Businesses in the U.S. expanded in January at the fastest pace since July 1988, indicating the world’s largest economy has momentum at the start of the year.
The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago Inc. said today its business barometer rose this month to 68.8 from 66.8 in December. Figures greater than 50 signal expansion, and economists projected the gauge would slip to 64.5, based on the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.
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Orders, production and employment increased as manufacturers such as Catepillar Inc. benefited from a pickup in consumer purchases and stronger export markets in emerging economies such as China. Consumer purchases in the final three months of 2010 were the strongest in more than four years, figures last week showed.
Estimates from 41 economists for the Chicago purchasers’ index ranged from 60 to 71.3, according to the Bloomberg survey.
Data today from the Commerce Department showed Americans’ spending rose more than forecast in December. Household purchases increased 0.7 percent, while incomes gained 0.4 percent for a second month, the figures showed.
Stocks held gains after the reports and Treasuries fell. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.5 percent to 1,282.74 at 11:07 a.m. in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note increased to 3.35 percent from 3.32 percent late on Jan. 28.
The Chicago group’s production gauge rose to 73.7 from December’s reading of 72.2. The gauge of new orders increased to 75.7, the highest since December 1983, from 71.3. The employment measure rose to 64.1, the strongest since May 1984, from 58.4 the prior month.
Economists watch the Chicago index and other regional manufacturing reports for an early reading on the outlook nationally. The Chicago group says its membership includes both manufacturers and service providers, making the gauge of measure of overall growth. Its members have operations across the U.S. and abroad.
Other measures of regional manufacturing have shown strength in January. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Jan. 18 said manufacturing expanded in that region this month, and the Philadelphia Fed said two days later that factories grew for a fourth month.
Automakers are seeing sales pick up. Car purchases in December rose to a 12.53 million unit annual pace, the highest since August 2009, from 12.3 million in November, industry data showed this month.
The ISM’s monthly national factory index, due tomorrow, was probably little changed at 58 in January after 58.5 the prior month. A reading above 50 signals expansion.
A pickup in consumer demand, which accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, could add to gains in manufacturing. The Commerce Department reported last week that household purchases rose at a 4.4 percent pace in the fourth quarter, the fastest in more than four years, while the economy grew at a 3.2 percent rate.
Consumers may further ramp up spending as they benefit from an $858 billion bill extending all Bush-era tax cuts for two years. The legislation also extended the window for expanded unemployment insurance benefits through 2011, trimmed payrolls taxes and included accelerated tax depreciation for equipment purchases.
The manufacturing industry, which accounts for about 11 percent of the economy, has been at the forefront of the economic recovery that began in 2009.
Caterpillar, the world’s largest maker of construction equipment, posted fourth-quarter profit that topped analysts’ estimates as sales advanced in China, Australia and Latin America. Revenue climbed 62 percent to $12.8 billion from $7.9 billion a year earlier, the company said last week.
In 2011, sales will exceed $50 billion, compared with $42.59 billion in 2010, according to the company.
“There’s quite a bit of pent-up demand there yet to come,” in North America, Ed Rapp, chief financial officer of the Peoria, Illinois-based company, said last week during a conference call. “The tailwinds come as we get more robust growth.”
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