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US reports strong first-quarter plastics machinery shipments

By: Bill Bregar

May 27, 2014

The resilient plastics machinery sector was not hurt by the harsh winter weather that slammed the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2014, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.

The first-quarter machinery numbers did decline from the fourth quarter of 2013 — a natural occurrence, since historically the fourth quarter is usually the strongest period, as companies rush to fill their capital spending budgets and take advantage of tax considerations.

But machinery shipments in this year’s first quarter were nearly 11 percent higher than the first quarter of 2013, SPI said in its report, issued May 7.

SPI’s Committee on Equipment Statistics said $300.5 million worth of primary equipment was shipped in the first quarter of 2014. The numbers include injection molding machines, extruders, blow molders and thermoforming equipment.

Washington-based SPI no longer releases unit numbers, only dollar amounts, for the machinery segments.

Plastics machinery has steadily rebounded from the Great Recession. Shipments for the full-year 2013 grew by 8 percent from 2012.

That should continue this year, according to Bill Wood, the plastics economist who analyzes the data for SPI. “The momentum that the plastics market sector enjoyed in 2013 continued unabated in the first quarter of 2014,” Wood said. “The trend in total investment in industrial machinery in the U.S. — the category that includes plastics machinery — has risen sharply in recent quarters. We are entering the sweet spot of the capital expenditure cycle, and this bodes well for suppliers of plastics machinery, as well as the whole manufacturing sector.”

Indeed, the quarterly Committee on Equipment Statistics’ survey shows machinery suppliers were a bit more optimistic in the first quarter than in the fourth quarter of 2014. Ninety-three percent of respondents expect conditions to stay the same or improve in the second quarter — and 88 percent held the same outlook for the next 12 months.

Wood runs Mountaintop Economics & Research Inc., and he is Plastics News’ economics editor.

SPI looked at machinery categories for the first quarter vs. the first quarter a year ago. Shipments of injection presses increased 9 percent. Single-screw extruders gained 4 percent. Twin-screw extruders jumped 15 percent. Blow molding machinery shipments spiked up 60 percent.

Auxiliary equipment also gained 6 percent for the quarter, on a year-ago basis. SPI reports that auxiliaries such as robots, temperature controllers and material handling equipment, recorded total first-quarter bookings of $98.6 million.