Despite the surge in new orders, firms added to their headcounts at the softest pace for 11 months but were still able to keep backlogs at bay. Meanwhile, purchase cost inflation accelerated to a fresh series high, and for the fourth month running. Output price inflation followed suit, also quickening to a new survey peak in December. The headline figure derived from the survey is the Purchasing Managers’ Index™ (PMI®). Readings above 50.0 signal an improvement in business conditions on the previous month, while readings below 50.0 show a deterioration. At 56.4 in December, up from 55.0 in November, the latest expansion pointed to a robust overall improvement in business conditions. Moreover, the latest quarterly reading was at 55.2, the highest since the final quarter of 2019. A key driver of growth was the quickest rise in new orders for over two years.
Firms mentioned fruitful marketing efforts and a general improvement in domestic and international demand. Subsequently, firms boosted output for the thirteenth month running, and at the quickest rate since August 2020.
Subsector data revealed expansions across the board, although manufacturers recorded by far the strongest increase. Wholesale & retail, services and agriculture followed, respectively. Despite robust expansions in output, firms added to their headcounts at only a slight pace. Panel comments suggested that whilst sales had increased, firms were able to keep up with demand leading to a marked reduction in backlogs. Meanwhile, historically elevated rates of new order growth led firms to engage in stockpiling strategies during the month. In fact, inventories increased at the quickest rate in eight years of data collection. Buying levels also increased substantially, and at the fourth-most marked rate in the series. As for prices, purchase costs rose at a survey-record rate for the fourth month running. Higher raw material prices, fuel costs and unfavourable exchange rate movements drove the increase. Favourable demand conditions allowed for costs to be passed on to clients at a record rate in December. Finally, firms were optimistic for output growth in 2022 amid plans to broaden product offerings, increase advertisements and expand operations to new locations.