U.S. manufacturing activity advanced in February after an omicron-related setback a month earlier, as new-orders growth and production accelerated.
The Institute for Supply Management’s gauge of factory activity increased to 58.6 from 57.6 in January, according to data released Tuesday. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. The median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for the measure to improve to 58.
ISM’s new-orders measure advanced nearly four points to a five-month high of 61.7 following COVID-19 related softness in January. While production improved, the data highlight how manufacturers are still struggling to keep up with demand for consumer merchandise and business equipment.
The group’s gauge of order backlogs jumped by 8.6 points, the most in 11 years, while supplier delivery times slowed further.
Average lead times in February set record highs in all three categories. For materials used in the production process they climbed to 97 days. Lead times for capital equipment grew to 173 days and for supplies used in maintenance, repairs and operations they rose to 50 days.
“The U.S. manufacturing sector remains in a demand-driven, supply chain-constrained environment,” Timothy Fiore, chair of ISM’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, said in a statement. The omicron variant “remained an impact in February; however, there were signs of relief, with recovery expected in March.”
Sixteen manufacturing industries reported growth in February, led by apparel, textiles, paper and transportation equipment.
A measure of prices paid by producers eased from the prior month but may soon move higher as the cost of commodities including crude oil jump with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many manufacturers have passed along higher costs for both materials and labor to consumers, helping to fuel the fastest inflation in decades.