NAM: Monday Economic Report

  • Manufacturing employment fell by 12,000 workers in December, dropping for the second time in the past three months. In 2019, manufacturers added roughly 3,800 workers per month on average, compared to the average of 22,000 manufacturing workers created each month in 2018.
  • While the manufacturing sector has steadied somewhat recently, it remains weaker than desired as firms continue to grapple with slowing global growth and trade uncertainties. Eleven of the 19 major manufacturing sectors experienced reduced hiring in December. Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers in manufacturing rose 2.8% year-over-year.
  • In the larger economy, nonfarm payrolls increased a modest 145,000 in December. The unemployment rate remained at 3.5%, continuing to be the lowest since December 1969. At the same time, the so-called “real unemployment” rate edged down from 6.9% in November to 6.7% in December, a new record low since the series began in January 1994.
  • Meanwhile, new orders for manufactured goods fell 0.7% in November, but excluding transportation equipment, new factory orders rose 0.3%, and without defense sales, the gain registered 0.7%. Motor vehicle and parts sales increased 2.8% in November, the first increase since July and likely buoyed by the end of the auto strike. Overall, the manufacturing sector has been weaker than desired over the past 12 months, down 1.5% year-over-year and weighed down by global softness and trade uncertainties.
  • The U.S. trade deficit decreased to $43.09 billion in November, the lowest level since October 2016. Goods imports fell to a 15-month low, with real imports of petroleum in 2012 dollars at a record low since the series began in 1994 ($27.23 billion). At the same time, U.S.-manufactured goods exports fell 3.0% through the first 11 months of 2019 relative to the same time frame in 2018, highlighting weaknesses in the sector year to date.
  • Manufacturing value-added output rose 1.1%, up to $2.365 trillion in the third quarter, which was an all-time high, and led by growth in activity for durable goods, also to a new record high. Expressed in chained 2012 dollars, real value-added output rose to the highest value ever.
  • Overall, manufacturing accounted for 11.0% of real GDP in the third quarter, the same pace as in the prior quarter.

Deluge of labor board decisions likely as sole Democrat exits (Bloomberg Law)

Reprinted with permission from Bloomberg Law News Dec 11, 2019
By Hassan A. Kanu and Robert Iafolla

  • Five-member board’s only Democrat departs Dec. 16
  • Pro-business decisions expected in coming days

The National Labor Relations Board is expected to be quite busy in coming days, as the agency’s sole Democratic member, Lauren McFerran, reaches the end of her term Dec. 16.

The board has historically issued a flood of case decisions, both routine and major, in the final days of a member’s term. The practice was adopted in light of the agency’s unique structure—a five-seat, bipartisan panel designed so that one member’s term expires each year. McFerran’s departure will make the NLRB a Republican-only board, because the other Democratic seat has been vacant for a year.

The NLRB will stick to past practice this year, and that means the 3-1 Republican majority is likely to release a series of pro-employer case rulings before McFerran departs, according to labor law practitioners and three current and former board officials. That would continue the board’s push during the Trump administration to dismantle a slew of Obama-era decisions that the business community has sharply criticized as overreach.

Cases in which the board is nearly finished drafting an opinion are likely candidates for a ruling in coming days. The board may also take next steps on one or more of the unusual number of federal regulations the agency proposed this year.

“I expect the board will try to get out as many of the decisions where McFerran’s on the panel as they can,” said Jerry Hunter, a management-side lawyer at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and former Republican NLRB general counsel. (Mr. Hunter also serves as the current Chairman of the Board of Directors of Associated Industries of Missouri.)

The NLRB often issues decisions via a three-member panel—the minimum required for a quorum—although all members are typically involved in cases overturning existing precedent.

“I think they’ll definitely try to get out any decisions where she’s currently on a panel of three if it’s in a shape to do that, and that’s in part so they don’t have to reassign those to a new member who would then have to start all over,” Hunter said.

The most highly anticipated case ruling the NLRB may hand down before McFerran leaves is one in which it’s expected to reverse an Obama-era precedent that gave workers the right to use company email for organizing purposes. The NLRB, in the 2018 Caesars Entertainment case, asked for public comment on whether it should strike down that 2014 policy, and hasn’t decided the matter.

The board also has been considering for months whether to accept a settlement offered by McDonald’s in a high-profile case that seeks to tag the company as a “joint employer” of workers at franchise restaurants. A ruling against McDonald’s could threaten its business model and those of other companies that rely on contractors, industry insiders and observers have said.

Potential Candidates for a Ruling

The board’s Republican majority has already undone a number of pro-worker rulings issued during the Obama administration. Republicans and business groups have hailed those moves as restoring balance to labor -management relations, while worker advocates have decried what they call the whittling down of rights on the job.

There are other potentially precedent-changing cases that may be decided before McFerran’s term is up. That includes:

  • Apogee Retail , which could overturn the NLRB’s 2015 ruling in Banner Estrella and free employers to require their workers to stay silent about disciplinary investigations;
  • United Parcel Service , which could overturn the NLRB’s 2014 ruling in Babcock and Wilcox and lower the bar for deferring to a decision from private arbitration or a union grievance process; and
  • Valley Hospital Medical Center, which could overturn the NLRB’s 2015 ruling in Lincoln Lutheran of Racine and empower employers to unilaterally stop collecting union dues when a labor contract expires.

Attorneys and officials who spoke with Bloomberg Law generally agreed it’s highly unlikely any of the three Republicans will form a bipartisan majority with McFerran and issue a precedent that favors workers or unions.

“The Republican members of the NLRB are as unalterably pro-employer as any we’ve ever seen and are fairly relentlessly pushing their agenda,” Judy Conti, government affairs director at the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, told Bloomberg Law in an e-mail.

“I would imagine they will try to put out as many decisions as possible while they still have a quorum, and I also assume that their pro-employer leanings will continue to rule the day.”

Patrick Semmens, vice president of public information at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, took a different view. The group is a key labor-policy stakeholder on the conservative side of the aisle, and often represents workers who wish to decertify, or oust, their unions.

“Foundation staff attorneys represent only workers, not employers, and yet McFerran has regularly ruled against those workers during her term,” Semmens said.

More “often than not she has been on the anti-worker side of our cases,” he added, and there’s “no reason to believe that pro-union boss and anti-worker bias won’t continue in the final days of her term.”

What’s Next?

The NLRB will likely function with an all-Republican slate for some time after McFerran’s term ends. President Donald Trump isn’t obligated to appoint a full complement of members to the board, and the agency can issue decisions with just three. Trump has yet to nominate someone to fill the board’s other Democratic seat after former chairman Mark Pearce removed his name from consideration in February.

“This is between the White House and Senate Leadership,” NLRB spokesman Edwin Egee told Bloomberg Law in an e-mail.

There’s also precedent for leaving the minority party’s seats empty—the board operated with only Democratic members for nearly eight months during the Obama administration. Some management attorneys and employer advocacy groups favor that option. They’re urging the White House and Senate leadership to keep the seat open and then pair McFerran’s renomination with another term for Republican member Marvin Kaplan in August.

There’s “no need to fill her seat now as the NLRB can function just fine with three board members,” Semmens said when asked whether McFerran should be renominated.

Others have said the board needs bipartisan membership in order to maintain its political independence and to strengthen its decisions. Without minority party representation on the board, many decisions—and possibly some new regulations—may be issued without a dissenting voice.

“The Board was designed to have both” labor and management “amply represented in deliberations, and functions best when it does,” Conti said. She added that it’s important for minority members to articulate their views in a dissenting opinion because those may eventually become majority positions.

Then there are the political implications.

“The other reason why you wouldn’t want to keep it open just to keep it open is that you have an election coming up,” Hunter said. “If you leave both seats open, the next president, if it’s a Democrat, then has two vacancies they can immediately fill, and would be able to appoint the board majority within their first year in office.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bloomberglaw.com; Robert Iafolla in Washington at riafolla@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com

© 2019 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

NAM: Monday Economic Report

  • Retail sales increased 0.2% in November, weaker than expected and possibly impacted by the late Thanksgiving and more compressed holiday shopping season. Spending excluding motor vehicles and gasoline station sales was flat in November. This suggests that consumers felt more hesitant in their purchases. With that said, retail spending has risen a modest 3.3% over the past 12 months.
  • After increasing short-term rates at each of the past three Federal Open Market Committee meetings, the Federal Reserve made no changes to monetary policy at its Dec. 10–11 meeting, as expected. Participants noted that consumer spending and the labor market were bright spots in the economy, but business investment and trade provided drags on growth. Core inflation continues to remain well below the FOMC’s stated target of 2%, which would be consistent with slower growth than desired.
  • Yet, the Federal Reserve feels that its recent moves should help to prolong the economic expansion, and it wants to see if those actions bear fruit as it looks at incoming data. The FOMC is not likely to reduce the federal funds rate again unless it sees signs of further deterioration in the economy.
  • Producer prices for final demand goods rose 0.3% in November, or 1.1% over the past 12 months. Core inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, has grown 1.3% year-over-year, the slowest pace since September 2016 and continuing a deceleration trend for input prices.
  • Consumer prices also increased 0.3% in November, but have risen by more over the past year. Core inflation for consumers has risen 2.3% year-over-year, with notably higher medical care services and shelter expenses, among other categories. Nonetheless, inflation appears to be stable for now and not really a major concern for the Federal Reserve.
  • The National Federation of Independent Business reported that the Small Business Optimism Index rose from 102.4 in October to 104.7 in November. Small business owners generally remain positive in their outlook despite the slowing global economy and ongoing trade uncertainties. Respondents continued to cite the quality of labor as the top “single most important problem.”
  • In a pre-holiday rush, statistical agencies will release a slew of important economic data next week. Highlights include updates on consumer confidence, GDP (second revision), housing starts and permits, industrial production, job openings, personal income and spending and manufacturing surveys from IHS Markit and the Kansas City, New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks.
  • In particular, manufacturers will be looking for signs of stabilization—and perhaps a pickup—in manufacturing activity, with housing building on recent strength and consumer spending continuing to increase at a modest pace.

GM investing $1.5 billion in next generation mid-size trucks to be built at Wentzville plant, retaining 4,000 jobs

Today, Governor Mike Parson joined General Motors (GM) leadership, government officials, and community partners for the announcement of GM’s decision to invest $1.5 billion and retain nearly 4,000 jobs at its Wentzville facility. Ray McCarty, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri attended the event.

Today’s announcement represents one of the largest single project investments from the private sector in Missouri, according to a press release from Governor Parson’s office.

 “We are excited and proud that General Motors, an American multinational corporation with more than 100 years of automotive industry experience, is renewing its commitment to our region with this investment in the Wentzville plant. This is truly a historic moment for Missouri, and it was an honor to be part of today’s announcement,” Governor Parson said. 

“From day one, our administration has been focused on workforce development and infrastructure, and this project falls right in line with these priorities,” Governor Parson continued. “Partners from higher education, transportation, state and local government, and our legislature all came together to help secure the future of this facility, and today that hard work paid off. The result is a $1.5 billion investment and 4,000 good-paying jobs that will benefit not only Wentzville, but every corner of the state for generations to come.”

The Wentzville plant supports 12,241 jobs throughout Missouri’s economy and generates more than $2 billion in GDP annually. Out of the state’s 227 automotive suppliers, 178 supply GM, accounting for more than $700 million spent by GM on Missouri suppliers. 

What state and local leaders are saying:

“The automotive industry has long been a driving force for Missouri’s economy, and GM’s decision to reinvest in Missouri and Missouri workers is proof positive,” Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe said. “This decision is great news for families in Wentzville and the St. Louis region, but also for small businesses and manufacturers across the state who supply critical components to the manufacturing process.  I am grateful for the leadership and foresight of Governor Parson and the legislature to make this a reality.”

“The strength of the auto manufacturing sector in Missouri just continues to grow, with extraordinary investments made by GM and Ford on both sides of the state over the last 10 years and in the years to come,” said Ray McCarty, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri. “We applaud the success of both of these plants and the many suppliers that are thriving because of the investments they have made and will make in the future as Missouri continues to be a leading auto manufacturing state.”

“Today’s announcement magnifies Missouri’s position as a hub for the automotive industry,” said Missouri Department of Economic Development Director Rob Dixon. “This shows that we have the workforce, infrastructure and the economic development tools needed to secure major investment in Missouri. Our team, along with partners across the state, look forward to working with GM and others to build on this momentum and move Missouri forward.”

“Wentzville is fortunate to have a strong employer like General Motors in our community. We have and will continue to support the organization and are proud that they call Wentzville home. General Motors’ reinvestment in our community speaks volumes; we are thankful for General Motors’ commitment to our community and to its current and future workforce,” Wentzville Mayor Nick Guccione said.

“This is, obviously, great news not only for St. Charles County but also metro St. Louis and all of Missouri. As our community’s largest employer, GM’s continued investment and growth highlight the strength of advanced manufacturing in St. Charles County,” St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said. “This funding from the state shows how serious Governor Parson is about the success of business and workforce development in Missouri.

“The General Motors expansion is great for Missouri. With the Ameren Missouri Smart Energy Plan, we are investing in new technology and electrical infrastructure to benefit all customers while providing one of the best economic development incentives in the country to bring even more business to the communities we serve,” said Chairman and President of Ameren Missouri Marty Lyons. “This is a great competitive edge to continue growing the local workforce and our economy.”

NAM: Global Manufacturing Economic Update

  • The global economy remains weak, but there are signs that manufacturing activity has stabilized. Indeed, the sector continues to grapple with slowing growth and trade uncertainties, but there are also “green shoots” that provide some cautious optimism for the coming months.
  • The J.P. Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI expanded for the first time since April, continuing to improve after reaching the lowest level since October 2012 in July. Yet, exports continued to decline, albeit at the same pace as last month.
  • Seven of the top 12 markets for U.S.-manufactured goods experienced contracting activity in their manufacturing sectors in November, up from six in October. The weakest PMI readings continued to be in Germany (44.1) and Hong Kong (38.5). Germany has contracted in every month so far this year, but the headline index for manufacturing activity was at the highest point since June. As one might imagine, Hong Kong’s lowest reading since April 2003 was largely related to political unrest but also due to slowing global activity.
  • Nonetheless, there were signs of possible stabilization. Of those top 12 markets for U.S.-manufactured goods, eight had a better PMI in November than in October.
  • The Caixin China General Manufacturing PMI improved for the fifth consecutive month, the strongest reading since December 2016. With that said, economic activity in China continues to reflect decelerating growth. Real GDP grew 6.0% year-over-year in the third quarter, down from 6.2% in the second quarter and the slowest pace since the first quarter of 1992.
  • The IHS Markit Canada Manufacturing PMI expanded in November at the fastest pace since February, growing for the third straight month. While survey respondents felt more upbeat, many key economic indicators reflect some ongoing softness, with real GDP up just 1.3% at the annual rate in the third quarter, and manufacturing employment down by 27,500 in November.
  • After falling to the lowest point in nearly seven years in September, the IHS Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI improved for the second straight month, up from 45.7 in September, to 45.9 in October, to 46.9 in November. Nonetheless, it contracted for the 10th consecutive month. Real GDP slowed to 1.2% year-over-year in the third quarter, consistent with the pace in the second quarter, and industrial production fell 2.2% over the past 12 months in October. On the positive side, the unemployment rate has remained at 7.5%, which is the lowest rate since July 2008.
  • The IHS Markit Emerging Markets Manufacturing PMI expanded for the fifth straight month, remaining at 51.0 in November.
  • The U.S. trade deficit decreased to $47.20 billion in October, the lowest level since June 2018, with goods exports and imports both falling to a two-year low. Encouragingly, real exports of petroleum in 2012 dollars were the highest since the series began in 1994, helping to push the real petroleum trade deficit to a record low in October.
  • In non-seasonally adjusted data, U.S.-manufactured goods exports have fallen 3.0% year to date through the first 10 months of 2019 relative to the same period in 2018.
  • With less than two weeks left in the current session of Congress, manufacturers are working toward quick action on two key legislative trade priorities:
    • Passage of the U.S.–Mexico–Canada Agreement
    • Passage of a long-term and robust reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank
  • Manufacturers are also focused on several other important trade developments:
    • Promoting a revitalization of the World Trade Organization and pressing for a long-term extension of the e-commerce moratorium
    • Promoting concrete movement on U.S.–China bilateral trade agreement negotiations to correct market distortions, while also addressing challenging tariffs and retaliation
    • Reviewing congressional activity relating to sanctions and new rules on information and communications supply chains

St. Louis named #5 Judicial Hellhole

A new report highlights the worst local courts and states for abuses of the civil justice system, with the Top 10 Judicial Hellholes filled with widespread civil lawsuits, legislative loopholes that create more ways for lawyers to sue, and judges who allow junk science into evidence in trials.

“Once again, ATRA has listed St. Louis as the fifth worst Judicial Hellhole,” said Ray McCarty, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri. “We have made progress, moving down from our #1 ranking just a couple of years ago, but we obviously have much more reform necessary, including fixing the broken punitive damages process, establishing a statute of repose for manufactured products, and many more great ideas that the plaintiff’s attorney lobbyists have been killing for years. It’s time for Missouri legislators to continue their progress and make Missouri courts fairer for all parties,” he said.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers flock to St. Louis City. In FY 2018, they filed 13,542 civil cases in the City of St. Louis Circuit Court—in a city with an estimated population of 308,626. By comparison, the Circuit Court for St. Louis County had 5,366 cases filed in it that year (about 40% of St. Louis City’s volume) in a county with 996,726 people. St. Charles County only had 1,335 cases filed (10% of the cases filed) in a county that is 33% larger than St. Louis City. In fact, more than half of all civil cases pending in Missouri are in the City of St. Louis Circuit Court.

Excessive tort litigation in the greater St. Louis area results in $909.1 million in direct costs annually and a loss of 15,512 jobs. The excess costs result in a “tort tax” of $571.95 per person. Governor Michael Parson (R) and key legislative leaders have taken some important steps to reform the system, but more remains to be done.

The 2019-2020 Judicial Hellholes report of the American Tort Reform Foundation shines a light on the year’s abuses in the civil justice system and in state legislative bodies, lists areas on the cusp of becoming a Judicial Hellhole and identifies several troubling legal trends that are emerging.

“Justice is abused in these Judicial Hellholes, with abuses in the civil justice system hurting businesses, consumers and the nation,” said Tiger Joyce, ATRF president. “Litigation abuse drives up insurance costs and drives away jobs, and the money businesses spend fighting often-frivolous lawsuits takes dollars away from research and development of new consumer products.”

The 2019-2020 top Judicial Hellholes are:

  1. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas
  2. California
  3. New York City
  4. Louisiana
  5. St. Louis
  6. Georgia
  7. Illinois’ Cook, Madison and St. Clair Counties
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Minnesota Supreme Court and the Twin Cities
  10. New Jersey Legislature

“Our hope is that this report on Judicial Hellholes will be a loud wake-up call for government officials to stop the madness,” Joyce said. “Stop creating more ways for lawyers to sue businesses, stop wasting money in court, and stop contributing to job loss.”

Excessive tort costs result in hundreds of thousands of jobs lost and billions of dollars lost in personal income each year.

The 2019-2020 Judicial Hellholes report of the American Tort Reform Foundation also identifies several worrisome areas emerging in civil litigation including an increase in local governments filing local lawsuits to address national public policy issues, legislation seeking to ban arbitration and new data privacy liability concerns.

READ MORE HERE

NAM: Monday Economic Report

  • Manufacturing employment jumped by 54,000 workers in November, bouncing back from the loss of 43,000 employees in October. Much of that volatility stemmed from the effects of the auto strike, with motor vehicles and parts employment up 41,300 in November, rebounding from a similar loss in the prior report.
  • There were 12,865,000 manufacturing workers in November, the best reading in 11 years, with 1,412,000 employees added since the end of the Great Recession. Nonetheless, manufacturing job growth has slowed to an average of just more than 5,000 additional workers per month year to date. That contrasts with the average of 22,800 manufacturing employees created each month through the first 11 months of 2018.
  • In the larger economy, nonfarm payrolls increased by a very robust 266,000 in November, the strongest reading since January. The unemployment rate returned to 3.5%, matching the reading in September, which was the lowest since December 1969.
  • Perhaps buoyed by strong labor growth, as well as renewed strength in the stock market, the Index of Consumer Sentiment improved to the best reading in six months, according to preliminary data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters.
  • The ISM® Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index® contracted for the fourth straight month, suggesting ongoing weaknesses in the sector in November. While production contracted for the month, it stabilized somewhat in the latest data, falling at a slower rate and bouncing back from the worst reading since April 2009.
  • New orders for manufactured goods rose 0.3% in October, but were flat with defense sales excluded. Overall, the data continue to highlight weaknesses in the manufacturing sector across the past 12 months, with global softness and trade uncertainties weighing on activity and factory orders down 1.2% since October 2018. On a more positive note, core capital goods spending—a proxy for capital spending—rose 1.1% in October, perhaps a sign of some stabilization in the measure.
  • The U.S. trade deficit decreased to $47.20 billion in October, the lowest level since June 2018, with goods exports and imports both falling to a two-year low. Encouragingly, real exports of petroleum in 2012 dollars were the highest since the series began in 1994, helping to push the real petroleum trade deficit to a record low in October.
  • In non-seasonally adjusted data, U.S.-manufactured goods exports have fallen 3.0% year to date through the first 10 months of 2019 relative to the same period in 2018.