More Inflation Cautions

The Institute of Supply Management’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for October that was reported today made its biggest jump since 2006. — from 52.6 in September to 55.7 last month. (See the news release.) That’s good news for the economy as a whole, but it bolsters our cautions that pressures on prices are likely to increase faster than the pace of economic recovery over the next few months.

The PMI is considered a leading indicator of economic business conditions. Purchasing managers are already reporting price increases in 11 commodity categories. Furthermore, inventories have been contracting for 42 consecutive months. Those facts suggest that price pressure is likely to go up.

Suppliers may be trying to recover from their losses over the last year and perhaps betting that shortages might drive prices higher quickly. It’s also possible that tight credit is still limiting manufacturers to add production capacity. Whatever the reason, buyers must remain diligent in their efforts to contain cost.  As companies recover and work to improve their bottom line, cost containment will be the core focus in managing suppliers in 2010. It will be necessary for buyers to review their tools for containing costs and develop new methods for dealing with price escalation.

In southeast Michigan we see the same kind of pressures on prices, but there was also a drop in the local PMI, released by the Institute of Supply Management – Southeast Michigan.  The ISM-SEM reported that its October purchasing managers index was 51.3, a drop of more than 10 points, but still in the range that demonstrates some modest improvement in economic conditions. The three-month trend of the index also remains positive.

We likely had an uptick in September as a trailing result of the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ automotive incentives. The October composite figure shows a slight cooling off, but looking deeper we see local purchasing managers reporting higher prices in a number of categories. That suggests there is finally demand building that can drive new growth.

The drop in the southeast Michigan index might suggest a note of caution about the national figure, too, because Michigan’s PMI often leads the index for the rest of the country. October’s big jump in the national PMI might be followed by a lower index next month, matching Michigan’s pattern. With so many uncertainties, we shouldn’t be surprised if the recovery has some fits and starts. Overall the outlook is still positive.”

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