Dec. 3 - Summary of business headlines: U.S. manufacturing sector stumbles again, but separate survey shows uptick in small business sentiment; Auto sales leap to multiyear high; Ford tries to take on foreign luxury brands on home turf. Conway G. Gittens reports.
The first trading day of the month goes into the losing column as manufacturing data give investors a reason to pause. The Dow and S&P 500 lost half of one percent, and an even smaller loss for the Nasdaq. A November survey shows U.S. manufacturing activity unexpectedly shrank, slowing to a more than three-year low, according to the Institute for Supply Management. But the view from small business-land appears more upbeat. Sentiment rebounded in October in the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index. The data show businesses are starting to take risk again, says Paynet President William Phelan: SOUNDBITE: WILLIAM PHELAN, PRESIDENT, PAYNET (ENGLISH) SAYING: "So we think an 11 percent jump is a really good sign of optimism. It's a big positive, that small businesses found some profit-producing projects to put business investment to work and when they are investing like that, that means they have some optimism at these small companies." But that could change if lawmakers do not find a way to prevent the fiscal cliff of mandatory tax hikes and spending cuts. Numbers from the auto sector were also upbeat. U.S. monthly sales are near a five-year high, rebounding from a slowdown caused by super storm Sandy. Ford and Chrysler topped forecast but not so for General Motors. GM said it did not benefit as much as its rivals from that post-Sandy rebound. Meanwhile, Ford had some other news, the automaker unveiled a new strategy for its high-end Lincoln brand, hoping to win back market share from the dominance of the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. But even at the launch, Ford CEO Alan Mulally is keeping watch of the fiscal cliff and its possible impact. SOUNDBITE: ALAN MULALLY, CEO, FORD (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The thing we will watch very carefully is what the real demand is because if we had a slowdown of course we'd have to reduce our production to that real demand which is why this is so important that we grow the economy going forward." Turning now to Europe, stocks rose but not by a whole lot.