Machine shops growth slows

The Agie Charmilles Machining Business Activity Index (www.gfac.com) decreased to 62 in March from 70 in February. The Index is created by surveying machine tool users concerning their current business level versus three months earlier (December 2007). Any reading above 50 indicates that business activity has improved. The Index was inaugurated in October 2004 and according to Agie Charmilles is the only known monthly index of business activity in U.S. machining industries. Business activity was strongest in the Stamping Die Category and the South Region.

Historical data along with a detailed breakdown of results by geographic region and application/sector, is at(www.us.gfac.com/newsroom/businessindex/index.cfm).

The Agie Charmilles/USBEF Machining Industry Financial Strength Index was 385 in March 2008, down from 417 in February 2008 and 417 in March 2007 but up strongly from 55 in January 2002, the worst reading on record. The index shows a slow but steady deterioration over the last 11 months from a historic high in early 2007. Any reading above 100 indicates that US Bancorp Equipment Finance’s (USBEF’s) machine tool lease payment delinquencies (a good measure of machine tool users’ liquidity and consistent profitability) are at a rate below the average rate of 1990 to 1999. In January the 30 day delinquency rate on machine tool leases remained close to the lowest level on record, approaching 1 percent, which is much lower than the credit card or home mortgage delinquency rates. As profitability rises, liquidity rises, delinquencies fall and the Index rises.

“In March machine shops grew less rapidly and the delinquency rate on machine tool leases increased while staying at a low level about one-third of the rate on home mortgages. In contrast to the housing and mortgage markets, which are in such bad shape that they are severely damaging the rest of the U.S. economy and slowing down the world economy, machine shops are growing and machine tool leases are solid. Shops are uniformly in good financial shape judged by their ability to pay their bills. The continued growth, despite the housing market and oil prices, is helped by the lower U.S. $ increasing competitiveness vs. imports and in export markets, strength in aerospace, power generation, oil field equipment and medical plus some work coming back from China” Harry Moser, chairman of Agie Charmilles said.

The approximately 126,000 U.S. companies that use machine tools have about 2 million machine tools and 750,000 to 1,000,000 directly related employees (toolmakers, machinists, operators, programmers, etc.). Almost all mid-size to large manufacturing companies use, and periodically purchase or lease, machine tools. Thus, these indices give timely insight into the condition of U.S. manufacturing. The Machining Business Activity Index is a coincident indicator of this key manufacturing sector. The Financial Strength Index lags business activity and leads capital investment.

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