Exporters for Ex-Im:Mint Oil Maker Wants Ex-Im Bank Reauthorized

Terry Cochran didn’t know it at the time, but growing up on a mint farm helped prepare him for his career.

Mr. Cochran and his brother run Norwest Ingredients in Royal City, Wash., a 15-person company that makes mint and other oils used in gum, confection and a range of oral care products from mouthwash to toothpaste. They buy mint oil from farms around the country and process it to ensure it’s safe and of high quality before selling it in giant barrels that cost more than $10,000.

He and his brother started the company in 1998 and started exporting shortly thereafter. They’ve gained enough credibility that they count toothpaste giant Colgate among their customers. But as they grew, getting financing from private banks was a problem.

“As we grew and more and more of our sales were overseas, our local banks began to get a bit uneasy about it because as you know once it’s overseas it can be hard to get paid,” Mr. Cochran said. So the company turned to the U.S. Export-Import Bank and has been using  Ex-Im loan guarantees for its customers ever since. Their sales have increased, on average, about 20% per year since they began exporting.

Norwest Ingredients is like the many other small firms that rely on the Ex-Im Bank when private banks aren’t willing or able to help them expand abroad. The Ex-Im Bank has supported 1.2 million jobs in the last five years, and those jobs could be at risk if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank by the end of September.

Mr. Cochran doesn’t want to see that happen. If the Ex-Im Bank doesn’t get reauthorized, his sales will suffer.

And some of the company’s suppliers, including the employees and sons who work on mint farms like Mr. Cochran did as a kid, will suffer.

“Exporters for Ex-Im” is a blog series focused on the importance of the Export-Import Bank to manufacturers. To learn more or to tell Congress you support reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, visit http://www.nam.org/Issues/Trade/Ex-Im-Bank.aspx.

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Setback for the ACA Started Years Ago

To my mind there is no rejoicing in the decision reached by a federal appeals court this morning. The decision determined that subsidies given to those enrolled in federally-facilitated exchanges (FFE) are unlawful because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) law clearly states the subsidies are for those in state-based exchanges. This decision is a severe blow to the Administration and supporters of the ACA as a majority of the exchanges up and running around the country are now ineligible for subsidies to offset the cost of coverage.

The reason there is little to rejoice about this decision is the origins of the decision began about five years ago, before the ACA was the law of the land. What it demonstrates to me is that the legislative process matters and is ignored at the executive’s peril. It also shows us that bad things are more likely to happen when one party decides to effectively cut the other out of the process. Remember, the House was forced to take up the poorly written Senate version of healthcare reform, because Senator Ted Kennedy was replaced by a Republican during a special election held due to his death in 2009, which reduced the Senate Democratic Majority to 59.

Further exacerbating the situation, the White House insisted today that the subsidies will continue to be distributed – in clear contradiction to a federal court decision. The Jacksonian reaction to effectively ignore the decision is only going to create more trouble and puts the millions of Americans who are caught in the middle of this fight in a position of accepting something the federal judiciary has deemed unlawful.

It’s long past time for the President and his administration to accept that the legislative process is integral to the functioning of our government and is not something to be ignored or tolerated. It’s also time for Congress to be legislators.

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TRIA Reauthorization Passes Senate with Strong Support from Manufacturers

This week, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, the Senate passed Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) reauthorization legislation. The program was created during the aftermath of 9/11 when primary insurers and reinsurers ceased to provide coverage for terrorism events. While it has never been used, the program provides a federal “backstop” in case of a catastrophic event.  Under TRIA, once claims against the insurance industry reach $100 million, the government would pay a portion of a company’s insured losses, after the insurer pays a deductible. The law caps the government’s annual liability at $100 billion and requires [] the Secretary of the Treasury to impose surcharges on property/casualty insurance policies to recoup 133 percent of outlays to insurers under the program.

So why is this important for manufacturers? TRIA has prevented the cost of workers’ compensation (WC) from increasing significantly. Unlike other lines of insurance, WC statutes rigidly define the terms of coverage so, without TRIA, insurance companies would limit their exposure by raising premiums and declining coverage to employers facing high terrorism risk. Because WC coverage is mandatory for nearly all U.S. employers, manufacturers operating in areas deemed to have a high risk of terrorism would be forced to purchase coverage in alternative markets, at a significantly higher cost.

Manufacturers support TRIA because it ensures that businesses in high-risk areas have access to affordable terrorism coverage and taxpayers are protected from any losses.  The NAM is pleased that S.2244, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support – a vote of 94-3. We hope that the House passes its own reauthorization legislation that allows terrorism coverage to be available and affordable for all manufacturers.

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Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Expanding at a Modest Pace

The Richmond Federal Reserve Bank said that manufacturing activity grew at a modest pace, expanding for the fourth straight month. The composite index of general business conditions edged slightly higher, up from 4 in June to 7 in July. Note that historical data in the Richmond Fed survey were revised in this edition to reflect new seasonal adjustments.

Despite the improved top-line figure, the underlying data were largely mixed. The biggest positive was hiring, with the employment index up from 4 to 13. This was the fastest pace of hiring growth since December, which was encouraging. Wage (up from 12 to 16) and shipments (up from 2 to 3) were also higher. Yet, new orders (5) expanded at the same pace, and both capacity utilization (down from 7 to 4) and the average workweek (down from 5 to 3) decelerated somewhat for the month.

Still, manufacturers in the Richmond Fed’s district were mostly upbeat about the next six months, with forward-looking measures increasing in July for many indicators. For instance, new orders (up from 27 to 34), shipments (up from 24 to 36), capacity utilization (up from 18 to 29), employment (up from 12 to 19) and capital expenditures (up from 18 to 19) were all higher, with each suggesting relatively healthy paces of growth.

Inflationary pressures have picked up a bit for the month, but remain mostly in-check. Manufacturers in the region said that prices paid for raw materials grew 1.99 percent at the annual rate in July, up from 1.47 percent in June. Looking ahead six months, respondents expect input costs to increase an annualized 1.89 percent, up only marginally from 1.84 percent the month before.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Consumer Prices Ease a Bit in June, Still Reflect an Acceleration in the Second Quarter

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that consumer prices increased 0.3 percent in June, easing a bit from the 0.4 percent growth rate seen in May. Still, it is clear that prices have accelerated in the second quarter, led by higher food and energy costs. The annualized rate of growth in the second quarter was 3.5 percent, a substantial jump from the 1.8 percent annual pace seen in the first quarter. Of course, this figure perhaps overstates the significance of the last three months, with the consumer price index up 2.1 percent over the past 12 months. Even there, though, the year-over-year rate has jumped from being just 1.1 percent in February.

In the June data, the largest jump in consumer prices came from energy, up 1.6 percent for the month and building off of the 0.9 percent increase in May. Indeed, the price of West Texas intermediate crude has increased from an average of $97.63 per barrel in December to $100.80 in March to $105.79 in June. Much of the latest rise in prices has stemmed from Middle Eastern turmoil, particularly in Iraq at that time. Energy costs have risen 2.8 percent in the past three months alone, primarily from higher gasoline prices.

Meanwhile, food prices were up 0.1 percent, its slowest pace of growth in four months. In fact, prices of food for the home were unchanged in June, the first non-positive growth figure in six months. Higher prices for meats and eggs were offset by some easing in the costs of bakery items, cereals, dairy products and fruits and vegetables. Nonetheless, the cost of food for the consumer has risen 1.8 percent over the past six months, something that Americans are bound to notice in the grocery aisle.

Outside of food and energy, core consumer inflation decelerated in June to 0.1 percent growth in June. Over the past 12 months, core consumer prices have risen 1.9 percent, unchanged from May but up from 1.6 percent in January. In June, the largest increases were seen in airfare, apparel, housing, medical care and tobacco.

While pricing pressures have definitely picked up in the second quarter, the year-over-year pace still remains mostly in-line with the Federal Reserve Board’s stated goals. They will no-doubt continue to watch inflation numbers closely, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is unlikely to deviate from its current monetary policy trajectory at next week’s meeting.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Monday Economic Report – July 21, 2014

This is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report: 

With more and more data starting to trickle in for June, we are seeing some definite trends taking shape. One positive is that the manufacturing sector continues to expand, suggesting that the rebound from winter-related softness earlier in the year has mostly continued. Manufacturers also tend to be mostly upbeat about the second half of this year—a sign of optimism that is encouraging. Yet, there were also indicators suggesting that the pace of activity slowed somewhat in June, most notably in the industrial production, housing starts and retail sales numbers that were released last week.

Indeed, manufacturing output in June increased at its slowest rate since January, with relatively mixed news overall. Nondurable goods production edged higher, up 0.1 percent, but output from nondurable goods manufacturers declined by 0.3 percent. Monthly declines in production in such sectors as apparel, machinery and motor vehicles nearly offset output gains for aircraft, furniture, metals and plastics, and rubber products. Longer-term trends remain reassuring, even if they still leave room for improvement. Over the past 12 months, manufacturing production has increased 3.5 percent, a decent figure overall and progress from the much slower pace of just 1.5 percent in January. Durable goods output has risen by a healthy 5.5 percent year-over-year, whereas nondurable goods activity was a less robust 1.5 percent in the past year.

Housing starts in June were also weaker than expected, down from an annualized 985,000 in May to 893,000 in June. Starts were lower for both single-family and multifamily units. There have been suggestions that rain might have attributed to the weaker construction activity, with storms preventing some units from breaking ground. Yet, single-family starts have struggled for some time, down 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. On the positive side, single-family housing permits rose for the second straight month, up from 615,000 to 631,000 at the annual rate for the month. This could suggest stronger growth in the housing market in the coming months for single-family homes. Along those lines, homebuilder confidence increased to its highest point since January, with better expectations for sales over the next six months.

Meanwhile, surveys out last week reported multiyear highs in the pace of manufacturing activity. New orders and shipments were up sharply in surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks. Hiring also picked up in both regions, and raw material costs remained elevated relative to prior months. More importantly, manufacturers in each survey said they were optimistic that sales, output, employment and capital spending would increase over the next six months. In fact, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve report found that 56.1 percent of its respondents anticipated higher new orders, with 60.4 percent predicting increased shipment levels. In addition, the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) reported that the business outlook rose for the sixth consecutive quarter on accelerated sales domestically and abroad. Shipments and capital spending were also anticipated to grow strongly moving forward.

On the consumer front, Americans continue to be cautious in their purchase decisions. Retail spending increased 0.2 percent in June. This was the slowest pace since January, and it was below expectations. Reduced auto sales contributed to this lower figure. Despite the slower activity levels in June, the year-over-year pace continues to grow at decent levels, up 4.3 percent over the past 12 months. Preliminary consumer confidence data also indicate some nagging anxieties in the economy, according to the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters. The Consumer Sentiment Index unexpectedly decreased from 82.5 in June to 81.3 in July, and consumer attitudes have not changed much since December. Much of July’s decrease stemmed from weaker expectations about the future economy. However, higher gasoline prices might have also been a factor. Indeed, the producer price index increased in June largely on higher energy costs.

This week, we will get additional insights on the health of manufacturing worldwide. Markit will release preliminary purchasing managers’ index reports for China, Japan, the Eurozone and the United States for July. We will be looking for continued progress in Asia and the United States and we hope a reversing of the easing in activity in Europe. The Kansas City and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks will also report on their latest manufacturing surveys. Beyond these releases, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will publish real GDP data by industry for the first quarter; given the 2.9 percent drop in real GDP during the first quarter, we would anticipate minimal contributions to growth from the manufacturing sector. Other highlights include the latest data on consumer prices, durable goods orders and existing and new home sales.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

manufacturing production growth - jul2014

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Setting the Record Straight

There’s no doubt that the U.S. tax code— which includes the developed world’s highest corporate tax rate, outdated international tax rules and a host of temporary provisions—is a drag on economic growth and competitiveness. And while Manufacturers continue to push for comprehensive tax reform, NAM members recognize that, until that happens, we have to operate and compete under the current system. Unfortunately, that reality is being largely ignored in the current rhetoric flying around Washington about corporate inversions.

In today’s Wall Street Journal Miles White, the Chairman and CEO of Abbott Laboratories, sets the record straight on the realities of the U.S. tax system in his oped,  Ignoring the Facts on Corporate Inversions, and notes that legislation to block inversions would simply make a bad system worse. We agree strongly with Mr. White that piecemeal proposals to change the tax code will do more harm than good and the real solution is one Manufacturers have been pushing for all along, “fact-based, thoughtful, comprehensive [tax] reform.”

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Investment Is Critical to an Ambitious and Successful T-TIP

As the United States and EU meet this week in Brussels to continue the Transatlantic Trade and Partnership (T-TIP) talks, U.S. and EU officials are not engaged in any formal discussion on the biggest economic driver of the transatlantic partnership – cross-border investment. Cross-border investment tops $4 trillion between the United States and the EU, making it the largest investment partnership in the world.

The EU had asked to put T-TIP investment talks on hold while it reviews the input it had requested and received from its investment public consultation, which closed on July 13.

On July 7, the NAM submitted detailed comments regarding the investment provisions in the T-TIP, Investment emphasizing that:

  • Investment is a critical driver of economic growth and jobs in both the United States and EU, and in third countries around the world.
  • The United States and EU have an important opportunity to set high standards for the protection of property and investment through the T-TIP that reflect our own core principles and help influence investment instruments being negotiated around the world.
  •  The investment treaties and experience of EU member states and the United States has been highly positive, reinforcing basic rule of law standards with our international partners.
  • While a lot of critiques have been made, the facts are very clear. U.S. and EU investment instruments are not a threat to good  government; in fact, they promote it and promote growth and jobs as well.

The United States and EU members states have long negotiated provisions recognizing core principles of their own legal systems – the protection of private property, fairness, non-discrimination and an independent and neutral venue for the resolution of disputes. The NAM and many organizations representing businesses that create millions of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic are strongly urging the EU and the United States to include high-standard investment access and protections, backed up by investor-state dispute settlement, in the final T-TIP.

While the U.S.-EU investment relationship is vibrant, that relationship will benefit from common rules and disciplines, similar to the way that the extensive trade in goods and services will also benefit from trade-agreement provisions. Including a strong investment chapter will create greater confidence and opportunities between the United States and EU, and also set an important example of the type of standards that the EU and its stakeholders hope to achieve with major economies around the world.

As negotiators begin planning the next T-TIP round, the NAM is expecting investment to be back on the table so that the United States and EU can realize the ambitious T-TIP that they began just a year ago.

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University of Michigan: Consumer Confidence Slipped Somewhat in July

The University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters said that preliminary data on consumer confidence slipped somewhat in July. The Consumer Sentiment Index unexpectedly decreased from 82.5 in June to 81.3 in July. The consensus expectation had been for a slight gain. Over the course of the last eight months (December to July), the index has averaged 81.8. In essence, after consumer attitudes recovered from the government shutdown in December, they have not really moved that much. The April reading of 84.1 is the one outlier in that time frame.

Looking specifically at the July data, it is clear that the drop in consumer sentiment in the month stemmed from weaker expectations about the future economy. The forward-looking component has declined from 74.7 in April to 71.1 in July. In contrast, views about the current economic environment were more mixed, with an improvement in July (up from 96.6 to 97.1) but with slightly weaker perceptions than seen in April (98.7).

This nuanced perception could be influenced by the competing news about the health of the U.S. economy, with disappointing data on real GDP growth in the first quarter perhaps outweighing better labor market headlines of late. Either way, it suggests that consumers continue to remain cautious.

We will get final data on July consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan on August 1. The Conference Board will also release its June survey data on consumer confidence on July 29.

Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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Remembering David Olson

David Olson, President of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

David Olson, President of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Manufacturers lost a great leader. Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson will be missed greatly by manufacturers, his fellow NAM Board Members and many more across the country.

David left us after a life not long enough, but long enough for joy and love and laughter and good times – and long enough to leave a lasting footprint on the business community, his state and his country.

He inspired all of us and will be remembered by the countless individuals whose lives he made better. David always had colorful stories to tell, laughs to laugh, words to write, legislators to buttonhole, lobbies to walk and battles to fight. He passionately led the business community in Minnesota for decades with great optimism and strong faith. As a champion for economic growth, he provided pragmatic solutions that transcended party politics.

What most of us remember best is not specifically what David did or said, but how he did it – as a unique, wonderful, patriotic and highly intelligent human being. He connected with each of us in some unusual way to get a job done. Through his words and actions, he made us proud and proud to know him.

He was the epitome of hardworking Minnesotan values and a leader among his peers. I was fortunate enough to count him as my friend.

In an industry that seems to grow more homogenized every day, David had very much his own voice. His lifetime of dedication serves as a monument to the exemplary man he was.  His integrity and hard work will encourage those who knew him and will continue to benefit those who make Minnesota their home for years to come.  Among the best things David has left behind is his shining example.

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