In this file photo, a Nissan employee reaches for a seat module to insert into a Titan truck at its Canton, Miss., manufacturing plant. The Federal Reserve reports on production from factories, mines and utilities in January on Feb 15
US factory output drops on weak auto production Minimum wage hike may hurt corporate profits: Obama

WASHINGTON, Feb 15, (Agencies): US factories slowed production in January after two solid months of cranking out goods. The weakness mainly reflected a big drop in output at auto factories that is likely temporary. Manufacturing output fell 0.4 percent in January from December, the Federal Reserve said Friday. The decline followed increases of 1.1 percent in December and 1.7 percent in November. Overall industrial production edged down 0.1 percent in January compared with December. Output In mining, the category that covers oil and gas drilling, fell 1 percent. Utility output jumped 3.5 percent, as a cold snap led more households to turn up their heat. Factory output, the most important component of industrial production, was dragged lower by a steep 3.2 percent decline in auto and auto parts production. The auto industry is coming off its best year for sales in five years, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak manufacturing sector. Sales continue to rise, so production will likely rebound in February.

Still, many factories outside the auto industry have been hurt by a slowdown in consumer spending and weaker global growth that has dampened demand for US exports. Economists expect healthier output in 2013, partly because US companies are sitting on large amounts of cash and appear poised to invest some of it in equipment and machinery. Economies in Europe are also healing, and growth in Asia is expected to improve. “Global growth will still be fairly weak this year, which will prevent industry from firing on all cylinders. But there’s no denying that industrial conditions have recently improved,” said Paul Dales, senior US economist at Capital Economics. While manufacturing output was down in January, analysts noted there were big revisions that made November and December look even better than first reported. For the fourth quarter as a whole, manufacturing output rose at an annual rate of 1.9 percent, a significant improvement from the earlier estimate of a slight 0.2 percent rate.

A second report Friday showed that manufacturing activity in the New York area posted a big gain in February. The New York Federal Reserve’s Empire State survey rose to 10.04 in February, compared with a negative 7.78 in December. It was the biggest one-month improvement in this index in more than two years.
And a closely watched survey released earlier this month suggests overall manufacturing conditions are improving. Manufacturing activity grew last month at the fastest pace since April, according to the Institute for Supply Management. Factories saw growth in new orders, hired more workers and boosted their stockpiles after two months of declines, the survey noted.
Slower growth in stockpiles was a key reason the economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the October-December quarter, the first contraction in 3-1/2 years. Deep cuts in defense spending and fewer exports also contributed to the decline.
Still, economists expect that figure will be revised in the coming months to show a small increase. That’s because December trade data, which wasn’t available when the government calculated its first estimate for fourth-quarter growth, showed solid growth in exports.

President Barack Obama said on Thursday that raising the minimum wage, as he has proposed, might trim corporate profits, but he added that US firms were enjoying robust earnings and needed customers with money to spend. “It might have some modest impact on their profits,” he said in an on-line video question and answer session sponsored by Google+. “But the fact of the matter is, if we’re going to have a society in which we’ve got broad-based prosperity, those same businesses also have to worry about do those customers have money in their pockets.” Corporate profits are at record highs, helped by increases in US worker productivity, Obama said. At the same time, wages and income have remained stagnant, he added. “There are a lot of countries that are competing very well — some of our toughest competitors, countries like Germany for example — who have seen greater wage and income growth,” he said.

Laying out his second-term agenda in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Obama asked Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour from the current $7.25. The wage hike would lift many workers out of poverty and at the same time boost consumer spending, a key component of economic growth, Obama and his aides have said. A woman in the Google+ video session asked how raising the minimum wage would affect her cost of living as companies raised their prices to accommodate the need to pay workers more. The president replied that companies could likely absorb increases in the minimum wage, which last rose over stages between 2006 and 2009, without being put out of business. “Nobody’s going to be getting rich on $9 an hour ... but it could make the difference between whether they can afford to buy groceries or whether or not they are going to a food bank,” Obama said. “And my suspicion is you’ll still be able to get your Starbucks,” he said.

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