Plastics processors are typically an optimistic lot, so it's worth noting that, coming into 1999, they seem to be a little less rosy than usual.
Since December 1993, Plastics News has polled top processor executives each year about their outlook for the economy for coming year. Results of our most recent poll were published in the Jan. 18 issue.
Compared to recent years, they were significantly downbeat.
A total of 13.8 percent of our 296 respondents said they had a ``very unfavorable'' or ``somewhat unfavorable'' outlook — the highest percentage for those categories since we began our poll.
Another 24.7 percent had a ``neutral'' attitude. We reported a higher figure only once before, in our December 1995 survey on attitudes about 1996.
Obviously the majority of processors still qualify at optimists. But the 61.5 percent who checked ``very favorable'' or ``somewhat favorable'' was the lowest number since the December 1995 survey.
How to explain this slipping confidence?
Interest rates remain low, analysts expect resin to be both cheap and plentiful. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is pushing 10,000. Although Brazil's currency problems have chilled the global economy this month, that wasn't the case a month ago when this survey was taken.
We'll hazard an educated guess: After several very strong years, especially in key markets like automotive, construction and appliances, plastics processors are waiting for the economy to take a dip.
There haven't been any clear signs that a trough is coming. Just the persistent gut feeling that things have been going very well for quite a long time, and ... well, we all know that good times never last forever.
Here's our prediction for 1999: the U.S. economy will continue to shine, fueled by low interest rates, a small tax cut, and the lingering peace dividend.
Mexico should continue its long, slow recovery since its 1995 collapse, the result of growing exports to the market in the United States. And Canada also should benefit from a healthy export picture.
And the plastics industry throughout North America should outperform the general economy, thanks to low resin prices that will allow processors to tackle major new applications.