Signs Show US Manufacturing May Be Stalling Again

Workers polish a wing leading edge at the CPI Aerostructures Inc. manufacturing facility in Edgewood, New York, U.S.
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Workers polish a wing leading edge at the CPI Aerostructures Inc. manufacturing facility in Edgewood, New York, U.S.

Has America's manufacturing rebound stalled?

The latest data shows manufacturing has not only hit a plateau, in some cases it's slowing down again.

"There is a slowdown in small business manufacturing in America," said Bill Phelan, President of PayNet, which tracks more than a trillion dollars in loans and leases for small manufacturers.

"We are seeing small businesses start to pull back on their investment in property, plant and equipment. They are not putting as much capital to work and that's really an indication of their point of view."

Phelan said companies in the publishing and lumber industries have been particularly weak.

But, two manufacturing sectors continue to add workers—industrial machinery firms and transportation related companies. A good example is the steady expansion in companies related to aviation.

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On Monday and Tuesday, GE Aviation opened two plants in Alabama and Mississippi that will build components for aircraft engines. By the end of this decade, the plants are expected to employ more than 550 people.

"Manufacturing is actually growing, at least in the first quarter," said Dan Meckstroth, economist for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation. "In the first quarter of 2013 manufacturing production increased 5.3 percent and the economy in general only increased 2.5 percent."

While there are pockets of strength within manufacturing, there are also signs the sector as a whole is slowing down.

On Tuesday, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index showed its first contraction since 2009.

Meanwhile manufacturing job growth, which included adding a half million workers between January 2010 and the middle of last year, has hit a plateau over the last six months.

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All of this has many economists wondering if the April jobs report will show a decline in the manufacturing sector when the numbers come out later this week.

Adding to the overall question of whether manufacturing in the U.S. has stalled is a new report from Morgan Stanley. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Morgan Stanley report said "the current investment in U.S. manufacturing remains at depressed levels."

-By CNBC's Phil LeBeau; Follow him on Twitter @Lebeaucarnews