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South Jersey manufacturers rebounding from Sandy slam

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Though South Jersey manufacturers were slammed by Hurricane Sandy in late October and early November, a survey released Thursday by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia shows business activity at the firms rebounded through Dec. 18, as industry indicators reached their highest levels since April.

“Some businesses that reported a pickup are supplying materials and building parts for the recovery process, which is evident in the monthly increase in shipments,” said Michael Trebing, an economic analyst for the bank. “But the main driver is fewer firms are reporting falling business activity than before.”

Nearly 26 percent of the manufacturers surveyed saw business growth between Nov. 14 and Dec. 18. Seventeen percent said they took a hit during that time period, though that’s a significant improvement from 32 percent of firms reporting decreased activity between October and November.

Trebing said manufacturers’ six-month outlook on business activity “paralleled improvement in current indicators,” which suggests they do not foresee macroeconomic concerns like the so-called fiscal cliff stifling their business growth through June 2013.

However, 60 percent of firms said they expect health insurance costs to increase in 2013, and 40 percent of firms anticipate higher energy, raw materials and labor costs next year.

Still, nearly 27 percent of survey respondents plan to hire more workers within the next six months, and half of them expect labor costs to stay at their current levels. Twenty percent of firms expanded their workforce through mid-December, compared to 10 percent reporting hiring activity in mid-October.

Despite manufacturing plant closings in the wake of Sandy, New Jersey’s manufacturing sector gained 200 jobs in November, though it shed 400 jobs in October, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

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