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US Machine Tool Orders Still Rising

April 13, 2021
Machine shops and other manufacturers demand for capital equipment anticipates increasing manufacturing activity, and the February results are “likely the beginning of a sustained recovery following the 2020 recession,” one expert said.

U.S. manufacturers’ new orders for machine tools rose to $377.6 million during February, up 17.8% from January and up 34.2% from February 2020. During the first two months of 2021, new orders for machine tools totaled $698.2 million, a +22.4% rise over the January-February 2020 order total.

The figures are supplied by AMT – the Assn. for Manufacturing Technology in its monthly U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders report, a forward-looking index to manufacturing activity, tracking manufacturers’ capital investments in anticipation of future work orders.

AMT’s monthly results have alternated upward and downward since the first easing of pandemic-related shutdowns in the summer of 2020. Before that, machine-tool orders had followed a broader slowdown in manufacturing activity – and it is that trend which seems to have been overcome with the steady increase in year-over-year new-order volumes.

“February was the fourth-straight month of year-over-year gains in manufacturing technology orders, signaling the recent strength is likely the beginning of a sustained recovery following the 2020 recession,” said Douglas K. Woods, president of AMT. “There was a surprising uptick in February orders from the oil-and-gas industry despite the weather-related turmoil in the South-Central and Southeast regions, which typically drive the sector.

“Medical equipment manufacturers markedly increased orders in February,” Woods continued, “likely the result of increased hospital capacity allowing delayed elective procedures to be scheduled.”

The USMTO report contains actual figures for new orders of metal-cutting and metal-forming and -fabricating equipment, nationwide and in six geographic sectors, based on information supplied by participating producers and distributors of that equipment.

The regional results for February new orders show particularly strong demand for metal-cutting equipment in the North Central-East ($121.06 million, +58.7% from January; and +80.1% from February 2020); and the North Central-West ($74.22 million, +37.7% month over month; and +111.5% year over year.) The West region also reported solid results for the month: $62.91 million, +10.7% over January and +22.8% over February 2020.

The Northeast region’s February new orders totaled $50.75 million (-0.2% from January, +5.1% from February 2020.) In the Southeast, February new orders fell to $33.87 million (-12.3% from January, -27.9% from February 2020.)

The South Central region reported February new orders of $20.20 million, -24.9% from January and -16.5% from February 2020.

“Increased consumer demand throughout the economy is evidenced by an increase in total spending,” AMT’s Woods said. “In January 2020, before pandemic-induced shutdowns, total consumer spending was nearly $15 trillion. After falling during the pandemic, consumer spending rebounded in the beginning of 2021 beyond the pre-pandemic level.

“From discussions we’ve had with manufacturers, it seems clear that companies that were more bullish in their forecasts kept their inventories at a higher level and invested more heavily in capital equipment, and those who found ways to shorten their supply chains to ensure that they could fill orders kept pace with demand and drove February’s phenomenal numbers,” he concluded.

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