Member Briefing May 5, 2022

Posted By: Harold King Daily Briefing ,

Fed Hikes Rates by Half Percentage Point, Starts Balance Sheet Reduction June 1

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised its benchmark overnight interest rate by half a percentage point, the biggest jump in 22 years, and said it would begin trimming its bond holdings next month as a further step in the battle to lower inflation.  The U.S. central bank set its target federal funds rate to a range between 0.75% and 1% in a unanimous decision, with further rises in borrowing costs of perhaps similar magnitude likely to follow.


Invasion of Ukraine Headlines


Manufacturing Job Openings, Quits, Hires All Up in March

The number of open manufacturing jobs increased in March, up to 860,000 from a revised 785,000 in February, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. There were increased postings for both durable and nondurable goods. Over the past 12 months, manufacturing job postings have averaged nearly 865,000, including a record 943,000 in July.

Manufacturers also hired more workers in March, up to 508,000 from February’s 500,000.  Total quits in the manufacturing sector rose to 360,000 in March, a new record, up from 345,000 in February.  “That translated into 2.7% of the manufacturing workforce and continued a trend of very significant ‘churn’ in the labor market, exacerbating the workforce difficulties that companies are experiencing,” said NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray. “At the same time, the March survey reported 4,536,000 quits in the nonfarm business economy, up from 4,384,000 in February and also a record pace.”

Read more at the Bureau of Labor Statistics


U.S. Trade Deficit Widens to Record $109.8 Billion as Imports Surge

The trade gap in goods and services widened by 22.3% in March from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted $109.8 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the trade deficit had hovered for years between $40 billion and $50 billion a month.

Imports rose by 10.3% to $351.5 billion as the U.S. took in far more goods than it exported. In March, the gridlock at U.S. ports eased, alleviating supply-chain congestion that has disrupted trade during the pandemic and freeing up more goods for store shelves. Exports also rose a robust 5.6% in March on higher shipments of industrial supplies and as more travelers came to the U.S. for vacation. But imports of industrial supplies, consumer goods and vehicles rose sharply in March, likely reflecting price increases that have contributed to high U.S. inflation.

Read more at the WSJ


US COVID – New Omicron Subvariant Spreading in U.S. as Coronavirus Cases Increase

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are ticking up as a new, highly transmissible subvariant of omicron starts taking hold of the country. The U.S. is averaging more than 56,000 new coronavirus cases each day. That’s up from roughly 25,000 infections reported per day in early April. Another omicron subvariant is quickly increasing, and experts believe it could be even more transmissible than BA.2.

BA.2.12.1 was responsible for 29% of new coronavirus infections as of mid-April, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 19% of cases the week prior and 14% of infections the first week in April.
Some regions, like the Northeast, are seeing more cases of BA.2.12.1 than others. The New York State Department of Health first announced the emergence of the subvariant in the state mid-April. It was responsible for 41% of infections across the state as of April 23, according to the department. Importantly,  those who are vaccinated and especially those who are boosted, continue to have strong protection against severe disease, even from BA.2.12.1.

Read more at US News and World Report


Proven mRNA Technologies Embolden Vaccine and Drug Makers

The technologies that helped bring about the first mRNA vaccines are inspiring new developments and raising expectations about additional boons. This optimistic take on the future of mRNA technologies is shared by all the experts quoted in this article. They represent a range of companies, and they cite progress in areas such as mRNA construct design and distributed manufacturing. The experts also raise concerns—some old (familiar manufacturing bottlenecks) and others new (unprecedented production challenges).

The technologies behind mRNA vaccines have a long history. “The trend was definitely established in the mid-2010s toward mRNA therapies and what was required for their development,” says G. Brett Robb, PhD, scientific director for RNA and genome editing at New England Biolabs. In recent years, the trend has only been accelerating, given the increased interest in mRNA therapeutics. Doubtless, the growing interest in mRNA therapeutics is largely due to the example set by the mRNA vaccines for SARS-CoV-2.

Read more at Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News


Rise in U.S. Factory Orders of 2.2 Percent in March Beats Expectations 

New orders for U.S.-made goods increased more than expected in March and shipments rose solidly, but supply constraints following new COVID-19 lockdowns in China could slow manufacturing activity in the months ahead. The Commerce Department said on Tuesday that factory orders rose 2.2% in March after edging up 0.1% in February. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast factory orders would rise 1.1%.

Manufacturing, which accounts for 12% of the U.S. economy, faces some headwinds in the near term from China’s zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy, which is causing disruptions to supply chains.

Read more at Reuters


Lockheed Plant Biden Visits that Makes Javelin Missiles Is Hunting for Workers to Boost Production

President Biden on Tuesday visited the Lockheed Martin Corp. plant in Troy, Ala., where the defense company is hunting for workers in the tightest labor market in 50 years to assemble Javelin antitank missiles for Ukraine. The company currently lists 26 vacancies at the Troy plant, including missile assemblers, quality supervisors and engineers.

On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and amid a national labor shortage, Lockheed was offering to pay $16 to $20 an hour for trainee assembly workers at the plant, and a $1,500 signing bonus for college graduates with the security clearance required for many of the positions, according to a job ad posted on the Facebook page of the Alabama state workforce development agency.

Read more at the WSJ


Beijing Steps up COVID Curbs as Virus Spreads in China

Authorities in Beijing shut more than 40 subway stations and suspended 158 bus routes in a bid to contain the spread of covid-19. The Chinese capital is desperately trying to avoid a Shanghai-style lockdown, where millions of residents have been confined to their housing compounds for over a month, instead relying on mass testing and temporary curbs to control the virus.

The central city of Zhengzhou earlier also announced restrictions, joining dozens of big population centres under some form of lockdown as China seeks to eliminate a virus believed to have first emerged in Wuhan city in late 2019.

Read more at Reuters


IRS Raises 2023 HSA limits

The Internal Revenue Service announced Friday that for the calendar year 2023, the health savings account contribution limits for an individual with self-only coverage will jump to $3,850—a significant $200 increase from $3,650 for this year. Last year, the amount climbed just $50 from $3,600 for 2021. For family coverage, the HSA contribution limit jumps to $7,750 next year from $7,300 in 2022.

Meanwhile, for 2023, the health plan must have a deductible of at least $1,500 for self-only coverage, up from $1,400 in 2022, or $3,000 for family coverage, up from $2,800.  Out-of-pocket maximums also are increasing significantly. For 2023 individual coverage, those will increase to $7,500 from $7,050 and to $15,000 from $14,100 for family coverage for 2023.

Read more at HR Executive


Global Chip Shortage’s Latest Worry: Too Few Chips for Chip-Making

The drought in chip availability that has hit auto production, raised electronics prices and stoked supply-chain worries in capitals around the globe has a new pain point: a lack of chips needed for the machines that make chips, industry executives say. The wait time it takes to get machinery for chip-making—one of the world’s most complex and delicate kinds of manufacturing—has extended over recent months stretching to two or three years in some cases, according to chip-making and equipment executives. Deliveries of previously placed orders are also coming in late, executives say.

As a result, hopes of quickly overcoming the global chip shortage are dimming as it stretches into its third year. What began as a pandemic-era aberration of supercharged demand for laptops and other chip-hungry gadgets has spiraled into a structural problem for the industry. Now many chip executives say the problem will persist into 2023 and 2024, or even longer.

Read more at the WSJ


IoT Security Called Lacking in 5 Key Industries

Security remains a major challenge for the internet of things with particular liability across five industries largely due to the ubiquity of connected devices. VentureBeat cites health care, energy/utilities, manufacturing, smart cities and supply chain/logistics as the most vulnerable.

The motives for attacks on manufacturers range from extortion and disruption to terrorism. Targets include industrial control systems (ICS) such as distributed control systems (DCS), programmable logic controllers (PLC), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and human machine interfaces (HMI). Attackers sometimes attempt to take direct control of PLCs that run factory equipment, rather than accounting or customer records. Attackers have seized control of PLCs that used hardcoded passwords, and then successfully destroyed the expensive machinery they controlled. 

Read more at VentureBeat


Central Hudson Takes Measures to Provide Natural Gas Supply Price Relief

The supply price for natural gas effective May 1 will fall to 64-cents per 100 cubic feet (ccf), down from 97-cents per ccf in April. Costs from natural gas spot purchases earlier this year were already being deferred over several months to help reduce winter bill impacts. These spot purchases were necessary during the periods of extreme cold this winter to meet the heating needs of residents and businesses.

With this change, the remaining costs of these spot purchases will now be deferred and spread throughout the 2023 calendar year to provide immediate relief during this period of high energy costs. Spreading the costs over a longer time period will further reduce bill impacts, utility officials said.  Central Hudson is exploring the viability of a similar approach for electricity costs if another significant spike in supply prices occurs in the future.

Read more at Mid Hudson News


Spot the Robot Shows Off New Upgrades

Boston Dynamics today announced a new set of upgrades for its dog-like robot, Spot, that increase its utility for manufacturers seeking to hire a different kind of worker, like Ford and Merck. Spot could already produce 3D scans of the space around it; now it can also “see” in full color and produce color images for operators to review. Its battery now charges to full capacity in an hour or less, making for shorter coffee breaks. It sports a new 5G modem to accept and execute orders more quickly, that may include movement commands provided via Spot’s new tablet controller.

Finally, Spot has been cleared to deploy brand new payloads for tasks like edge processing, including site inspections conducted with its onboard vision systems, and a radio kit for improved navigation in remote locations, underground, or places that offer unique types of obstructions, even if RF radio interference is present.

Read more at IndustryWeek


VW Wants to Step Up Investment in U.S. Manufacturing

VW CEO Herbert Diess told reporters during an earnings call on Wednesday that the company wants to boost electric-vehicle investment in North America in particular as the fallout from the war and the pandemic continue to weigh on growth in other regions. “We see that America will be untouched by what’s happening in Europe, so it should be geostrategically a region in which we should invest more,” Mr. Diess said.

VW’s pivot to the U.S. shows how China’s economic slowdown and the war in Ukraine could be causing a global investment reshuffle as international manufacturers—VW has 120 plants world-wide—seek safer, more predictable markets that are better insulated from the shocks that have been battering the world economy in the past three years.

Read more at the WSJ