The Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI released new survey data suggesting little change from the past quarter, and yet, it remains overwhelmingly more positive than many of its peers in terms of current and future sentiment. The composite index for the third quarter edged down from 68 in the second quarter to 67 now. While down significantly from earlier quarters (where it was 77 last year at this time), it still represents a strong expansion in the industry. Values over 50 suggest growth.

New orders and shipments continued to grow, but at essentially the same rates as last quarter. Indices for these measures were 79 and 81, respectively, suggesting strong growth. Meanwhile, investment was slightly higher, increasing from 78 to 81.

Exports, inventories and profit margins experienced slower rates of growth. Exports, in particular, are lower due to slower global economic activity and significant financial headwinds in European markets. These values remain highly elevated, however, and forward-looking indices suggest that manufacturers remain optimistic moving forward.Overall, these numbers are significantly more optimistic than many of the others out there right now. It is important to note that the NAM/IndustryWeek Survey of Manufacturers also found that businesses were mostly upbeat about the future, with 65 percent of manufacturers saying that they were either somewhat or very positive at the business environment.

Yet, that survey, as with this one, has found some deterioration more recently. While the Manufacturers Alliance numbers are higher than the ISM or regional Federal Reserve surveys, it is notable that they have fallen each quarter since the second quarter of 2010.  Thus, it is still true that whatever optimism exists is still a cautious one.

Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.