In September 2019, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), which measures a wide variety of manufacturing data, fell to 47.8%, the lowest level since June 2009.1
A reading below 50% generally means that manufacturing activity is contracting. The August reading of 49.1% had signaled the beginning of a contraction, and the drop in September suggested that the contraction was not only continuing but accelerating. The index rose slightly to 48.3% in October, but this indicated the third consecutive month of contraction.2 Nearly two-thirds of economists in a Wall Street Journal poll conducted in early October said the manufacturing sector was already in recession, defined as two or more quarters of negative growth.3
The PMI — which tracks changes in production, new orders, employment, supplier deliveries, and inventories — is considered a leading economic indicator that may predict the future direction of the broader economy. Manufacturing contractions have often preceded economic recessions, but the structure of the U.S. economy has changed in recent decades, with services carrying much greater weight than manufacturing. The last time the manufacturing sector contracted, during the “industrial recession” in 2015 and 2016, the services sector helped to maintain continued growth in the broader economy.4
That may occur this time as well, but there are mixed signals from the services sector. In September, the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index (NMI) dropped suddenly to its lowest point in three years: 52.6%. The index bounced back in October to 54.7%, marking the 117th consecutive month of service sector expansion. Even so, these recent readings were well below the 12-month high of 60.4% in November 2018.5
The slump in U.S. manufacturing is being driven by a variety of factors, including a weakening global economy, the strong dollar, and escalating tariffs on U.S. and imported goods.
In October 2019, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded its forecast for 2019 global growth to 3.0%, the lowest level since 2008-09. The IMF pointed to trade tensions and a slowdown in global manufacturing as two of the primary reasons for the weakening outlook.6 Put simply, a weaker world economy shrinks the global market for U.S. manufacturers.
The strong dollar, which makes U.S. goods more expensive overseas, reflects the strength of the U.S. financial system in relation to the rest of the world and is unlikely to change in the near future.7 Tariffs, however, are a more volatile and immediate issue.
Originally intended to protect U.S. manufacturers, tariffs have been effective for some industries. But the overall impact so far has been negative due to rising costs for raw materials and retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports. For example, tariffs on foreign steel, which were first levied in March 2018, enabled U.S. steel manufacturers to set higher prices. But higher prices increased costs for other U.S. manufacturers that use steel in their products.8 Retaliatory tariffs by Canada and Mexico contributed to a $650 million drop in U.S. steel exports in 2018 and a $1 billion increase in the steel trade deficit.9 (In May 2019, the United States removed steel tariffs on Canada and Mexico, which dropped retaliatory tariffs in return.)10
U.S. manufacturers in every industry may pay higher prices for imported materials used to produce their products. An average of 22% of “intermediate inputs” (raw materials, semi-finished products, etc., used in the manufacturing process) come from abroad.11 Tariffs paid by U.S. manufacturers on these inputs must be absorbed — cutting into profits — and/or passed on to the consumer, which may reduce consumer demand.
Along with specific effects of the tariffs, manufacturers and other global businesses have been hamstrung by trade policy uncertainty, which makes it difficult to adapt to changing conditions and commit to investment. A recent Federal Reserve study estimated that trade policy uncertainty will lead to a cumulative 1% reduction in global economic output through 2020.12
On October 11, 2019, President Trump announced that he would delay further tariff hikes on China — including an increased tariff on intermediate goods scheduled for October 15 — while the two sides attempt to negotiate a limited deal. Although a deal would be welcomed by most interested parties, past potential deals have collapsed, and it’s uncertain how any agreement might affect the $400 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods already in place, or the tariffs on goods from other countries.13
Manufacturing accounts for only 11% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and 8.5% of non-farm employment, a big change from 50 years ago when it accounted for about 25% of both categories.14-15 However, the manufacturing sector’s economic influence extends beyond the production of goods to the transportation, warehousing, and retail networks that move products from the factory to U.S. consumers. The final output of U.S.-made goods accounts for about 30% of GDP.16
Even so, a continued slowdown in manufacturing is unlikely to throw the U.S. economy into recession as long as unemployment remains low and consumer spending remains high. The key to both of these may depend on the continued strength of the services sector, which employs the vast majority of U.S. workers. It remains to be seen whether the service economy will stay strong in the face of the global headwinds that are holding back manufacturing.
October 20 to 26, 2019, is National Retirement Security Week, a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the importance of saving for retirement. Established by Congress in 2006, National Retirement Security Week is designed to elevate public knowledge about retirement savings and to encourage employees to save and participate in their employer-sponsored retirement plans. What better time to review the benefits of your retirement plan and determine if you’re making the most of them?
Whether you have a 401(k), 403(b), or governmental 457(b) plan, contributing helps benefit your tax situation. If you make traditional (i.e., non-Roth) contributions to your plan, they are deducted from your pay before federal (and most state) income taxes are calculated. This reduces the amount of income tax you pay now. Moreover, you don’t pay income taxes on those contributions — or any returns you earn on them — until you withdraw money from the plan, ideally when you are retired and possibly in a lower tax bracket.
If your plan offers a Roth account and you take advantage of this opportunity, you don’t receive an immediate tax benefit for participation, but you could receive a significant tax advantage down the road. That’s because qualified withdrawals from a Roth account are tax-free at the federal and, in many cases, state level.
A withdrawal from a Roth account is qualified if it’s made after a five-year holding period (which starts on January 1 of the year you make your first contribution) and one of the following conditions applies:
So should you contribute to a traditional account, a Roth account, or both? The answer depends on your personal situation. If you think you’ll be in a similar or higher tax bracket when you retire, you may find a Roth account appealing for its tax-free retirement income advantages. On the other hand, if you think you’ll be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, then a traditional account may be more appropriate to help reduce your tax bill now. Of course, you could also divide your contributions between the two types of accounts to strive for both benefits, provided you don’t exceed the annual maximum contribution amount allowed ($19,000 in 2019; $25,000 if you’re age 50 or older).1
Keep in mind that employer plans were created specifically to help Americans save for retirement. For that reason, rules were also established to discourage participants from taking money out early. With certain exceptions, withdrawals from traditional (non-Roth) accounts and nonqualified withdrawals from Roth accounts prior to reaching age 59½ are subject to regular income taxes and a 10% penalty tax.
Employers are not required to contribute to employee accounts, but many do through matching or discretionary contributions. With a matching contribution, your employer can match your traditional pre-tax contributions, your after-tax Roth contributions, or both (however, all matching contributions will go into your traditional, tax-deferred account). Most match programs are based on a certain formula — for example, 50% of the first 6% of your salary that you contribute.
If your plan offers a matching program, be sure to contribute enough to take maximum advantage of it. Neglecting to contribute the required amount is essentially turning down free money.
Your employer may also offer discretionary contributions, which often take the form of profit-sharing contributions. These amounts generally go into your traditional account once per year, and typically vary from year to year.
Employer contributions are often subject to a vesting schedule. That means you earn the right to those contributions (and the earnings on them) over a period of time. Keep in mind that you are always fully vested in your own contributions and the earnings on them.
While most people understand that their employer-sponsored retirement plan is a key to preparing adequately for the day when the regular paychecks stop, they may not take the time to review their plan’s benefits and ensure they’re taking maximum advantage of them. National Retirement Security Week provides a perfect opportunity to review your plan materials, understand its features, and determine if any changes may be warranted.
The Medicare Open Enrollment Period is the time during which Medicare beneficiaries can make new choices and pick plans that work best for them. Each year, Medicare plan costs and coverage typically change. In addition, your health-care needs may have changed over the past year. The open enrollment period is your opportunity to switch Medicare health and prescription drug plans to better suit your needs.
The annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period begins on October 15 and runs through December 7. Any changes made during open enrollment are effective as of January 1, 2020.
During the open enrollment period, you can:
Now is a good time to review your current Medicare plan. What worked for you last year may not work for you this year.
Have you been satisfied with the coverage and level of care you’re receiving with your current plan? Are your premium costs or out-of-pocket expenses too high? Has your health changed? Do you anticipate needing medical care or treatment, or new or pricier prescription drugs?
If your current plan doesn’t meet your health-care needs or fit within your budget, you can switch to a plan that may work better for you.
If you find that you’re still satisfied with your current Medicare plan and it’s still being offered, you don’t have to do anything. The coverage you have will continue.
The end of the Medicare Part D donut hole. The Medicare Part D coverage gap or “donut hole” will officially close in 2020. If you have a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, you will now pay no more than 25% of the cost of both covered brand-name and generic prescription drugs after you’ve met your plan’s deductible (if any), until you reach the out-of-pocket spending limit.
New Medicare Advantage features. Beginning in 2020, Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans will have the option of offering nontraditional services such as transportation to a doctor’s office, home safety improvements, or nutritionist services. Of course, not all plans will offer these types of services.
Two Medigap plans discontinued. If you’re covered by Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), you may have purchased a private supplemental Medigap policy to cover some of the costs that Original Medicare doesn’t cover. In most states, there are 10 standard types of Medigap policies, identified by letters A through D, F, G, and K through N. Starting in 2020, people who are newly eligible for Medicare will not be able to purchase Medigap Plans C and F (these plans cover the Part B deductible which is no longer allowed), but if you already have one of those plans you can keep it.
Determining what coverage you have now and comparing it to other Medicare plans can be confusing and complicated. Pay attention to notices you receive from Medicare and from your plan, and take advantage of available help. You can call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit the Medicare website, medicare.gov to use the Plan Finder and other tools that can make comparing plans easier.
You can also call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for free, personalized counseling at no cost to you. Visit shiptacenter.org or call the toll-free Medicare number to find the phone number for your state.