Machine tool orders cool; largest 3-month total in 20 years
USMTO October 2018
Graph courtesy of AMT - USMTO

Machine tool orders cool; largest 3-month total in 20 years

The $4.5 billion year-to-date sum is up 24% from the same 10 months in 2017 and bodes well for a strong finish to 2018.

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U.S. manufacturing technology orders totaled $467 million in October 2018, capping a three-month total of $1.6 billion since August 2018. That sum represents the largest three-month total since April 1998. The $4.5 billion year-to-date sum is up 24% from the same 10 months in 2017 and bodes well for a strong finish to 2018, according to the latest U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders (USMTO) report from AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology. The three-month run overshadowed the 23% decline in October orders from September and slim 2% increase over October 2017.

“IMTS always creates a September jump in orders but the strength of October and August punctuates that the market is buying for current capacity need, not speculation on future business,” says AMT President Doug Woods. “Right now, manufacturing technology orders are rapidly expanding without apparent concern for trade issues or evolving market conditions because our customers face enormous opportunities now.”

Every region posted lower order levels in October over September. Still, the year-to-date growth in orders remains strong. The Northcentral East posted the smallest gain over 2017 year-to-date at 12%. The improvement in orders reflects larger capital spending by the off-road and highway construction sector as well as some significant investment by the medical equipment sector. The Southeast region has been typically been the fastest growing region over the past several years. However, the Northcentral West region is up 36% through the first 10 months of 2018 over 2017, growing 1% faster than the Southeast. The Northcentral West’s growth is in large part due to power generation equipment, aerospace, medical and a couple of significant orders in the construction and highway equipment industry.

This is the time of year that users of manufacturing technology typically scramble to put new equipment in service for tax purposes. AMT members report that need, not tax issues, are dominating quotations and inquires in November and December. This is a testament to the stability that tax reform has brought to the investment process for businesses of all sizes. Members are enthusiastic about the opportunities that current quotes and inquires are likely to yield by year’s end.

“In September, our members were concerned about getting precision components. Today, the major challenges are scheduling trucks for delivery and riggers for installation before the end of the year,” notes Pat McGibbon, vice president, AMT Strategic Analytics.

Most of the key indicators are very strong. Durable goods orders in October were down from September and August, but $249 billion is above the average over the past 12 months. Consumer confidence was down slightly in November, while the Institute for Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers’ Index was higher. These indicators suggest continued growth in manufacturing at slower rates. It is very encouraging that with the significant increase in capital spending on capacity, capacity utilization rates continue to creep upward.