Mooney predicts growth for rotational molders

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CLEVELAND (May 21, 1:30 p.m. ET) — Rotational molding volume will track U.S. gross domestic product, continuing a trend that began in the mid-1990s, economist Peter Mooney, said at a Society of Plastics Engineers conference.

Mooney issued his sixth rotomolding report in January, saying that the amount of raw material used by U.S. and Canadian rotomolders increased by 2.3 percent in 2011. But he ratcheted down his economic forecast, in a presentation May 7 during a conference held by SPE’s Rotational Molding Division.

Mooney now believes U.S. GDP — and rotomolding volume — will grow just 1.3 percent in 2012.

“I think the first-quarter growth of 2.2 [percent] is the best we’re going to have for the full year,” he said.

Looking ahead, he is predicting 2.5 percent gains for both GDP and rotomolding in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Canada should grow 3 percent annually through the period. Mooney pegs Mexico at 3.5 percent.

From the late-1970s to the mid-1990s, rotomolding grew much faster than real, or inflation-adjusted GDP, Mooney said. He said rotomolding, measured by the volume of resin processed, grew by 8.8 percent from 1978 to 1986, or 6 percentage points higher that U.S real GDP. From 1986 to 1994, rotomolding exploded by 12.9 percent, a whopping 10.1 percentage points higher than GDP.

Rotomolding grew much faster than GDP because molders developed brand new products, such as toys and material handling products. It’s natural that business cooled, said Mooney, who runs Plastics Custom Research Services in Advance, N.C.

“This is one of the great things about rotational molding, is that you have matured,” Mooney said. “And you’re also into all these diverse markets, all these applications. But that means that when the U.S. economy grows at 2.5 percent, you have to do something a little better than the odds, to grow any faster than that.”

Mooney said rotomolders have strong entrepreneurial skills, so they’re in a good position to dream up new products.

His study points out some hot emerging market segments. “If you’re looking to the future, globally you’ve to look at agriculture, and water and oil and gas drilling. That sort of thing. You also have to look at medical.”

Rotomolders got hurt by the recession, but the sector of about 400 in the United States, Canada and Mexico, bounced back in 2010. Rotational molding fared much better than blow molding, its main competitor, he said.

Mooney said smaller rotomolders seem to be growing faster than larger ones. From 2003-2010, the 25 largest companies in Plastics News’ rotomolders ranking grew by an average of 3.3 percent a year. The rest of the field averaged 4.6 annual growth.

Mooney kicked off his speech by showing a slide of him paddling a kayak in North Carolina, which has been a hobby. A rotomolded kayak, of course.