U.S. Machine Tool Orders Rose 11.3% in March

Drop in Midwest demand is only sign of concern after a strong Q1 2012

Orders for new machine tools and related technology rose 11.3% in March, to $495.97 million versus $444.06 million in February, and brought the first quarter of 2012 to a close with orders totaling $1.356 billion, a 12.9% improvement over the first-quarter total for 2011. However, the latest month’s total represents a 1.4% drop compared with March 2011 result of $502.89 million.

The data is contained in the monthly U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders report, compiled by AMT - The Association for Manufacturing Technology, and conveying results on production and distribution of domestic and imported technology, collected from participating companies.

“Manufacturing is expanding with no clear signal of a downturn in sight,” stated Douglas K. Woods, AMT president. That conclusion would contrast with recent results from Germany, where last week the machine tool builders association VDW reported that Q1 new orders fell 7% over 2011. The Italian machine tool builders association UCIMU reported a 10.5% increase in orders for the first quarter, but officials there expressed concern that the result was almost entirely based on exports, with signs of manufacturing investment barely visible in that country.

“Manufacturing added 34,000 jobs in March, capacity utilization is just shy of 80%, and USMTO order growth confounds experts as it climbed 12% over 2011 levels,” Woods continued. “However, remaining obstacles to future manufacturing investment include a lack of access to credit, global supply issues, encroaching industry regulations and taxes, and overall political uncertainty.”

The USMTO report includes data on regional orders for manufacturing technology, and the March result indicated mostly positive results nationwide.

In the Northeast, new orders for machine tools and related technology totaled $71.80 million during March, an increase of 34.2% over February’s result of $53.51 million. However, the current month indicated a 7.4% decrease in orders versus the March 2011 total.

Northeastern orders for the first quarter of 2012 stand at $182.11 million, a drop of 0.2% compared with the like period of 2011.

New orders for manufacturing technology in the South totaled $71.24 million for March, a 34.0% increase from the February total of $53.18 million, and 16.1% better than the March 2011 result. For the January-March 2012 period, the Southern region has posted new orders totaling $167.11 million, a rise of 11.7% over the first quarter of 2011.

Orders declined 8.4% in the Midwest during March, to a total of $152.39 million versus $166.39 million in February, and down 19.8% from the March 2011 total. The region’s first-quarter result was more encouraging, totaling $463.20 million or 11.5% better than the first-quarter 2011 result.

The Central region recorded March manufacturing technology orders totaling $149.39 million, a 13.9% increase over the February result of $131.18 million, and a 17.8% rise over the March 2011 total. For the first three months of the year, the Central region’s new orders amounted to $410.82 million, a 22.0% increase over the region’s Q1 2011 total.

Finally, the Western region had March manufacturing technology orders of $51.15 million, a rise of 23.3% from February’s $41.50 million total, and an 8.6% improvement over the March 2011 total. Year-to-date orders amount to $133.46 million in the West, a 13.6% increase over the comparable figure for January-March 2011.

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