June 20, 2010 5:43 pm

US manufacturing crown slips

The US remained the world’s biggest manufacturing nation by output last year, but is poised to relinquish this slot in 2011 to China – thus ending a 110-year run as the number one country in factory production.

The figures are revealed in a league table being published on Monday by IHS Global Insight, a US-based economics consultancy.

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Last year, the US created 19.9 per cent of world manufacturing output, compared with 18.6 per cent for China, with the US staying ahead despite a steep fall in factory production due to the global recession.

That the US is still top comes as a surprise, since in 2008 – before the slump of the past two years took hold – IHS predicted it would lose pole position in 2009.

However, a relatively resilient US performance kept China in second place, says IHS, which predicts that faster growth in China will deny the US the top spot next year.

The US became the world’s biggest manufacturer in the late 1890s, edging the then-incumbent – Britain – into the number two position.

Hal Sirkin, head of the global operations practice at Chicago-based Boston Consulting Group, said the US should not despair too much at the likelihood that it would lose the global crown in manufacturing to China.

“If you have a country with four times the population of the US and a tenth of the wages, it is fairly obvious they will pull ahead at some time in productive capabilities,“ he said.

Last year, according to IHS, goods output by the US totalled $1,717bn, ahead of China at $1,608bn.

However in 2011, on the basis of IHS’s estimates, China’s factory output will come to $1,870bn, a fraction ahead of the projected US figure for the year.

If China does become the world’s biggest manufacturer, it will be a return to the top slot for a nation which – according to economic historians – was the world’s leading country for goods production for more than 1,500 years up until the 1850s, when Britain took over for a brief spell, mainly due to the impetus of the industrial revolution.

The IHS figures are worked out on the basis of current-year output numbers, translated into dollars, with no adjustments for inflation. If the figures are calculated in inflation-adjusted, constant price terms, then I HS believes that the US will keep its top role in manufacturing for a little longer.

On an inflation-adjusted basis, which is based on a forecast that US inflation will be lower than that in China over the next few years, China is forecast to take over the number one position in manufacturing in 2013-14.

According to the IHS numbers, world manufacturing output last year came to $8,638bn (€6,979bn, £5,825bn) or 16.7 per cent of global gross domestic product.

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