No one is going to look back fondly on 2020, a year that will be remembered for months of social unrest, a contentious presidential election and aftermath and a virus that seized the global economically and socially for closing in on 12 months now.
With that as a backdrop, we’re undoubtedly looking for any signs of good news in the early days of 2021. Fortunately, finding such promising nuggets hasn’t been that difficult.
We got our first positive sign in the first few days of 2021, when the Institute for Supply Management’s released its Business Conditions Report for December from the nation’s purchasing managers. The PMI remains one of the best barometers for the health of the manufacturing economy in the United States.
The Manufacturing PMI was 60.7 percent, an increase of 3.2 percent from November and the highest figure in the last 12 months, and then some. In fact, I can’t recall the last time the PMI cracked 60 percent, and, to my surprise, the folks at the ISM did not highlight information in its report.
Supporting numbers also showed healthy gains, with New Orders up near 70 percent and Production in the mid-60 percent range. Even the Employment Index, the laggard in the recovery, bounced back into growth mode after a November blip. Purchasing managers in the manufacturing sector are clearly envisioning better fortunes in the months ahead.
A survey respondent from the fabricated metals segment declared: "Current business outlook is strong through the first quarter of 2021. We are anticipating 20 percent growth in sales for 2021." May this operator be prophetic.
Looking elsewhere, the International Monetary Fund envisions global growth of 5.2 percent this year, a robust figure. Granted that growth is built off the difficulties of 2020, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.
Closer to home, the IMF was anticipating a big rebound for the United States, though some of that was dependent on a more efficient rollout of the vaccine than we’ve seen thus far. Here’s hoping the new administration can get the kinks worked out of the vaccine distribution channel and get the anti-COVID juice into arms as quickly as possible.
Then there’s Morgan Stanley. In a December release, the finance giant projected global growth at 6.4 percent and U.S. growth just behind at 5.9 percent, tops among the developed economies. Its projections are admittedly outside some consensus forecasts, but even there the numbers are positive.
There is, of course, risk of reading too much into some early forecasts, even from reputable sources such as these. And as 2020 reminded us, the best-laid projections are virtually worthless when they run headlong into something like the coronavirus.
On the other hand, if there was ever a time when optimism was called for, this seems like it.