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Region’s manufacturers see slight pickup in activity

The Buffalo Niagara region’s manufacturers continue to see-saw between a little growth and a little decline.

A survey of local purchasing managers found that activity picked up slightly at the Buffalo Niagara region’s factories during March – the fifth straight month where manufacturers have alternated between growth and decline.

But since the growth was slow during the positive months and pace of the declines was very small during the down months, the Niagara University economist who compiles the monthly report said the up-and-down results since November are mostly a sign of stability among local manufacturers.

“The general horizontal movement continues,” said Niagara economist Jay K. Walker. “We’re in expansionary territory but still relatively weak.”

Since November, the manufacturing survey has bounced slightly above and below the statistical dividing line between growth and decline. Walker has said the differences are too small for the index to be signalling a shift to an outright decline after a year where the indicator showed fairly steady growth at local factories.

The National Association of Purchasing Management - Buffalo’s business activity index - rebounded to 52.8 during March, a level that indicates a modest uptick in factory activity, compared with 49.4 during February, which is a sign of slight decline. Since November, the index has flip-flopped above and below the tipping point of 50 that is the dividing line between a growing and contracting manufacturing sector.

The big positive for the month was that employment showed signs of increasing for the first time since September. But the pace of hiring remains weak, with just one of nine managers surveyed saying their companies were adding workers. Still that was better than none during February.

“This was a notable change,” Walker said.

Production, which slumped badly during December, grew at its slowest pace in three months, with two of every nine managers surveyed reporting increases in output.

The flow of new orders grew for the eighth straight month, but the pace of that growth was the slowest since June and was only slightly above the break-even point.

Inventories grew for the first time in four months, while commodity prices rose at their second-fastest pace since September.