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December Durable Goods - no tech recovery in sight

The advanced numbers for December 2008 Durable Goods were released today and they were considerably worse than expected. The headline numbers were as follows:
  • New orders for manufactured durable goods in December decreased $4.7 billion or 2.6 percent to $176.8 billion.
  • Shipments of manufactured durable goods in December, down five consecutive months, decreased $1.4 billion or 0.7 percent to $191.3 billion.
  • Unfilled orders for manufactured durable goods in December, down three consecutive months, decreased $10.3 billion or 1.3 percent to $803.2 billion.
  • Inventories of manufactured durable goods in December, up seventeen of the last eighteen months, increased $1.3 billion or 0.4 percent to $343.5 billion. This was at the highest level since the series was first stated on a NAICS basis in 1992.
As we always do, we will focus on the tech sector, looking at the summary category of Computers and Electronic Products and updating our charts with the December data.

The following chart shows how Shipments have been trending ever lower. Note that despite shipments of consumer electronics increasing for the holiday selling season, it wasn't nearly enough to affect the rapidly declining trend.

advanced report Durable Goods Shipments for Dec-08
This next chart looks at New Orders. Another plunging trendline.

advanced report Durable New Orders for Dec-08
New Orders fell over 7% from November to December which seemed like rather brutal drop. This prompted me to recast the chart above into one that tracks the percent change from month to month.

advanced report Durable New Orders percent change for Dec-08It is easier to see now that December's move was one of the biggest in percentage terms since the middle of 2007. Unfortunately, that move was down and serves to more than negate the positive move seen in the previous month.

The next chart shows total inventories. The increase in inventories has been inexorable and has reached the highest level in three years.

advanced report Durable Inventories for Dec-08
Conclusion --

Tech is still in a tough situation. Summarizing what we have seen in the charts we have the following points:
  • Shipments continue to fall though not so much as the previous month. The trend, however, remains clearly down.
  • New Orders plunged in December. The trend here is also down.
  • The buildup in Inventories continues unabated
These charts show that the downturn in tech hasn't showed any evidence of a bottom yet. Shipments and New Orders continue to decline in tandem.

The rise in inventories is another troubling sign. By the time demand begins to return, there will be high levels of inventories to be worked through before the tech industry can begin to really ramp up production. In the meantime, the industry will continue to run at low capacity, depressing margins.

The conclusion is that a recovery in tech is unlikely in the near term. Given the continued drumbeat of layoff announcements, it appears that tech industry management feels the same way.


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I like to dig into the Durable Goods report because it can be useful for seeing how tech in aggregate is performing and how the sector may perform in the future. I always focus on two particular measures: shipments and new orders. Let's see how it played out last month.

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I generally give less importance to Shipments since this is a backward looking measure reflecting orders that have been confirmed, manufactured and shipped. It's similar to earnings reports -- it's good to know but the data is in the past and we're more interested in the future. The following chart shows how September shipments looked for the overall tech sector:

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