9月到年底的行情通常会大涨,”他说,“但现在只有正常水平的一半。”他们的竞争对手也表示面临同样的情况。

整个制造业都在放缓,衡量制造业实力的采购经理人指数(PMI)8月跌至49.1,为2016年1月以来的最低水平。低于50被认为是行业萎缩的迹象,对整体经济的影响可能更大。

美国制造业可能正在衰退,该行业雇佣了近1300万美国人,而且薪资水平还不错。

制造业对美国私营部门的重要性超乎寻常。根据美国经济分析局(Bureau of Economic Analysis)的数据,私营企业为美国经济每创造7美元,就有近1美元来自制造业。

制造业是美国经济的一大引擎,力量相当可观。“的确,制造业要经历长期深度下滑才会拖垮整体经济,但他们确实可以做到。”TS Lombard首席美国经济学家史蒂夫·布里茨表示,“要知道,正是制造业带领美国走出了(2008年)衰退。”

受影响的不只是美国制造业。全球制造业都面临压力。8月,中国制造业的PMI指数降至49.5。与此同时,欧元区制造业的PMI为47,该地区最强经济体德国的PMI指数为43.5。

三个因素对美国制造业的影响尤其显著。第一个因素众所周知——关税,关税正在推高来自中国的零部件和原材料的成本。“按照我们目前征收的关税来看,如果你的利润和大多数制造商一样微薄,你或许可以暂时消化这些关税,”负责计算美国PMI指数的美国供应管理协会(Institute for Supply Management)的首席执行官汤姆·德里表示,“很多迹象表明,很多公司都想这么赌一把。但现在征税商品的数量增加了,关税水平也提高了,这种操作就不可行了。”

德里发现,许多企业都在试图将供应渠道拓展至中国以外,但这种转变可能要拖上18到24个月,才有可能对公司经营产生明显影响。对于许多年销售额小于等于10亿美元的中型制造商来说,打破供应链实在太浪费时间了。

排在第二位的是疲软的全球经济——不仅是中国和德国,还有那些农业和建筑业发达的国家。“这对迪尔公司(John Deere)和其他类似公司来说可不是好兆头,”德里说。

最后,经济放缓以及世界其他地方的负利率促使投资者前往美国寻求避风港以及更高的回报率,这对美国公司在国外的直接投资造成了伤害。资本流动推高了对美元的需求,使得美国公司相较于全球竞争对手的竞争力下降。例如,CNC的海外订单已经开始枯竭。

“其他产品可以替代(美国货),”德里说,“你可以从欧洲供应商那里购买类似的设备。我们可能是搬起石头砸了自己的脚。”

观察衰退时,PMI并非唯一指标。例如,美联储的制造业产出指数在2018年12月至2019年7月下降了1.5%以上。“我们现在看到的是全球制造业生产整体放缓。”克莱姆森大学经济学教授、系主任斯科特拜尔说,“(截至2019年5月),工业生产增长约2%,恰好是一年前增速的一半。有迹象表明,经济正在放缓,所以我们预计就业率会下降。”

对于CNC来说,这就像一下子回到了2008年。“现在还早,所以我不知道历史是否会重演,”多尔蒂说,“上一次用了一年半到两年的时间。我们必须重新恢复创造力,努力开辟新的渠道。”

他对经济不会长期低迷抱有希望。“我们为此祈祷。”多尔蒂说,“但我们也会坚持下去,怀抱最好的希望。”(财富中文网)

译者:Agatha

Up until now, the Trump years have been good ones for CNC Machines.

The privately-owned Florida company sells new and used computer-controlled metal manufacturing equipment, mostly to small and mid-sized U.S. companies, but also to startups and members of the Fortune 500.

"The industry is pretty conservative," said CEO Curt Doherty. "After the election, confidence skyrocketed. People weren't as afraid. They were willing to spend money and hire employees."

And buy equipment. But his own confidence began to fizzle when a usually seasonal summer slowdown turned into an ongoing rut, one that reminds Doherty of 2008. "September through the end of the year, we usually see a huge uptick," he said. "We're seeing about half of what's normal." His competitors are telling him the same thing.

The entire manufacturing sector is seeing a slowdown, with the August Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), an indicator of manufacturing strength, falling to 49.1, the lowest since January 2016. Below 50 is considered a sign of contraction for the sector, and maybe worse for the economy as a whole.

American manufacturing may be in decline, but the sector employs nearly 13 million Americans and the wages are decent.

Manufacturing has out-sized importance to America’s private sector. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, nearly one out of every seven dollars the sector generates for the economy comes from manufacturing.

Manufacturing is an engine with impressive power. "It takes a really deep and longer decline in manufacturing to pull down the overall economy, but you can get there," says Steve Blitz, chief US economist at TS Lombard. "Remember, it was manufacturing that led the country out of the [2008] recession."

It's not just U.S. manufacturing that's hurting. Global activity in the sector has been under pressure. In August, China's manufacturing PMI slipped to 49.5. Meanwhile, the manufacturing PMI for the Eurozone was 47, with that of Germany, the region's strongest economy, at 43.5.

Three factors in particular are squeezing American manufacturing. The first is well known – tariffs, which are driving up costs of components and materials from China. "With the tariffs we've imposed, if your margins are pretty tight, and for most manufacturers they are, you could absorb them temporarily," said Tom Derry, CEO of the Institute for Supply Management, which calculates the U.S. PMI numbers. "We saw a lot of indications that companies were making that bet. Now that the number of goods has increased, and the level of the tariffs has gone up, that's no longer operable."

Derry has seen many companies trying to diversify their supply links beyond China, a switch that can drag on for 18-24 months before it has any noticeable impact on the business. For many mid-sized manufacturers, ranging up to $1 billion in sales, that’s just too much of a time-dump to bother with tearing up the supply chain.

Second on the list is the weakening global economic picture—not just China and Germany, but those with major agricultural and construction activity. "It doesn't bode well for John Deere and companies like that," Derry said.

Finally, slowing economies and negative interest rates elsewhere in the world have sent investors to the U.S. in search of safety and better returns, putting the hurt on direct foreign investment abroad. The movement of capital drives up demand for dollars, making American companies less competitive to their global rivals. CNC, for one, has seen overseas orders dry up.

"There are alternatives [to U.S. products]," Derry said. "You can purchase similar equipment from European suppliers. We may have shot ourselves in the foot."

For recession-watchers, PMI isn’t the only indicator to consider. The Federal Reserve's measure of manufacturing output, for example, has fallen more than 1.5% between December 2018 and July 2019. "What we're seeing now globally is a slowdown of manufacturing production," said Scott Baier, a professor of economics and department chair at Clemson University. "Industrial production has grown about 2% globally [as of May 2019], which is exactly half the rate a year ago. There are indications that the economy is slowing down, so what we'd expect to see is a dip in the hiring rate."

For CNC, it's like a time warp—straight back to 2008. "It's early, so I don't know if it's going to be the same yet," Doherty said. "That last one was over a good year and a half to two-year period. We have to go back to being creative again, figuring out new channels."

He's hopeful a long downturn is not in the cards. "We've got our fingers crossed," Doherty said. "But we'll hold on tight and hope for the best."

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