CLEVELAND - Is anybody out there buying machinery?
New figures released by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. show U.S. equipment sales sliding by such a degree in the first quarter of this year that it makes last fall's weak results look downright inspiring.
The figures, compiled by the SPI Committee on Equipment Statistics, reveal that 908 injection molding machines were sold during the first quarter of 2001, a 42 percent fall off from the fourth quarter of last year. And the value of those machine shipments dipped to $162.89 million, down 45 percent from last quarter.
The value of blow molding machine shipments was down 16 percent from the fourth quarter of last year. Auxiliary equipment sales were off 11 percent from the fourth quarter.
``Every one of the machinery areas we looked at was off during this period,'' said Lori Anderson, SPI director of economic and international trade affairs. Anderson presented the first-quarter figures July 19 during Plastics Encounter, a conference and trade show in Cleveland sponsored by Plastics News.
The downward-sloping results reflect the economic downturn that is challenging all segments of the plastics industry. The slowdown, which started in the middle of 2000, has led to layoffs at several machinery firms.
The downturn has brought about a glut of capacity at processing plants. In the fourth quarter of last year, capacity utilization shrank to a shade under 80 percent. In June 2000, capacity had peaked for the year at close to 82 percent before starting its slide, Anderson said.
The SPI results paralleled those compiled by consulting firm CIT Group Inc. of Livingston, N.J. The company, also presenting its economic figures at Plastics Encounter, forecasts that capacity utilization at processors will average ``a depressed'' 74 percent in 2001, said CIT director of economic research Michael Paslawskyj.
``Any number below 80 percent means that people aren't buying,'' Paslawskyj said.
During most of the 1990s, capacity figures reached more than 83 percent, he said.
Purchases of plastics machinery this year are expected to fall to $3.03 billion, 16.5 percent below the record $3.64 billion set in 1995, Paslawskyj said.
Yet, some good news came on the global front for machinery companies. Exports outside the United States last year soared to a record $915.9 million, 20 percent higher than in 1999, according to the CIT figures.
``We were a bit shocked by that,'' Paslawskyj said. ``We don't expect them to rise to that level this year, but we could be surprised once again.''
For machinery imports into the United States, Japan continues to be the most dominant player, accounting for 33.5 percent of import sales last year. Imports for Germany, Canada, France and Italy all declined in sales, compared with 1999 figures, while Japanese imports were up more than 20 percent.
SPI recently started releasing the quarterly machinery figures. The association will announce first-quarter 2001 figures for extrusion equipment within the next month, Anderson said. SPI also plans to begin compiling figures for mold-base manufacturers later this year.