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August 14, 2020 11:45 AM, EDT

US Industrial Production Up 3%; Factory Output Rises 3.4%

Ford workers assemble ventilators in Michigan.Ford workers assemble ventilators at the Ford Rawsonville plant in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., on May 13. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

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WASHINGTON — American industry continued to regain ground lost in the coronavirus recession last month, but production remains well below where it was before the pandemic struck.

The Federal Reserve reported Aug. 14 that industrial production — including output at factories, mines and utilities — climbed 3% in July after surging 5.7% in June. Still, production remains 8.4% below its level in February before the outbreak began to spread rapidly in the United States.

Factory output rose 3.4% last month, pulled higher by a 28.3% gain in production of cars, trucks and auto parts.

Mining production ticked up 0.8%, snapping five straight months of decreases. Utility output climbed 3.3% as hot weather forced many Americans to turn on the air conditioner.

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Industry was running at 70.6% of capacity, up from its April low of 64.2% but well below its long-term (1972-2019) average 79.8%.

The coronavirus, the lockdowns meant to contain it, and the wariness of consumers and businesses in a health crisis hammered American industry this spring. Overall output retreated at a 43.2% annual rate from April through June, biggest drop since the demobilization that followed World War II.

Industrial production has now risen three straight months as the U.S. economy began to reopen after being locked down in the spring. But a resurgence of coronavirus infections has raised doubts about whether the economy’s comeback is sustainable.

“The level of activity is still subdued,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a research report. “Output was boosted by a fuller reopening in July but weak demand and virus outbreaks that can interrupt activity remain a threat going forward.”

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