Although small in proportion to the rest of the economy, manufacturing is perhaps the sector most sensitive to changes in economic growth. To gauge what's ahead in the economy, pay attention to these monthly reports:
ADVANCE REPORT ON DURABLE GOODS ORDERS
The Commerce Dept. releases data on orders for goods generally designed to last more than three years. The report also contains numbers on the backlog of unfilled orders and shipments.
MANUFACTURING SHIPMENTS, INVENTORIES, AND ORDERS
Another Commerce Dept. report that covers activity for both durable and nondurable goods. The inventory data can signal growing shortages or possible overproduction problems.
INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION AND CAPACITY UTILIZATION
The Federal Reserve tracks output by manufacturers, mines, and utilities. The data are broken down into specific industries, including the important motor-vehicle sector. Capacity utilization calculates if factories have too much unused capacity or are operating full tilt.
PURCHASING MANAGERS' INDEX
Released by the National Association of Purchasing Management, this report measures industrial activity on production, employment, delivery times, inventories, prices, and orders.