The manufacturing sector is back on track – at least for now. Economic activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in September following three straight months of slight contraction, according to the latest Manufacturing ISM Report on Business. The September PMI registered 51.5 percent, an increase of 1.9 percentage points when compared to the August reading of 49.6 percent.
The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent last month, dropping below 8 percent for the first time in nearly four years and giving President Barack Obama a potential boost with the election a month away. The rate dropped from 8.1 percent because the number of people who said they were employed jumped by 873,000 — an encouraging sign for an economy that's been struggling to create enough jobs.
Coming off the biggest quarterly loss in Hewlett-Packard's history, CEO Meg Whitman braced investors for even more trouble ahead as she methodically tries to fix a wide range of longstanding problems. Those challenges will be compounded by a feeble economy that Whitman expects to weaken even more during the next year.
Orders to U.S. factories fell in August from July, mostly because of a sharp drop in volatile aircraft orders. The decline offset an increase in orders that reflect corporate investment plans. The Commerce Department said Thursday that factory orders dropped 5.2 percent in August, the biggest decline in more than three years.
Prices for energy and copper fell Wednesday following the latest signs that China's economy is slowing down. China, which is a huge importer of basic materials, reported that its services sector expanded at a slower pace in September. Days earlier, the country also reported a slowdown in manufacturing.
A private survey shows that U.S. businesses added fewer workers in September than August, a sign that slow growth may be holding back hiring. Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that companies added 162,000 jobs last month. That's below August's total of 189,000, which was revised lower.
Toyota Motor Corp. returned to the top 10 in the Best Global Brands rankings for 2012, seizing top spot among global automakers, a U.S. consulting firm said Wednesday. The Japanese automaker came 10th in the annual rankings, up from 11th in 2011, according to Interbrand Corp., which analyzes global companies' financial data to determine their brand value.
Hewlett-Packard Co. is expecting earnings to fall by more than 10 percent next year as CEO Meg Whitman struggles to fix a wide range of problems in a weakening economy. Whitman delivered the disappointing forecast Wednesday at a meeting that the ailing Silicon Valley pioneer held for analysts and investors.
The U.S. economy is looking more resilient, thanks in part to encouraging signs for the two most expensive purchases most Americans make: cars and homes. Cheap loans and a bounty of fuel-efficient models enticed people to buy new vehicles at a brisk pace last month. And the nation enjoyed another year-over-year surge in home prices in August — a sign that the housing industry is making a sustained comeback.
Ford Motor Co. says its U.S. sales were flat in September as increases in sales of cars and SUVs were weighed down by lower truck sales. General Motors says its U.S. sales rose 1.5 percent last month as a big jump in car sales was offset by falling truck sales.
Chrysler's U.S. sales rose almost 12 percent last month as the company reported its best September in five years. The increase from a year earlier was fueled by new models, low interest rates and a stable U.S. economy, the company said. Its sales chief predicted that September sales for the industry would reach an annual rate of 14.9 million, making it the best month since March of 2008.
Chairman Ben Bernanke offered a wide-ranging defense Monday of the Federal Reserve's aggressive policies to stimulate the still-weak economy. The Fed needs to drive down long-term borrowing rates because the economy isn't growing fast enough to reduce high unemployment, Bernanke said in a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana. The unemployment rate is 8.1 percent.
Prices are higher for industrial metals as positive signs emerged from a batch of global economic news. Copper for December delivery gained 2.75 cents to finish at $3.7855 per pound. Platinum, palladium and silver also rose. The new reports showed that U.S. manufacturing activity improved, overall U.S. construction spending dropped and China's manufacturing activity remained anemic.
The report shows that the optimism this year has fallen from about 62 percent last year to 47 percent on the U.S. economy, and for the world economy, the rating took a bigger plunge. Last year, 50 percent of manufacturers were optimistic and now only 17 percent are.
U.S. manufacturing grew for the first time in four months, buoyed by a jump in new orders and more jobs. The increase is a hopeful sign that the economy may be improving after a weak stretch. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said Monday that its index of factory activity rose to 51.5. That's up from 49.6 in August.
Nissan is offering cheap leases and big discounts on the Leaf because of slow U.S. sales of the all-electric car. Nissan Motor Co. sold only 4,228 Leafs this year through August, almost a third fewer than a year ago. It also has a big inventory of the cars nationwide. At the end of August it had enough 2012 models in stock to supply dealers for 114 days, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.
Manufactured exports—a bright spot of the U.S. economy in recent years—are set to surge. Combined with jobs created as a result of reshoring, higher U.S. exports could add 2.5 million to 5 million jobs by the end of the decade, as manufacturers shift production from leading European countries and Japan to take advantage of substantially lower costs in the U.S., according to new research by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
The top-performing stock among automakers in the U.S. this quarter is General Motors. The company, which endured management upheaval during the quarter and announced that it would lose substantial cash in Europe, saw its shares rise almost 18 percent from July through late September. The gain was the best since the first quarter of this year, when the stock climbed about 23 percent. GM posted strong profits in that period.
Japan's manufacturing contracted further in August, dropping 1.3 percent from the previous month on weakening auto and electronics output, as anti-Japanese riots in China darkened an already bleak outlook for both economies. Data released Friday also showed core consumer prices, excluding food, continued to fall last month in another sign that Japan, the world's third-biggest economy, remains in the doldrums.
Shares of Research in Motion Ltd. popped Friday after the BlackBerry maker's results in its fiscal second quarter weren't quite as awful as investors had feared. But analysts cautioned that RIM is still struggling in the increasingly competitive mobile market. The Canadian company posted another large quarterly loss and its BlackBerry smartphone shipments shrunk 30 percent to 7.4 million in the quarter ended Sept. 1.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits plunged 26,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 359,000, a hopeful sign for the job market. It's the lowest level of weekly applications in nine weeks. The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 4,500 to 374,000. That's the first drop in six weeks.
Sergio Marchionne thinks Europe's carmakers can only survive if they reduce their enormous overcapacity together, rather than retreating behind national borders to find piecemeal solutions. Marchionne wants the European Union to coordinate continent-wide restructuring because when individual countries get involved, they only save plants on their home turf and end up injecting money to prop up hometown companies.
China's biggest steelmaker has closed a mill in Shanghai due to lack of demand in a new sign of the country's economic malaise as companies and investors look for signs of a long-awaited rebound in growth. Baosteel Group said Thursday it was closing the facility in Shanghai's Luojing district to avoid mounting losses amid weak demand for steel plate.
Europe's carmakers could be forgiven for worrying that the slogan for this year's Paris Auto Show, "The Future, Now", is a threat of more hardship to come rather than a promise of prosperous times. Across the region, car sales are in their fifth straight year of decline and lots and factories are filling up with unsold cars.
Metals prices were tugged in opposite directions Tuesday by conflicting signals about the economy. Copper and platinum rose slightly. Palladium and silver, which can be traded as an industrial metal, fell. The price of oil, which often mirrors industrial metals, slipped to its lowest point in nearly two months in New York trading.