The final RBS/NTC Eurozone Manufacturing PMI came in at 50.7 in April, down from 52.0 in March and slightly below the earlier flash estimate of 50.8. The fall in the PMI was the largest for six months and took the index to its lowest since August 2005.
National trends among the big-four euro nations varied markedly again in April, as did production by sector, with consumer goods producers reporting a survey record decline in output.
The PMI (Purchasing Managers' Index) was particularly weak, registering the first decline in new orders since May 2005 (in line with the flash reading). New export orders fell by marginally more than indicated by the flash reading, also declining for the first time since May 2005 due to softer economic growth in key foreign markets and the strong euro.
Among the big-four euro countries, only Germany recorded an increase in new orders, though the rise was the smallest for three months. This deterioration was primarily the result of a substantial easing in growth of new export orders at German manufacturers. Spain and Italy both saw new orders fall at the steepest rates since December 2001.
In a sign of broad-based weakness of production to come in future months, new orders for consumer, intermediate and investment goods (such as plant and machinery) all fell in April, albeit only marginally in the case of investment goods. Consumer goods producers saw the sharpest monthly drop in new orders in the survey’s ten-year history, in part reflecting lower levels of new export orders.
``Germany will do better than average,'' said Dominic Bryant, an economist at BNP Paribas in London, in a research note to investors. ``At the other end of the spectrum, Italy and, in particular Spain, will have a very tough year with growth well below trend.''
Italy's Manufacturing PMI
Italy's manufacturing sector contracted for a second month in April, posting its weakest performance since May 2005 and casting a deepening shadow over growth prospects, accoring to the NTC/ADACI PMI survey.
The NTC Purchasing Managers Index fell to 48.2 from March's 49.4, sinking further below the 50 divide between growth and contraction. The survey is the latest in a string of negative data for the euro zone's third largest economy, underscoring the tough task awaiting incoming Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after his victory in last month's general election.
"There are really no indications of a turnaround, with backlogs of work still falling and new orders the weakest since December 2001," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at NTC Research which compiles the data.
"The big area of weakness in Italy is in the domestic economy, and within that the consumer sector where things are going form bad to worse."
The International Monetary Fund forecasts the Italian economy will grow just 0.3 percent this year, and Williamson said the PMI data pointed to a contraction of gross domestic product in the first and second quarters, and possibly beyond.
"These PMI figures are very much signs of recession," he said, forecasting that the rate of job losses is likely to pick up, hitting consumer confidence further. Italy's 1.5 percent 2007 growth rate was little more than half the euro zone average, maintaining a trend of Italian underperformance that has persisted for at least a decade.
The survey showed employment levels fell for the third month running and the manufacturing output sub-index pointed to a fall in output for the first time since May 2005. Input price inflation eased significantly to a four-month low but, with an index level of 64.2, remained at a high level by historical standards.