Third-quarter sales of primary plastics machinery-injection presses — extruders, blow molding machines and thermoformers — increased 20 percent from the year-before third quarter, measured by dollars, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. reported Jan. 27.
SPI said machinery sales also gained 20 percent from the second quarter of 2013.
A plastics industry economist is upbeat about 2014 machinery sales.
Sales totaled $327.6 million in the third quarter, for all the machinery categories, according to SPI's Committee on Equipment Statistics. It marked the strongest quarter of the year.
Through the first three quarters of 2013, the total value of U.S. primary plastics equipment sales is up 12 percent, when compared with the same nine-month period of 2012, SPI said.
SPI is expected to release the year-end results for 2013 in about a month. But when it comes to injection molding machines — by far, the largest segment — the 12 percent figure falls right into the middle of projections for the year from plastics economist Bill Wood.
In 2012, SPI reported, 3,307 injection molding presses were ordered, continuing a rebound after the Great Recession. Wood thinks injection presses grew by 10-15 percent in 2013. That would be about 300 to 500 more machines ordered for the year.
SPI did not release unit numbers for the third quarter, only percentages and dollar values.
The Washington-based SPI gave this breakdown, for third quarter of 2013 vs. the 2012 third-quarter of 2012:
• Shipments of injection molding machines gained 20 percent.
• Shipments of single-screw extruders increased 9 percent. Twin-screw extruders grew 12 percent.
• Thermoforming machines spiked 50 percent.
• New bookings for auxiliary equipment totaled $100 million, for companies that reported results. That represents a 12 percent increase from the second quarter of 2013. SPI said a significant change in the number of reporting companies means precise year-ago comparisons are not possible, but it probably was a solid gain.
"These data indicate that the recovery in the plastics machinery sector remains intact, and it may even be gaining momentum," said Wood, who provides an analysis for the SPI statistical report. Wood runs Mountaintop Economics and Research in Greenfield, Mass.
"The national data suggest that the economy has yet to hit the sweet spot of the capital expenditure phase of the current recovery. This could start to happen in as early as 2014, and when it does it should result in even stronger gains for the plastics machinery sector," Wood said.
Committee on Equipment Statistics members agreed, according to a poll in the third quarter taken by the trade association. When asked to predict future market conditions, 87 percent expected the business to stay the same or improve in the fourth quarter. And 92 percent expected sales to hold steady or get better during 2014.
Respondents said North America and Mexico should see the strongest gains. But a solid majority also thinks that Europe, Asia and Latin America will be steady or do better.
They say automotive, medical and packaging will continue as the strongest markets for plastics products.