(Jan. 19, 5:10 p.m. ET) — U.S. plastics machinery sales are very weak in early 2009. Processors have plenty of underused capacity, the economy has stagnated and auctions keep on coming. Want some hope? According to the Plastics News economic outlook survey, about half of the participating processors have plans to buy machinery this year.
In the survey, 79 out of 149 respondents (53 percent) said they plan to buy equipment. Plastics News conducted the poll in early December, when the economic chill had sunk into the heart of manufacturing, plastics, steel, rubber, whatever the sector.
Images of catastrophe are in every day's business section hell, it's all over the front page. But we in the plastics trade press are saying 53 percent of plastics companies could be in the market for equipment in 2009!
Of course, it's not as good as the results of the survey a year ago, when we looked ahead to 2008: 74 percent said they planned to invest in machines. So you could say the number has declined by some 25 percent, but do we really want more bad-news headlines?
No. This is good news. Things were so different back in late 2007, when we got the 74 percent answer. Yes we knew about the coming foreclosure crisis, but most of us had no idea it would spark a global financial crisis.
The outlook poll is by no means scientific. But let's run through some more math, looking at NPE 2009. By midyear, plastics industry folks have a good idea of where the economy is headed under an Obama presidency. Even if NPE attendance is down, half of the people who come to Chicago's McCormick Place are planning to buy some machines, or seriously considering it. That's pretty good.
Our survey also asked would-be machinery buyers for their primary motivation for buying equipment, to increase capacity/output or improve quality/productivity. Respondents split about 50-50 on that one. It's harder to say what these answers mean. I always ask that same question during coverage for the 2009 machinery outlook issue, which ran Dec. 1. My own definition of increase capacity has changed, from a broad pickup in production a decade ago to, in recent years, buying one or two customized injection presses because you got a new project and need special machines to mold the parts.
But with all the quality used injection machines on the market, I'm almost ready to propose that the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. start counting good used presses in the machinery shipment statistics.
Anyway, don't say Plastics News only reports bad news! Let the sun shine, at least on this one page of the paper.
Bregar is an Akron, Ohio-based