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December 1, 2015 10:10 AM, EST

Manufacturing Shrinks by Most Since June 2009

Ty Wright/Bloomberg News

Manufacturing in the U.S. unexpectedly contracted in November at the fastest pace since the last recession as elevated inventories led to cutbacks in orders and production.

The Institute for Supply Management’s index dropped to 48.6, the lowest level since June 2009, from 50.1 in October, a report from the Tempe, Arizona-based group showed Dec. 1.

The November figure was weaker than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey. Readings less than 50 indicate contraction.

The report showed factories believed their customers continued to have too many goods on hand, indicating it will take time for orders and production to stabilize. Manufacturers, which account for almost 12% of the economy, are also battling weak global demand, an appreciating dollar and less capital spending in the energy sector.

“There are some clear signs of weakness — industries that are tied to oil and gas, agriculture or are heavily dependent on exports are all clearly slowing,” Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina, said before the report. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the manufacturing numbers remain soft for the next five to six months.”

The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for an ISM reading of 50.5, with estimates ranging from 49 to 52.

Globally, results were mixed last month. While factory conditions in China were the weakest in more than three years, manufacturing strengthened in the euro area and cooled in the U.K. from a 16-month high, according to other reports Dec. 1. Figures from Markit Economics showed U.S. manufacturing continued to expand in November, although at a slower pace.

The U.S. ISM group’s production measure dropped to 49.2 from 52.9 in October. New orders fell to 48.9 in November from

52.9. Both gauges were the weakest since August 2012. The index of export orders held at 47.5 in November, the sixth month of contraction.

Factories in November made more progress than their customers in reducing inventories. The stockpile gauge at the nation’s producers dropped to 43, the lowest level since the end of 2012.

An index of customer inventories was little changed at 50.5 after 51 a month earlier. It marked the fourth straight month above 50, the longest such stretch during an economic expansion since October 2006 through February 2007.

The economy grew at a 2.1% annualized pace in the third quarter, faster than the initially reported 1.5% advance, Commerce Department data showed last week. Most of the revision reflected smaller cutbacks in stockpiles.

Efforts to trim the remaining inventory overhang will probably come at the expense of growth in future quarters as companies pare orders to align supply with demand.

Jobs were a bright spot in the ISM’s report. The group’s employment measure increased to 51.3 in November from 47.6.

The Dec. 4 jobs report will provide another look at how industry employment fared in the month of November. Economists are projecting payrolls rose by about 200,000 last month after a 271,000 increase in October.

Federal Reserve policy makers will take the manufacturing data into consideration as they debate whether the economy is strong enough to withstand higher tighter monetary policy this month. The Federal Open Market Committee meets Dec. 15-16 and is expected to raise their benchmark interest rate by 0.25 percentage point.