economy

Manufacturing plunged in March

American industry collapsed in March as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy. Manufacturing and overall industrial production posted the biggest declines since the United States demobilized after World War II.

The Federal Reserve reported Wednesday that manufacturing output dropped 6.3 percent last month, led by plunging production at auto factories that have entirely shut down. Overall, industrial production — which includes factories, utilities and mines — plummeted 5.4 percent. The declines were the biggest since 1946 and far worse than what economists had expected.

Production of autos and auto parts went into free fall, dropping 28 percent.

The lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed to combat covid-19 have brought economic activity to a near-standstill. Output dropped 3.9 percent at utilities and 2 percent at mines as oil and gas drilling plunged, the Fed said.

Factories were running at 70.2 percent of capacity last month, down from 75.1 percent in February and the lowest since 2010, when the U.S. economy was still recovering from the Great Recession.

— Associated Press

ENERGY

Clean sector down 100,000 U.S. jobs

From solar panel installers to electric vehicle factory workers, the clean energy sector lost more than 100,000 U.S. jobs in March as stringent measures to control the new coronavirus shut down manufacturing and halted plans for home and business upgrades.

The job loss estimates are based on an analysis of Labor Department unemployment claims published on Wednesday by BW Research for clean energy business groups E2, the American Council on Renewable Energy and E4TheFuture.

The clean energy sector, as defined in the report, includes solar and wind company workers, electricians, roofers and plumbers who install energy-efficient products, and factory employees who make everything from hybrid cars to LED lighting to efficient appliances.

There were 3.36 million workers in the sector at the end of 2019, an increase of more than 70,000 from a year earlier, according to E2. The March job losses, therefore, erased all the industry’s gains from 2019 and then some. The analysis projects that more than 500,000 jobs, or 15 percent of the clean energy workforce, could be lost in the next few months.

— Reuters

HOUSING INDUSTRY

Home builders' confidence plummets

U.S. home builder sentiment plunged in April to the lowest level in more than seven years, as the coronavirus pandemic kept potential buyers quarantined and paralyzed construction in much of the country.

Confidence among builders tumbled to 30 from a measure of 72 in March, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index released Wednesday. It was the biggest monthly decline in the 30-year history of the index and the lowest reading since June 2012.

The unprecedented drop “is due exclusively to the coronavirus outbreak across the nation, as unemployment has skyrocketed and gaps in the supply chain have hampered construction activities,” Dean Mon, the group’s chairman, said in a statement.

April’s measure was the first time the index fell below 50 since June 2014. A reading below that level indicates more builders view conditions as poor than good. The gauge reached 76 at the end of 2019, the highest in two decades.

Before the pandemic hit, the market for newly built houses was showing signs of strength, with sales in January and February at their fastest pace since the Great Recession, according to Robert Dietz, the group’s chief economist.

— Bloomberg News

Also in Business

A new Internal Revenue Service Web page allows Americans awaiting $1,200 economic stimulus payments to find out when they will arrive, though high demand has caused some delays. The Web page lets recipients log in to see when their payment will be sent and whether they will receive it by direct deposit or a mailed check. Phyllis Jo Kubey, a tax preparer in New York City, said several of her clients received error messages after trying to access the IRS’s “Get My Payment” tool earlier Wednesday. The IRS said in a statement that the online tool will be updated once a day.

UnitedHealth Group on Wednesday reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit due to strength in the pharmacy benefit business and maintained its forecast for the year. UnitedHealth, the first health insurer to report results this earnings season, said its quarterly numbers reflect minimal impact from covid-19 as the U.S. incidence of the fast-spreading respiratory illness worsened only late in the quarter. The company said Andrew Witty, head of UnitedHealth’s pharmacy benefit unit, Optum, will take a leave of absence to help lead the World Health Organization’s new initiative for covid-19 vaccine development.

— From news reports